When John McCain is buried in the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery on Sunday afternoon, he will rest one row from the graves of Midshipmen William Edward Neumann and Thomas Ward Jr., who were killed in a turret blast on the battleship USS Missouri in 1904.
Nearby is the tombstone of Marine Lt. Col. David Kerr Claude, who was killed in the Battle of Tarawa in World War II after diving into the ocean to rescue wounded comrades in danger of drowning.
And not far away is the ornate stone sarcophagus of the bold Union Navy officer William B. Cushing, who during the Civil War sank a huge Confederate ironclad with an explosive rigged to the end of a long pole. Two of Cushing’s Navy friends, both killed in the war, are buried near him.
While McCain is being buried beside Adm. Charles R. Larson, his friend and Naval Academy classmate, the late U.S. senator and Vietnam War POW will rest amid many Navy heroes with their own ties to the academy and to one another.
McCain, a six-term senator from Arizona and 2008 Republican presidential nominee, died Saturday of brain cancer. He was 81. Flying from an aircraft carrier on a bombing mission in 1967, he was shot down over Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam, and spent 5½ years as a prisoner of war.
The small cemetery occupies about 6.7 acres on a grassy hill at Hospital Point where College Creek — once known as Grave Yard Creek — meets the Severn River in Annapolis.
The cemetery dates to 1869, said James W. Cheevers, the retired curator at the Naval Academy Museum, and is rich with Navy lore and the echoes of great deeds and misdeeds. Graduates choose to be buried there because of strong emotional ties to the academy, he said in an interview Tuesday.
“Most of them hate it while they’re here,” he said. “And then when they get away, they think, ‘That wasn’t so bad. I had a lot of great fun.’ ”
McCain was a member of the Class of 1958.
Many of the aged stones bear weathered nautical motifs of anchors, ropes and chains.
One, that of a retired captain’s wife who jumped overboard in a storm, says “lost at sea.” Helen Todhunter Knepper, wife of Capt. Chester M. Knepper, “was subject to fits of melancholy,” The Washington Post reported. She jumped from the French liner Niagara in February 1915.
The black tombstone of the legendary World War II skipper Arleigh A. Burke and his wife, Roberta, bears a likeness of the modern guided missile destroyer that was named for him and was the first ship in its class.
“Sailor,” is carved under his name. “Sailor’s Wife,” is etched under hers.
They never had any children, Cheevers said. “The Navy was their whole life.”
The stone of Capt. Robert Alfred Theobald Jr. has the image of the destroyer USS John W. Weeks, which he commanded during World War II.
And the footstone at the grave of Chief Gunner’s Mate Henry Lynde is inscribed “USS Santee.” On Oct. 12, 1886, the Swedish immigrant, who was 50, died on the Santee, an old Civil War frigate that had been stationed at the academy for years. As the crew fired a salute that day, one of the guns malfunctioned. A piece flew off and killed Lynde.
Years later, the Santee sank at its mooring in the Severn. It was raised, towed away and burned to recover the metal in its hull.
There’s a stone commemorating Rear Adm. Isaac Campbell Kidd, whose remains are still aboard the USS Arizona, which was sunk at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. And in a shady spot rests Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, who was in command of the Navy at Pearl Harbor that day and whose reputation was destroyed by the Japanese surprise attack.
Clarence Wade McClusky Jr., whose dive bombers tracked down and helped shatter the Japanese naval force at the World War II Battle of Midway, is there. The intrepid submarine skipper Eugene B. Fluckey, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his aggressive command of the USS Barb, is in the cemetery columbarium.
Rear Adm. Wilson F. Flagg and his wife, Darlene, who were on the airliner that terrorists crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, are buried there. So is Lt. Cmdr. Erik Kristensen, a Navy SEAL who was killed in June 28, 2005, when his helicopter was shot down during a rescue mission in Afghanistan.
McCain’s father and grandfather, both esteemed admirals, are buried in the vast 600 acres of Arlington National Cemetery. But the senator’s office said that before Larson died in 2014 he reserved four plots of land at the academy cemetery for himself, McCain and their wives.
“I’m sure [McCain] would have more of an influence, even in death, here than he would at Arlington,” Cheevers said. There, “he’d be lost in tens of thousands.”
McCain’s Naval Academy memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday in the school’s domed chapel, where the 21-ton marble sarcophagus of Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones rests on bronze dolphins in a lower-level crypt.
It was Jones, a native of Scotland, who famously yelled in the midst of battle with a British warship whose captain demanded surrender: “I have not yet begun to fight!”
More than a century after he died in Paris in 1792, the U.S. government had Jones exhumed. Seven battleships and four cruisers escorted his remains up the Chesapeake Bay, and on Jan. 26, 1913, he was placed in the crypt, according to the Navy.
At the chapel service Sunday, McCain’s longtime friend Mark Salter is to read from Psalm 107:
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep . . .