Unlike some of my colleagues, I have no issue with Donald Trump declaring himself as a presidential candidate. While I do think the man is strictly an opportunist acting in only his own best interest, you won’t see me overheating about the latest things spewing out of Donald Trump’s mouth. I simply don’t think he’s built for the long haul. I am no expert, but I expect his popularity will too soon, long before November 2016. Actually, I’m praying for it.
Trump’s most recent jaw dropping remarks concerned U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, in which he stated McCain was a war hero “because he was captured.”
I despise Senator McCain. I think he is a walking, talking personification of why the U.S. Congress so badly needs term limits. He is, in my opinion, a testament of all that is wrong with today’s Republican party.
John McCain the Naval aviator, however, is a different story. By 1967, then Lieutenant Commander McCain had been flying missions into North Vietnam off the USS Oriskany (CVA-34). A smaller aircraft carrier, the Oriskany carrier saw more combat and more casualties than any other vessel in the Vietnam war.
On the other hand, McCain’s flight record was far from pristine. By the age of 29, he had already crashed two planes and damaged a third. It is a wonder he was allowed to stay in the air, though being an admiral’s son may have had something to do with it.
Despite his record, McCain volunteered for Vietnam. After being assigned to the USS Forrester carrier, the A-4 Skyhawk pilot made his way onto the USS Oriskany and into one of the Navy’s most skilled squadrons. The 15-man squadron (VA-163) was composed of lieutenant commanders and captains that conducted bombing operations on a 24-hour schedule. Because reputation follows a pilot where ever he goes, the men in VA-163 squadron were skeptical of McCain’s abilities.
At the time, the U.S. faced the most hostile air defense environment the U.S. had ever seen at that point in history. The North Vietnamese had state of the art Soviet air defense systems. They were also being led by Soviets at the time. The enemy, therefore, was extremely skilled at defending its airspace. Because the air defense environment was more dense than anything the world had ever seen at the time, the North Vietnamese sent approximately six thousand American pilots to their deaths and took thousands more as prisoner. In that type of environment, even the best of pilots went down.
Having to out maneuver both surface to air missiles and antiaircraft artillery fire, the pilots of the VA-163 squadron developed special maneuvers to outsmart the missile’s guidance systems. It was this antiaircraft artillery fire that brought down McCain’s Skyhawk as he flew at low altitude. It was his 23rd mission.
“I reached automatically the moment I took the hit and saw that my wing was gone. I radioed, ‘I’m hit,’ reached up, and pulled the ejection seat handle. I struck part of the airplane, breaking my left arm, my right arm in three places, and my right knee …”
McCain went down in a lake in the center of Hanoi and was pulled to shore by locals. A crowd formed around him at the shore as he was kicked and spit on. His shoulder was crushed by the butt of a rifle as another man stabbed his foot with a bayonet. It was on the shore that McCain noticed the pain of a broken right leg, and both arms.
At what was Americans called the Hanoi Hilton, McCain received no medical attention. Only after the enemy realized who McCain’s father was did he see any care that was mediocre at best. Several days after his capture, however, he is told, “Your father is a big admiral; now we take you to the hospital.”
“In fact, my treatment at the hospital almost killed me … I was not washed once while I was in the hospital. I almost never saw a doctor or nurse.” After the hospitalization McCain was put into a cell with two other Americans who did not believe McCain last longer than one week. Six weeks in and still in an stretcher and chest cast, his weight had dipped below 100 pounds.
In March of 1968 McCain was put into solitary confinement and remained there for two years. It was in July of 1968 that his father, Admiral John McCain, Jr. was named commander of all U.S. forces in Vietnam.
With his father’s elevated status, McCain was offered an early release by the North Vietnamese, which he refused. The military code of conduct states that no POW is to be released until all those before him have been released. Because the America’s very first POW had yet to have been released, McCain repeatedly refused the offer.
The more times McCain refused, the more often he was tortured. The guy went through hell. Unlike the U.S., which tortures in order to extract intelligence, the North Vietnamese tortured for the very sake of torture, as any valuable information McCain had had expired and become obsolete. Refusing the offer of early release, combined with who his dad was, meant that McCain would be tortured throughout his five years in captivity.
His elbows were bound behind his back and used to suspend him from a beam affixed to the ceiling. Without clothing, he was put into a smaller room where he was beaten every two to three hours by different guards. This occurred for four days straight, during which his arm was re-broken and his ribs were cracked. The beatings continued throughout his five and a half years in captivity, which he described in detail shortly after he and his fellow captives returned to the United States in 1963.
You might be wondering as to why the Vietnam Story Hour was necessary. Whether Republican or Democrat, “purist” or “rino,” stories like these can never be forgotten. I don’t care who you are. No man has the right to speak ill of a former POW’s time in service – especially those not having served a day in their life. Ask anyone even remotely associated with the military about what he or she thinks McCain the Naval aviator. The answer will contain nothing but respect and admiration.
Support for Donald Trump’s remarks on McCain’s captivity are cause for great concern. Never did I think I’d see the day when our very own conservatives verbally berate the service of a POW or reduce his selflessness and heroism to because he was captured. Thousands of Americans have been captured. What garnered so much respect was McCain’s selflessness and determination while in captivity. Even worse, I have read echoes and support of Trump’s statements throughout conservative blogs and Twitter.
As I stated before, Senator McCain ought to primaried and thrown out of office. I do not, however, let his disastrous Senate career mar my respect and admiration for the man that against all odds and advice, underwent over five years of torture so that other captives might first be freed.