John McCain's memorial service Thursday was filled with laughter and tears as his longtime friends, led by former Vice President Joe Biden, recalled the stories that made McCain who he was.

"My name's Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat. And I love John McCain," Biden said during the nearly two-hour memorial service at North Phoenix Baptist Church, the Daily Mail reported.

He wiped away tears as he remembered their time together in the Senate. "This one's hard," he said of his eulogy.

Father Edward Reese, from left, Vice President Joe Biden, Larry Fitzgerald, Tommy Espinoza, and Grant Woods wait to speak during memorial service. Photo / AP
Father Edward Reese, from left, Vice President Joe Biden, Larry Fitzgerald, Tommy Espinoza, and Grant Woods wait to speak during memorial service. Photo / AP

Biden's tribute was filled with homages to McCain's place in the world, his "ageless" value system, and his love of America.

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"John's story is the American story," Biden said.

His speech was peppered with his folksy talk that is a Biden trademark. And the former vice president grew animated when he spoke of the current political climate, his voice growing louder and his hands waving as he defended McCain's values and decried the lack of respect seen in Washington.

His words appeared to be a shot at President Donald Trump, who McCain banned from attending his funeral service.

"It wasn't about politics with John," Biden practically shouted from the church pulpit. "He could disagree on substance but it was the underlying values that animated everything John did. Everything he was.

"Where he would part company with you was if you lacked the basic values of decency and respect, knowing this project is bigger than yourself," Biden added loudly.

"He could not stand the abuse of power, wherever he saw it" he noted of McCain, "in whatever form, in whatever country."

His said his friendship with McCain was like family.

"I always thought of John as a brother. We had had a hell of a lot of family fights," he noted.

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"Whenever I was in trouble John was the first guy there. I hope I was there for him," he added.

Biden recalled how his son Beau died three years ago of the same brain cancer that took McCain's life, the same cancer that also took the life of Sen. Ted Kennedy, another close McCain friend.

"There are times when life can be so cruel, pain so blinding, it's hard to see anything else," Biden said. "In order to survive, we have to remember how they lived - not how they died."

Cindy McCain walks with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, followed by children Jack, Bridget, Jimmy and Andrew. Photo / AP
Cindy McCain walks with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, followed by children Jack, Bridget, Jimmy and Andrew. Photo / AP

He also paid tribute to McCain's 106-year-old mother Roberta, who was not present.

"We know how difficult it is to bury a child Mrs. McCain. My heart goes out to you."

He reminded Cindy McCain how much her husband loved her.

"Cindy, John owed so much of what he was to you. You were his ballast. Whenever I was with you both I saw how he stared at you," Biden said.

And he had warm words for the couple's children.

"You may not have had your father as long as you liked but you got from him everything you need to fulfill your dreams," Biden said.

Biden waxed eloquently about the way McCain lived, saying he had a "code" that is "ageless".

"They look at him as if John came from another age, that lived by a different code, an ancient, antiquated where honour, courage, character, integrity, duty, where it mattered, because that was obvious how John lived his life. But the truth is, John's code was ageless-is ageless," he said.

He also said it was McCain's faith in America, his love of country, that inspired so much love for the late senator. "It made average Americans proud of their country."

He praised McCain's love of country: "His belief and it was deep that Americans can do anything, withstand anything, achieve anything was both unflagging and ultimately reassuring.

"He understood what I hope we all remember, heroes didn't build this country, ordinary people being given half a chance are capable of doing extraordinary things, extraordinary things," Biden said.

"I think John believed in us," he added. "He believed in the American people - all 325 million of us.

"John McCain's impact on America is not over," he noted. "Not even close."

Former Vice President Joe Biden gives a tribute during the memorial service. Photo / AP
Former Vice President Joe Biden gives a tribute during the memorial service. Photo / AP

He concluded with: "To paraphrase Shakespeare: We shall not see his like again."

Over 1000 mourners, including members of the general public, were on hand to remember McCain.

An honour guard made of representatives from the various service branches - Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force - escorted McCain's casket throughout the day, into the church and, later Thursday, loaded it onto an Air Force jet for McCain's final journey to Washington DC.

McCain's memorial service on Thursday (US time) was filled with stories from the longtime friends who knew him best. Laugher, tears, and music filled the North Phoenix Baptist Church as the late senator's pals brought out their favorite tall tales about McCain.

Well wishers line the street to pay their final respects as the hearse carrying Sen. John McCain. Photo / AP
Well wishers line the street to pay their final respects as the hearse carrying Sen. John McCain. Photo / AP

Pastor Noe Garcia began the service describing McCain as man who was loved by all - "a man of courage, a man of faith and a man who dearly loved his family".

And the Brophy Student Ensemble sang Amazing Grace.

The McCains' adopted daughter Bridget read from Ecclesiastes, her voice breaking up as she did so: "To everything there is a season; a time to every purpose under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up which is planted."

Grant Woods, former Arizona attorney general and chief of staff to McCain offered a series of stories that showed the lighter side of McCain, leaving the congregation laughing as he described McCain's driving style and funny stories from the campaign trail.

It was "a lot of fun", Woods said, and "the greatest honour of my life".

"He was America's hero," he said. "He fought the good fight, he finished the race, he kept the faith."

"Sleep in heavenly peace," he concluded.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald paid tribute to McCain's war record and recalled his love for family.

The tall, African American football player with long, flowing dreadlocks brought on laughter when he recalled their unlikely friendship.

"Many people might wonder what a young African American kid from Minnesota and a highly-decorated Vietnam war hero turned United States senator might have in common. I'm black, he was white. I'm young, he wasn't so young. He lived with physical limitations brought on by war. I'm a professional athlete. He ran for president, I run out of bounds. He was the epitome of toughness and I do everything I can to avoid contact," he said. "I have flowing locks, and, well he didn't."

The flag-draped casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is carried by an Armed Forces body bearer team to a hearse. Photo / AP
The flag-draped casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is carried by an Armed Forces body bearer team to a hearse. Photo / AP

He remembered how McCain, a huge sports fan, would text him to say: "You need to pick it up this Sunday."

He concluded with: "Rest in peace my friend."

Tommy Espinoza, the CO of Raza Development Fund, recalled how McCain asked him to chair one of his campaigns.

"I'm a Democrat," Espinoza remembered telling McCain.

McCain didn't care, he noted, saying "you're my friend".

He said it was "no surprise" McCain put a woman on his presidential ticket, a reference to McCain's 2008 running mate Sarah Palin, who was not invited to attend.

A bagpiper played as McCain loved the bagpipes.

And Pastor Garcia concluded the service with the words: "No more cancer, no more pain, no more burdens in this world."

McCain's remains were then taken to Goldwater Air National Guard Base, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for his final journey to Washington D.C.

Cindy McCain, their children, and buses full of friends joined the motorcade procession to accompany the late senator's body.

There were 150 members of the air national guard and 150 members of the army national guard on hand for the dignified transfer of remains.

The day began at the Arizona State Capitol building where McCain's remains were removed from where lay in state in the rotunda.

It was the second day Cindy McCain and the family were in the spotlight as the nation spends the next few days mourning the Republican senator from Arizona.

A Boeing C-32 military aircraft carrying the casket of Sen. John McCain takes off. Photo / AP
A Boeing C-32 military aircraft carrying the casket of Sen. John McCain takes off. Photo / AP

Cindy and children Jimmy, in his Army dress uniform; Jack, in his Navy dress whites; Meghan and Bridget stood in front of the Capitol building while officers from Jimmy's platoon carried McCain's flag-draped casket out the building and loaded it onto a hearse for transport to North Phoenix Baptist Church.

Once again, Jimmy and Jack saluted their father's coffin, as they did on Wednesday when arrived at the capitol to lie in state.

Cars stopped along the highway as the motorcade made its way to the church. Some people waved McCain campaign signs or American flags; a group of firefighters stopped to watch the senator's body go by. School children were seen watching the motorcade.

McCain's remains arrived at the Arizona Capitol on Wednesday, what would have been his 82nd birthday.

Members of the Arizona National Guard carried McCain's flag-draped coffin into the Arizona Capitol's rotunda.

Cindy McCain, in her first public appearance since her husband's death, accompanied his body as did the couple's children.

It was an emotional day for the family that saw Cindy McCain kiss her husband's coffin, Meghan McCain break down in tears, and sons Jack and Jimmy - both in full dress uniform - salute their father.

It started a long journey of remembrance for the McCain family.

On Friday (US time), a ceremony will be held at the US Capitol building, where he will again lie in state. On Saturday his funeral service will be held at the National Cathedral in Washington DC.

The pallbearers will include actor Warren Beatty, Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, former Sen. Russ Feingold, former Sen. Phil Gramm, former Sen. Gary Hart, Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza, former Gov. Tom Ridge, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, FedEx chairman Fred Smith, and McCain's longtime aide and co-author Mark Salter.

He will be buried Sunday on Hospital Hill at Naval Academy Cemetery.