United States senator and retired Navy Capt. John S. McCain died yesterday in Arizona after a long battle with cancer. He was 81.
McCain chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee, but it was his life of service and his heroism in Vietnam that inscribed his name in the hearts of service members everywhere.
“We have lost a man who steadfastly represented the best ideals of our country,” Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said in a DoD release. “As a naval officer and defiant prisoner of war, John McCain stood with his brothers-in-arms until they returned home together.”
McCain, the grandson and son of four-star Navy admirals, was captured in North Vietnam in 1967. He was wounded in ejecting from his aircraft. The North Vietnamese sought to gain propaganda by torturing him into asking for an out-of-sequence release. He refused to leave. He spent more than five years in the Hanoi Hilton.
Selfless Service to the Nation
“Passionately committed to our country, Senator McCain always put service to the nation before self,” Mattis wrote. “He recognized that for our experiment in democracy to long endure, people of action and passion must serve. In this he represented what he believed, that ‘a shared purpose does not claim our identity -- on the contrary, it enlarges your sense of self.’”
McCain graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958. He trained as an aviator and volunteered for service as a Navy pilot in Vietnam.
“Senator McCain exemplified what it means to be a warrior and dedicated public servant,” Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a written release. “Both as a naval officer and as a member of Congress, he was a lifelong and tireless advocate for the men and women of the U.S. military.”
Upon returning from Vietnam, McCain underwent months of grueling physical therapy and was returned to flight status. He commanded a training squadron in Florida and then served as the Navy’s liaison to the U.S. Senate. He retired as a captain in 1981. His military decorations include the Silver Star, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze Star medals, two Purple Hearts and the Prisoner of War Medal.
McCain was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and then to the U.S. Senate from Arizona. He joined the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1987, and championed getting soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen what they needed. He also took the time to listen to their concerns and went directly to the frontlines to hear from them.
Supporter of the U.S. Armed Forces
“Senator McCain recognized the sacrifice and hardships military members and their families can experience and proudly served as their champion in Congress,” Dunford said. “He visited our nation's wounded warriors around the country to offer encouragement and to thank them for their service. Through his tenacious and selfless leadership in the Senate, he fought hard to ensure our armed forces remained strong and had the support and resources needed to succeed when placed in harm's way.”
Dunford added, “While we mourn Senator McCain's passing, we are eternally grateful for his distinguished service to our nation, his advocacy of the U.S. military and the incredible example he set for us all.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)