Out and About (Sort of): Friendship Between Opposites by Howard Freedlander

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Ten days ago on Saturday, Sept. 1, my wife and I visited Sen. John McCain’s gravesite at the U.S. Naval Academy’s (USNA) cemetery.

The private burial service was to happen the next day. We savored the quiet and serenity.

McCain died Saturday, Aug. 25. The burial at the Academy was to be the final event in five days of memorializing the Arizona senator that began in his home state, continued in Washington, DC and concluded on the hallowed grounds of a place that he, his father and grandfather attended.

His gravesite adjoins one containing the remains of Admiral Chuck Larson, McCain’s close and cherished friend, classmate and two-time superintendent of USNA. The poignancy was unmistakable. The burial plots overlook the Severn River.

The two friends were polar opposites. While John McCain accumulated a whaleful of demerits for his reckless, anti-authority behavior at USNA, his friend was a serious student who graduated near the top of his class and led the class of 1958 as brigade commander. With a measure of pride and defiance, McCain often referred to his position as fifth from the last. “Look at me now,” he seemed to be saying, still prodding the institution he later learned to love.

Just last week, I spoke with a Naval Academy friend of John McCain’s. This county resident seemed to smile as he recounted stories about the rebellious midshipman with the famous pedigree. He talked about McCain’s renowned temper. He also said he found him very likable.

I met Admiral Larson in 2002 when he ran as lieutenant governor during Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s losing Democratic campaign as governor of Maryland. My youngest daughter worked in the campaign and always spoke highly of Larson. The retired four-star admiral was friendly and professional.

In the numerous newspaper articles about McCain following his death at 81 of brain cancer, I read that Larson said the toughest part of being McCain’s friend was around midnight when the rambunctious midshipman decided it was time to climb the wall surrounding the Naval Academy and misbehave in Annapolis. The straight-arrow Larson likely learned how to say “no,” repeatedly, to his headstrong friend.

Friendship transcends our lives on earth. Family members long tell stories about their parents and the friends they got to know as they grew up. They learn to understand that friendship, unrelated to blood ties and often complicated family relationships, is based upon a rock-solid bonding nurtured by common experiences, unfiltered emotions and earned trust.

Both McCain and Larson were extraordinary public servants. They shared allegiance to an elite military academy and a deep love of country. They decided more than 20 years ago to be buried as neighbors facing the Severn River, a defining feature of Annapolis.

John McCain received many tributes, all well-deserved. I pay homage to his respect for genuine friendship.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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