John McCain passed from this earth earlier today. He was best known as a senator, but he spent the early part of his career as a military aviator. That is what I want to focus upon.
McCain was the son of an admiral who was the son of an admiral. His roots in the Navy run deep. It is little surprise that he attended the Naval Academy, graduating in 1958.
The rules in the Navy did not suit him well, but the flying did. He eventually was qualified in the A-4 Skyhawk. This is a military attack aircraft. By the summer of 1967 he was in the Gulf of Tonkin off the North Vietnamese coast serving on the USS Forrestal.
McCain Nearly Killed
On July 29, a rocket was accidentally fired from an F-4 on the deck of the Forrestal. McCain was in his A-4 preparing for a mission. His aircraft fuel tank was ruptured by the rocket and burst into flames while two bombs dropped from the aircraft. McCain crawled out of the aircraft, down the nose and jumped onto the flaming aircraft deck. McCain did the “Stop, Drop and Roll”. As he rolled to get out of the flames, his flight suit caught fire. Once free he re-entered the flames trying to rescue a fellow aviator when a bomb detonated, sending McCain 10 feet across the deck.
He was transferred to the USS Oriskany where he began flying dangerous missions over Vietnam. Soon he earned an Air Meal and a Navy Commendation Medal.
McCain nearly Killed II
October 26, 1967 was a fateful day for John McCain. He was flying a mission to a previously off limit target, a power plant in central Hanoi. Heavily defended, McCain pulled up after releasing his bombs and was struck by an SA-2 Surface to Air Missile (SAM). His wing was blown off and the aircraft entered an upside down vertical spin.
McCain was able to eject, but the impact broke his right arm, left arm and right leg below the knee. He was knocked unconscious and awoke in a lake in Hanoi. Due to his injuries, he was unable to inflate his life preserver with his arms. Eventually he pulled it with his teeth. Vietnamese dragged him to shore and beat him.
The beatings would continue for 5 ½ years as John McCain became a Prisoner of War (POW). McCain initially was denied medical treatment, but when the Vietnamese found out that his Dad was a high ranking admiral (eventually commanding the entire Pacific Fleet) they relented. George “Bud” Day, a fellow prisoner, helped nurse him back to health.
McCain suffered unmentionable torture. He also spent years in solitary confinement. So much so that his hair turned white.
In the late 1960s, the Vietnamese offered him early release as a good will gesture since his Dad was an admiral. McCain refused unless all POWs were released.
Eventually, John McCain and the others were released — in March of 1973. McCain later remarked that he entered captivity as a spoiled rotten brat and the experience changed him for the better.
As a senator, I applauded McCain’s attempts at campaign finance reform. However, in the last few years I grew increasingly upset with his voting record.
What I will never be upset about is John McCain’s faithful and valiant service as a military aviator. One of the few to serve in the US Senate. For his valor McCain was awarded: The Silver Star, two Legions of Merits, Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts.
“Captain McCain – Thank you for your Service”