When Tammy Duckworth first met John McCain, it was in a hospital.

Then an Army pilot, she was recovering in Walter Reed Army Medical Center after her helicopter was shot down in the Iraq War, costing her both her legs. McCain was a senator visiting wounded warriors.

"Sir, you've been a hero of mine and I never thought I'd have something in common with you," Duckworth told the Arizona senator, who was himself shot down during the Vietnam War.

McCain, she recalled this week, joked with her that it required no special skill to fly into a missile, and that the real skill would come in her recovery and what she did after it.

That encounter between the two was one of the memories the Illinois Democrat shared in recalling McCain as a colleague ahead of his memorial service at the U.S. Capitol on Friday.

They later became colleagues, with McCain's final 18 months in the Senate also being Duckworth's first.

In addition to a "very dry, very subversive sense of humor" that was evident in their first exchange, Duckworth remembers McCain as "incredibly generous."

As the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain shepherded through the most recent omnibus Department of Defense legislation. Duckworth submitted a host of amendments during that process, even though she didn't serve on the committee.

McCain and his committee included many of them, she said, and he co-sponsored several. Together, Duckworth said, the two of them ended up with the most amendments adopted in the final bill.

What mattered to McCain, she said, was that "it was about the mission and it was about service." In that bill's case, that meant working with anyone looking to improve the quality of life for veterans.

"It's increasingly rare in the climate we have in this country right now," she said of that willingness in the face of forces that try to divide Americans.

"What we lost is someone who from his 20s until his 80s served his country, placed his country before himself and his well-being," Duckworth said.

As people look for ways to memorialize the longtime Republican maverick, Duckworth said she hopes they think of ways "to help veterans or contribute to your community" as a fitting tribute that McCain would appreciate as a patriot.

"There are all sorts of things we can each do in a small way," she said.

Chris Kaergard covers politics and government. He can be reached at ckaergard@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.