Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War hero, Republican presidential contender, and influential voice in Congress, died yesterday, August 25. As Politico notes, “McCain’s life was like something out of a Hollywood movie script — he was a naval officer and a jet pilot, a war hero and politician. Yet he was ultimately denied the brass ring he most clearly wanted: becoming president of the United States.”
At the core of McCain’s character was an impressive drive to persevere. The leading example, as The New York Times reporter Scott Shane writes today, is the Senator’s heroic, extended stay at the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War:
When Mr. McCain ejected from his disabled jet, was injured on landing and then beaten, he was dragged to a small cell already occupied by another American, George E. Day, who thought Mr. McCain might not survive a day. “He was horribly injured,” Mr. Day recounted in 2005. “He had a fractured right arm, his left arm was out of the socket, his right knee was fractured, and they’d bayoneted his left leg. The Vietnamese were trying to get him to make some antiwar statements, and he’d refused.”
Mr. McCain resisted his captors’ threats and bribes, including an offer of early release, sometimes with grim wit; once, when they demanded the names of members of his squadron, he listed the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line. After days of torture, Mr. McCain finally signed a confession to being a “black criminal” and “air pirate,” deliberately lacing his statement with grammatical errors and communist jargon to show it was coerced. His cellmate for the last two years, Jack Fellowes, explained that such minimal accommodations were necessary for survival. “John McCain bent a little — we all bent a little — but he never broke,” he said.