TopVet: John McCain

Senator John McCain Military Veteran

Senator John McCain will always be remembered as a Vietnam War POW, Navy veteran, and statesman who rose to become his party’s nominee for president ten years ago.

John McCain died on Saturday, August 25, 2018, from brain cancer, nine years to the day that fellow senator and Army veteran Ted Kennedy was claimed by the same malignancy. Immediately after news broke of his passing, an outpouring of condolences and fond recollections came from both sides of the aisle and from around the world.

"We shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher -– the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed," said former President Barack Obama, who defeated McCain in the 2008 presidential election. "We saw our political battles, even, as a privilege, something noble, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those high ideals at home, and to advance them around the world.

Senator John McCain Navy
Senator John McCain, front right, during his
Navy flying days

"I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years," said his spouse of 38 years, Cindy McCain, after his death. "He passed the way he lived, on his own terms, surrounded by the people he loved, in the place he loved best."

Having spent over two years in solitary confinement while imprisoned in Vietnam, McCain hardly led a private life. He spent most of his civilian career -- nearly 40 years -- in the public eye in the House, Senate and as a presidential candidate on more than one occasion.

The son and grandson of Navy Admirals, McCain was a Navy aviator who found unfortunate fame because of his capture and POW status during the Vietnam War. On October 26, 1967, while flying over North Vietnam when his A-4E Skyhawk was shot down by a missile over Hanoi, McCain suffered two broken arms and a leg. He also suffered poor health during his recovery, losing 50 pounds, and later was beaten repeatedly to the point of contemplating suicide. 

After his release, he worked through physical therapy and battled to regain his Navy flight status, true to the “Maverick” nickname he earned over the years. He then began to get a taste of politics as the Navy's liaison to the U.S. Senate in 1977. By 1980, he started a political run that lasted for 38 years. 

His death was not without controversy, however, particularly with President Trump, with whom he had a rocky relationship in recent years. After an initial brief period of placing the White House flag at half-staff when McCain died, then back to its full summit, the President later reversed that decision to return the flag to half-staff until McCain’s funeral.

Both Bush Presidents spoke eloquently about McCain’s passing, and the elder Bush added a military reference to his message:

"Few sacrificed more for, or contributed more to, the welfare of his fellow citizens -- and indeed freedom-loving peoples around the world," Bush Sr. wrote in a statement. "Another American maverick and warrior, General George Patton, once observed: 'We should thank God that men such as these have lived.' To that, I can only add my gratitude to John's wife Cindy, his wonderful family, and the people of Arizona who permitted this great and good man to serve with such distinction in the world's greatest deliberative body." 

International leaders also praised McCain from all parts of the world, including Iraq & Afghanistan, Germany, Israel, and others. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron hailed McCain as a “great defender of liberty.”

McCain was also a prolific writer, with seven books to his name. He also penned the introduction to the 2002 printing of “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam,” a book which was published by The New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commision, where Veterans Advantage founder and CEO Scott Higgins served as co-chairman. 

John McCain will be buried at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery and will lie next to his former Naval Academy classmate and lifelong best friend, Charles "Chuck" Larson.
 

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