Remembering John McCain

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Remembering Senator John McCain.

Over the weekend the former prisoner of war and Republican presidential candidate died at his home in Arizona.

NICK EICHER, HOST: The tributes immediately poured in—from members of both parties. Former President Barack Obama said—quoting now—“Few of us have been tested in the way John once was, or required to show the courage he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At his best, he showed us what that means.”

McCain requested that Obama and former President George W. Bush give eulogies at his funeral. They’re not only from different parties, but they’re the two men who beat him in his presidential campaigns of 2000 and 2008.

REICHARD: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the world leaders honoring the senator on Sunday.

NETANYAHU: I’ve known John McCain for many, many years. Israel never had a greater champion or a greater defender.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he’d introduce a resolution to name one of Senate office buildings after McCain.

WORLD Radio’s Kristen Flavin is here now with a remembrance.

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: John McCain was born into a military family on August 29th, 1936, at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone. Young John’s father and grandfather were both four-star generals, and he later followed in their footsteps.

McCain graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958 and immediately entered flight school. He deployed to Vietnam in 1967.

MCCAIN: That is what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to go to combat… We took a lot of losses, but one of the great things about being a fighter pilot is you are sure that everybody else is going to get shot down, but not you. [laughter]

But the North Vietnamese did shoot down McCain over Hanoi. He fractured both arms and a leg when he ejected from his plane. McCain nearly drowned after he parachuted into Trúc Bạch Lake, but North Vietnamese soldiers rescued him.

MCCAIN: Once they pulled me out, they weren’t very happy to see me because I had just finished bombing the place. It got pretty rough. They broke my shoulder, hurt my knee again. But look, I don’t blame them… I don’t like it, but at the same time, when you are in a war and you are captured by the enemy, you can’t expect to have tea.

Five-and-and-half years of torture and maltreatment followed, leaving McCain with lifelong disabilities. He couldn’t raise his arms over his head and greeted crowds with a shoulder-high wave the rest of his life.

While in Vietnam’s Hoa Lo Prison—sarcastically nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton”—his captors learned McCain’s father was a high-ranking military commander.

MCCAIN: They offered me a chance to be released, but our code of conduct says ‘sick and injured’ and ‘by order of capture.’ Saying ‘no’ wasn’t the easiest thing to say.

The North Vietnamese eventually freed McCain in 1973, and he continued to serve in the Navy until 1981. He entered Congress as a Republican from Arizona in 1983 and won election to the Senate in 1986.

McCain was fairly quiet about his faith, but said his time in the prisoner of war camp taught him an important lesson.

MCCAIN: I think I learned that if you’re ever going to succeed in life, you should have faith in God, faith in your country, and faith in your fellow individuals. And I will always look back on that as a greatest opportunity of my life to observe a thousand acts of courage and compassion and love.

On Capitol Hill, McCain made campaign finance reform a signature issue of his career. He earned the nickname “Maverick” for breaking with his party on certain positions.

Most recently, he cast the tie-breaking vote to prevent a Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare last year. He also criticized President Donald Trump for firing FBI Director James Comey.

MCCAIN: When you fire arguably, probably, the most respected person in America, you better have a very good explanation—and so far I haven’t seen that.

In 2017, doctors diagnosed McCain with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. He cast his final Senate vote last December before returning home for treatment.

McCain married twice and had seven children, including two adopted children from his first marriage. Both of his wives and all seven children survive him. John McCain was 81.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Kristen Flavin.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) In this Nov. 3, 2008, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks at a rally in Tampa, Fla. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Remembering John McCain

  1. Roger Ishii says:

    Kristen Flavin erroneously reported that John McCain’s father and grandfather were 4-star generals. They were 4-star admirals, both also graduates of the US Naval Academy. Perhaps this is a minor point, but for those of us who served in the Navy, I think it comes across as indicative of a lack of understanding of things military.

    Roger I.

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