“I will not surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will not surrender my men while they have the means to resist.” -Article II of the original 1955 Code of Conduct for Members of the Unites States’ Armed Forces
Arizona Senator John S. McCain died at his home on August 25, 2018 after choosing to discontinue treatment for the brain cancer that ultimately took his life at age 81. After retiring from the Navy, he served two terms in Congress before his election as Arizona’s senator in 1987, a post he held until his death. He ran for President twice, losing the Republican nomination to President George Bush in 2000 and as the Republican nominee, lost to President Obama in 2008. At the time of his death, he had continually served our nation in peace and war for over 60 years since entering the United States’ Naval Academy as a midshipman in 1954.
While an aviator on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal, the then Lt. Commander McCain was waiting to take off when a missile accidentally launched from a nearby aircraft. The resulting fire and detonation of bombs and fuel from the armed aircraft on deck took the lives of 134 sailors and nearly destroyed the carrier. McCain was transferred to the USS Oriskany where on his 23rd mission he was shot down over Hanoi. It was October 26, 1967. John McCain, both arms and a leg broken in the ejection from his A-4 was to spend the next 5 ½ years as a prisoner of war, much of it in solitary confinement.
His father was the commander of US Forces in the Pacific. When his captors realized who his father was, they offered to release him early. Beaten, tortured and denied medical care for his injuries, he refused unless every POW captured before him was released as well. He kept faith with his fellow prisoners. There was to be no hollow propaganda victory with the Communist regime boasting of its magnanimity. The men in the Hanoi Hilton and other POW camps who were struggling to do their duty would not be further tormented by having their captors boast of the admiral’s son who went home early.
John Sidney McCain III lived his life in full. He experienced highs and crushing lows. The young man who resented the expectations of his family’s heritage and rebelled at the Naval Academy fulfilled his duty in the crucible of a Communist prison camp. In a political world of image and spin, he was a man who had been refined by fire.
“In prison, I fell in love with my country, I had loved her before then, but like most young people, my affection was little more than a simple appreciation for the comforts and privileges most Americans took for granted. It wasn’t until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her.”
John McCain’s legacy is everywhere in this country. It is in the cities and towns that send their sons and daughters to the service academies. It is forged at drill fields at Parris Island, Fort Benning and any number of uncomfortable places where young men and women learn that there is satisfaction in being a part of something important. His legacy is reflected in every veteran who continues his or her service by running for office.
I consider it one of the honors of my life to have voted for him. Fair winds and following seas, sir!