27 May John McCain – From a POW to a Public Servant
Born to a Navy family, John Sidney McCain III was a lifelong military man and a ferocious pilot who conducted almost two dozen bombing runs before being shot and captured in Vietnam.
John McCain was graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1958. Later, he went to the flight school in Florida to train as a fighter pilot.
In his early years of training, he had a reputation of being fearless and was involved in three flight accidents.
During the Vietnam War, he was on a mission to destroy Hanoi’s thermal power plant. However, on October 26, 1967, while he was flying over North Vietnam in his 23rd bombing, he was attacked by a Russian-made missile. Though he survived the attack, a crash landing into a shallow lake fractured both his arms and one knee.
North Vietnamese soldiers brought McCain to the infamous American POW prison- Hanoi Hilton. He received no medical attention initially and was repeatedly interrogated and beaten.
After spending two years in confinement, his captors made an offer. He was asked to sign a last-minute confession if he wanted to go home. However, McCain declined the offer as he feared that the confession would embarrass his father and the nation.
Situations worsened for him after he denied the offer. He was tortured and had to go through continuous interrogations. He even tried to hang himself two times.
He finally signed the confession but was released after the U.S. and North Vietnam signed a peace treaty in January 1973.
After coming back home, he underwent arm and knee surgeries. Though he was able to pass the physical exam for the Navy, his limbs couldn’t work to their potential.
In 1981, he finally retired from the Navy with a Silver Star, 3 Bronze Stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross.
In 1986, McCain was elected to the U.S. Senate, which marked the beginning of his second career- a public servant.
Though he managed to make his name on the national political stage, his military life and experience as a POW continued to define him. He was the Senate’s most vocal member to oppose the use of violence on prisoners.
In his 2018 memoir- The Restless Wave, he wrote that he didn’t want Vietnam to stand as the only experience in his life. He also stated that he was grateful for how Vietnam changed him as a person as he had to bear unimaginable situations.