I'm going to start a little series here of reasons why John McCain is a good candidate for President and an incredible and honorable human being. It's time for us conservatives to put away the talk of HAVING to vote for McCain and allow me the opportunity to convince you why it is our privilege to GET to vote for so great a man. Please keep an open mind and reserve your FINAL JUDGEMENT until the end of the series which will be 4 or 5 posts altogether. We all have heard that John McCain is a war hero but I wanted to remind everyone of why that is an understatement and not an exaggeration. My first post here focuses on John McCain the American hero.
On October 26, 1967, McCain was flying as part of a 20-plane attack against a thermal power plant in central Hanoi, a heavily defended target area that had previously been off-limits to U.S. raids. McCain's A-4 Skyhawk had its wing blown off by a Soviet-made SA-2 anti-aircraft missile while pulling up after dropping its bombs. McCain fractured both arms and a leg in being hit and ejecting from his plane as it went into a vertical inverted spin. He nearly drowned after he parachuted into Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi. After he regained consciousness, a mob gathered around, spat on him, kicked him, and stripped him of his clothes. Others crushed his shoulder with the butt of a rifle and bayoneted him in his left foot and abdominal area; he was then transported to Hanoi's main Hoa Loa Prison, nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton" by American POWs.
Although McCain was badly wounded, his captors refused to give him medical care unless he gave them military information; they beat and interrogated him, but McCain only offered his name, rank, serial number, and date of birth, and then his ship's name, squadron's name, and their intended target (disclosing this information was in violation of the Code of Conduct, which McCain later wrote he regretted, but in practice was of no military value to the North Vietnamese). Further coerced to give the names of his squadron members, he supplied the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line. Soon thinking he was near death, McCain said he would give them more information if taken to the hospital, hoping he could then put them off once he was treated. A prison doctor came and said it was too late, as McCain was about to die anyway. Only when the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was a top admiral did they give him medical care and announce his capture. At this point, two days after McCain's plane went down, that event and his status as a POW made the front pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.
McCain spent six weeks in the Hoa Loa hospital, receiving marginal care. He was interviewed by a French television reporter whose report was carried on CBS, and was observed by a variety of North Vietnamese, including the famous General Vo Nguyen Giap. Many of the North Vietnamese observers assumed that he must be part of America's political-military-economic elite. Now having lost 50 pounds, in a chest cast, and with his hair turned white, McCain was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp on the outskirts of Hanoi nicknamed "the Plantation" in December 1967, into a cell with two other Americans who did not expect him to live a week (one was Bud Day, a future Medal of Honor recipient); they nursed McCain and kept him alive. In March 1968, McCain was put into solitary confinement, where he would remain for two years. In July 1968, McCain's father was named Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC), stationed in Honolulu and commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theater. McCain was immediately offered a chance to return home early: the North Vietnamese wanted a worldwide propaganda coup by appearing merciful, and also wanted to show other POWs that elites like McCain were willing to be treated preferentially. McCain turned down the offer of repatriation, due to the Code of Conduct principle of "first in, first out": he would only accept the offer if every man taken in before him was released as well. McCain's refusal to be released was even remarked upon by North Vietnamese senior negotiator Le Duc Tho to U.S. envoy Averell Harriman during the ongoing Paris Peace Talks.
In August of 1968, a program of vigorous torture methods began on McCain, using rope bindings into painful positions, and beatings every two hours, at the same time as he was suffering from dysentery. Teeth and bones were broken again, as was McCain's spirit; the beginning of a suicide attempt was stopped by guards. After four days of this, McCain signed an anti-American propaganda "confession" that said he was a "black criminal" and an "air pirate", although he used stilted Communist jargon and ungrammatical language to signal that the statement was forced. He felt then and always that he had dishonored his country, his family, his comrades and himself by his statement, but as he would later write, "I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine." His injuries to this day have left him incapable of raising his arms above his head. Two weeks later his captors tried to force him to sign a second statement, and this time, his will to resist restored, he refused. He received two to three beatings per week because of his continued refusal. Other American POWs were similarly tortured and maltreated in order to extract "confessions". On one occasion, a guard surreptitiously loosened McCain's painful rope bindings for a night; when months later the guard later saw McCain on Christmas Day, he stood next to McCain and silently drew a cross in the dirt with his foot (decades later, McCain would relate this Good Samaritan story during his presidential campaigns, as a testament to faith and humanity). On Christmas Eve 1968, a church service for the POWs was staged for photographers and film cameras; McCain defied North Vietnamese instructions to be quiet, speaking out details of his treatment then shouting "Fu-u-u-u-ck you, you son of a bitch!" and giving the finger whenever a camera was pointed at him. McCain refused to meet with various anti-war peace groups coming to Hanoi, such as those led by David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, and Rennie Davis, not wanting to give either them or the North Vietnamese a propaganda victory based on his connection to his father.
In May 1969, U.S. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird began publicly questioning North Vietnamese treatment of U.S. prisoners. On June 5, 1969, a Radio Hanoi broadcast denied any mistreatment, and quoted from a statement it attributed to McCain: "I have bombed the cities, towns and villages and caused injuries and even death for the people of North Vietnam. After I was captured, I was taken to a hospital in Hanoi where I received very good medical treatment." In October 1969, treatment of McCain and the other POWs suddenly improved, after a badly beaten and weakened POW who had been released that summer disclosed to the world press the conditions to which they were being subjected and the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, including McCain's brother Joe, heightened awareness of the POWs' plight. In December 1969, McCain was transferred back to the Hoa Loa "Hanoi Hilton"; his solitary confinement ended in March 1970. McCain continued to refuse to see anti-war groups or journalists sympathetic to the North Vietnamese regime; to one visitor who did speak with him, McCain later wrote, "I told him I had no remorse about what I did, and that I would do it over again if the same opportunity presented itself." McCain and other prisoners were moved around to different camps at times, but conditions over the next several years were generally more tolerable than they had been before. Back at the "Hanoi Hilton" from November 1971 onward, McCain and the other POWs cheered the intense, Hanoi-focused, B-52-led U.S. "Christmas Bombing" campaign of December 1972 — whose explosions lit the night sky and shook the walls of the camp, and whose daily orders were issued by McCain's father, knowing his son was in the vicinity — as a forceful measure to force North Vietnam to terms.
Altogether, McCain was held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for five and a half years. The Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 27, 1973, ending direct U.S. involvement in the war, but the Operation Homecoming arrangements for POWs took longer; McCain was finally released from captivity on March 15, 1973, having been a POW for almost an extra five years due to his refusal to accept the out-of-sequence repatriation offer.