In chance encounter with Cindy McCain, Vietnam veteran gives her war medallion

By PETER STEVENSON AND ALICE LI | The Washington Post | Published: August 27, 2018

When David Carrasco got to the funeral home on Monday morning, he wasn't sure what he would find. But he wanted to pay his respects to the man who had represented Arizona in the Senate for 31 years, and who had fought in the same faraway Vietnam War he had, decades earlier: Sen. John McCain.

He saw the flags, and the McCain campaign signs, and the letters that well-wishers had left in front of the building. He heard the woman softly singing "God Bless America," and felt the hot August wind blowing through the three flags he and his friend brought - an American flag, a U.S. Navy flag and a POW-themed flag.

But he didn't expect McCain's wife, Cindy, to walk out of the funeral home and start talking to him.

"I gave her a medallion that was presented to me over two years ago, during Operation Freedom Bird," Carrasco said. "When she came out, that was the first thought that came to me. I wanted to give her something that related to her husband's service."

McCain died Saturday after fighting brain cancer for more than a year. He will lie in state at the Arizona State Capitol on Wednesday before being flown to Washington and, ultimately, will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Carrasco said he plans to stand vigil until McCain is moved on Wednesday. But Monday was quiet. Just a few people were outside when Cindy McCain came out.

Carrasco gave her a medallion, with a yellow and red ribbon and an American flag on one side.

"This was given to me at one of the ceremonies for Vietnam veterans," Carrasco said, his voice shaking. "It would be my honor to present this to you on our behalf."

John McCain was perhaps one of America's most famous - and politically successful - Vietnam veterans, having survived 5 1/2years in a Hanoi prison. He was known throughout his political career as a fierce advocate for veterans and was described by several of his former Senate colleagues as a "rock star" among members of the U.S. military.

So when Cindy McCain walked out of the funeral home, Carrasco decided not just to say thanks, but to give her a medal that signified the service he shared with her husband, and the bond.

"I couldn't help but get somewhat emotional. I didn't think I would get emotional, but," he trailed off. "To know that someone from his era was here, it probably meant a lot to her. Even though her husband isn't here, we're here."

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