(CMR) Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and later dedicated his life to public service – eventually running for president – has died.
He died at 4:28pm on Saturday.
A statement from his office said: ‘Senator John Sidney McCain III died at 4:28pm on August 25, 2018. With the senator when he passed were his wife Cindy and their family.
‘At his death, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 60 years.'
John Sidney McCain III was born on August 29, 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone, the second of three children born to John Sr and Roberta McCain. It was a respected military family with quite a legacy; both Sen. McCain’s father and grandfather served as four-star United States Navy Admirals, and McCain grew up on a number of naval bases in the US and abroad before finishing private high school in Virginia.
He followed his father and grandfather into the service, attending the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, where – he later joked – he was ‘an undistinguished member of the Class of 1958,’ finishing fifth from last in his year.
Upon graduation, he trained in Florida and became a naval pilot, known for his hijinks and often cavalier attitude. He married his first wife, Carol, in 1965 and adopted her two young children, Andrew and Douglas, and the couple had a daughter, Sidney – but it wasn't long before MCain headed off for war, at his request.
‘I didn't possess any particular notion of greatness, but I did hold strong notions of honor,' he writes in Faith of My Fathers. ‘And I worried that my deserved reputation for foolishness would make command of a squadron or a carrier, the pinnacle of a young pilot's aspiration, too grand an ambition for an obstreperous admiral's son, and my failure to reach command would dishonor me and my family.
‘Despite my concerns, I resolved to follow the conventional course to command. With the country at war, that course led to Vietnam. The best way to raise my profile as an aviator, perhaps the only way, was to achieve a creditable combat record. I was eager to begin.
‘More than professional considerations lay beneath my desire to go to war. Nearly all the men in my family had made their reputations at war. It was my family's pride. And the Naval Academy, with its celebration of martial valor, had penetrated enough of my defenses to recall me to that honor. I wanted to go to Vietnam, and to keep faith with the family creed.'
He was stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin, flying A-4 Skyhawks, and was assigned to the USS Forrestal, which suffered a catastrophic fire on July 29, 1967, wounding McCain and killing 134 sailors. He then volunteered for assignment with another aircraft carrier, the USS Oriskany, and was flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam when he was shot down on October 26, 1967.
He parachuted into a lake and was badly injured but was taken captive by the North Vietnamese, who offered him minimal medical assistance until they realized how high-ranking his father was; in mid-1968, McCain Sr was named commander of all US forces in the Vietnam theater. As POW, McCain was kept for some time at Hoa Lo Prison, more commonly known as the Hanoi Hilton – and was regularly tortured over the next five and a half years, much of which was spent in solitary confinement.
McCain was offered release numerous times but refused to leave unless all other POWs captured before him were set free, realizing that the North Vietnamese would turn his freedom into a massive propaganda campaign and victory. His treatment by his captors was so cruel that, at one stage, he unsuccessfully attempted suicide, and at another he made an anti-US propaganda ‘confession’, later writing that, while he felt it was dishonorable, he realized ‘Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.’
Without proper treatment, his extensive injuries left McCain unable to raise his arms above his head – subsequently affecting his future prospects in the Navy.