With the passing of U.S. Sen. John McCain, we have lost an American patriot and a man of great courage, conviction, integrity and honor.
McCain graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958. He became a naval aviator and flew ground-attack aircraft from aircraft carriers. During the Vietnam War, on a bombing mission over Hanoi in October 1967, he was shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air missile, seriously injured and captured by the North Vietnamese. He was held as a prisoner of war for five and one-half years in the “Hanoi Hilton.” During this period, McCain experienced episodes of brutal torture and was held in solitary confinement for long periods of time. The wounds that he sustained left him with lifelong physical disabilities.
When the North Vietnamese discovered that both his father and grandfather were four-star admirals in the U.S. Navy, McCain was repeatedly offered early repatriation. However, he refused, insisting that the priority for release should be based on the length of time served as a POW and that enlisted personnel should be released before officers.
A few yeas ago, my wife Carmelita and I were representing Idaho’s veterans in Washington, D.C., advocating for veterans legislation on Capitol Hill. When it came time for our appointment with Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, we were informed that he had been called to a special legislative session. However, his legislative assistant texted him and he agreed to meet us in the hall outside his meeting room.
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While we were visiting with Sen. Risch, Sen. John McCain emerged from the meeting and saw us speaking. Recognizing us as veterans in our VFW uniforms, he yelled out, referring to Sen. Risch: “Don’t speak to that guy, he hates veterans!”
The two senators were obviously good friends as they both broke out in laughter. Sen. McCain then stopped and visited with us, thanking us for our service and offering to pose for a picture. Later, I mentioned to my wife what a good mood McCain was in and how relaxed and happy he seemed. I made that comment thinking about how solemn and serious Sen. McCain always seemed to appear on national TV.
This is the sweet memory of Sen. McCain that Carmelita and I will always have, of the wonderful opportunity we had of meeting and visiting with this national hero who had given a lifetime of service to our nation. As a fellow veteran, just to stand in the presence of this American hero was an awe-inspiring experience and one that I will never forget.
Bob Jones is legislative representative and all-American state commander of Department of Idaho Veterans of Foreign Wars.