A piece I wrote up with my thoughts on recently passed Senator and retired US Navy Captain John McCain.
John McCain passed away this afternoon at his home in Arizona, surrounded by family. I never personally knew the Senator. He was already into his first Senate term when my Navy career started in the mid 80s and I never had an opportunity or reason to interact with him.
I do have a bit of a Navy-related kinship with him, however. He was a squadron mate of my later father-in-law back in the 1960s for a bit, a number of my Dad’s contemporaries of that time knew and served with John McCain, and my Dad, as a carrier-based A-4 pilot (the same plane McCain flew) went out on missions just like the one McCain was shot down on, over Hanoi and other parts of North Vietnam. The saying “There but by the grace of God went my father” comes to mind.
There will be – has been – no shortage of commentary on the Senator’s political career, much of it of a negative and oftentimes discourteous and raucous nature. I’ll leave that to others to comment on. I prefer to remember the senator and retired Navy captain for his Navy career, a true reflection of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s quote that “There are no extraordinary men… just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with.” Whether you believe John McCain was an ordinary man or not, what he went through from 1967 until 1973 was extraordinary.
On a mission over Hanoi in North Vietnam, only his 23rd mission into that combat arena, McCain’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire.
With a wing blown off his jet, the only option left for then Lieutenant Commander McCain was to eject. Any ejection out of a jet is a roll of the dice – and with the A-4 Skyhawk, a single seat subsonic attack aircraft that has been described as an aircraft “you wore rather than climbed into” given its tight cockpit confines, riding a rocket seat out of an out of controlled aircraft from the close quarters of a cockpit can prove to be problematic, at best.
The ejection ended up breaking both his arms and a leg. His parachute, automatically deploying immediately based on the low altitude, deposited him into a lake in downtown Hanoi. From that day, 26 October 1967 until his repatriation with the other US POWs in February 1973 McCain was a “guest” of the North Vietnamese at the Hanoi Hilton.
By any definition those years were an extraordinary experience for LCDR McCain, and as far as I’m concerned he conducted himself with honor and distinction – and in an extraordinary manner. That experience alone should garner the respect from every American. Strapping on a piece of aviation hardware and heading out to take your place at the tip of your country’s national security spear is an honor that few are given. To accept and perform that mission, along with whatever consequences that comes with it, is the definition of respect.
There a saying in the Navy when shipmates pass away – “Fair winds and following seas,” meaning fond wishes for a smooth and calm passage. For an aircraft carrier-based naval aviator though, those “following seas” implies a downwind recovery on the ship, with winds at your back.
Rather, I’ll wish the Senator and former Naval Aviator a carrier with a bone in her teeth, a ready deck, a strong 20 knots of wind down the angle, and an OK-3 wire trap as you head west.
Godspeed, John McCain. Blessings to your family and loved ones on your passing.
These thoughts were posted on the Eagle PAC Web site at