John McCain over Hanoi

My book, Why Veterans Run, describes the political paths of the presidential candidates who served in the armed forces. John McCain features prominently. His passing last week, complicated by the steady antagonist treatment he received from President Trump, should be discussed not only as a moment in the Trump administration, but also on its own terms.

I wrote quite a bit about him in chapter eight on the Vietnam War veterans, along with the others (John Kerry and Al Gore). Here is an excerpt, relating to the day in October, 1967 when he was shot down over Hanoi:

…After his education at the U.S. Naval Academy, McCain became an aviator and piloted carrier-based A-4 Skyhawks. These single-seat small planes were used during the Vietnam War as fast, light bombers. For his twenty-third bombing mission, McCain flew with his squadron to attack a power station in North Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, in October 1967. McCain watched the radar tracking alarm light up, signaling a likely incoming surface-to-air missile (SAM); engaged countermeasures; and then dove and dropped his payload. After dropping his bombs, his plane’s wing was destroyed by the SAM, forcing McCain to eject over hostile territory. Ejecting from a small combat aircraft even when not in hostile conditions is dangerous. The process to push the pilot from the aircraft uses controlled explosives to quickly launch the seat from the cockpit—the intention being to save the life without excessive concern for the limbs. McCain’s arms and legs were severely injured by the ejection. While he survived and landed in a lake, he sustained many injuries and broken bones that were made worse by the crowd that pulled him from the water and beat him, as well as neglect and abuse by his captors.



When he first ran for Congress in 1982, he “deflected carpetbagger accusations” with the following memorable line:

I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.

(photo via US Navy)