Sen. John McCain lies in state at the Capitol, two days before being laid to rest at the US Naval Academy

Key Points
  • Sen. John McCain joins a select few who have lain in state at the U.S. Capitol.   
  • Among them: Abraham Lincoln. John F. Kennedy. Ronald Reagan. Rosa Parks. Unknown soldiers.
  • The straight-speaking former POW and senator chose to be laid to rest at his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Cindy McCain, wife of John McCain, touches the casket during the ceremony honoring the late Senator inside the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, August 31, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Abraham Lincoln. John F. Kennedy. Ronald Reagan. Rosa Parks. Unknown soldiers. Sen. John McCain has joined the American pantheon of heroes who were honored by lying in state under the rotunda at the U.S. Capitol.

A solemn ceremony began Friday morning in the rotunda. Later, the public was being allowed to file past his flag-draped coffin to pay respects to the senator, who died Saturday, four days before his 82nd birthday. Anyone in line until 8 p.m. ET Friday will be allowed to do view the casket, according to the senator's office.

McCain, who survived nearly six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and served 31 years in the Senate, died after a yearlong fight against brain cancer. He had succeeded Barry Goldwater to represent Arizona in the Senate, lost a White House bid to freshman Sen. Barack Obama and became an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican. Trump said during his presidential campaign that McCain was "not a war hero" because he had been captured by North Vietnam.

Read his full obituary: Sen. John McCain, hero POW, former presidential hopeful and maverick Republican, dies at age 81.

Also see: John McCain: Life and times of an American maverick in photos

U.S. presidents are among those entitled to lay in state at the Capitol. The occasions are authorized by a congressional resolution or approved by the congressional leadership, according to the Architect of the Capitol's office.

Before McCain, the honor had been conducted 32 times, starting with former House Speaker Henry Clay on July 1, 1852, according to a list kept by the office. Lincoln was next, from April 19–21, 1865. The Rev. Billy Graham was the most recent, on Feb. 28–March 1. The occasions included three involving unknown soldiers, from the two World Wars and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Speakers on Friday included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Vice President Mike Pence. McCain made clear that Trump was not to be invited.

"It is deeply humbling to stand before you today to commemorate the life and service of an American patriot, Senator John McCain," Pence said. "The president asked me to be here on behalf of a grateful nation to pay a debt of honor and respect to a man who served our country throughout his life, in uniform and in public office. And it's my great honor to be here."

McCain's remains arrived Thursday at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, after a memorial service in Phoenix.

The flag-draped casket of the late Sen. John McCain is carried by Armed Forces honor guards after arriving at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. 
Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A memorial service for invited guests is planned for Saturday at the Washington National Cathedral. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama are among those expected to speak.

McCain's father and grandfather, both admirals, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, but the senator chose to be laid to rest at his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

After a private service at the school chapel on Sunday, McCain will be buried next to his Naval Academy classmate and lifelong friend, Adm. Chuck Larson.

McCain and Larson were classmates at the Naval Academy and at the Naval Air Station Pensacola flight school. Larson graduated at the top of the Class of 1958 at the academy, while McCain ranked near the bottom. Larson went on to become commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command and twice served as superintendent of the academy. He also was a naval aide to President Richard Nixon. He died of pneumonia at age 77 in 2014 after undergoing two years of treatment for leukemia.

In a September 2017 interview on CBS' "60 Minutes," McCain expressed a wish for a memorial service at Annapolis. "I want, when I leave, that the ceremony is at the Naval Academy, and we just have a couple of people that stand up and say, 'This guy, he served his country.'"