- Lieutenant Commander John Sidney McCain, III, USN (to his North Vietnamese captors)
Last week, politics in South Carolina hit probably its lowest point since the state plunged America into its bloodiest-ever war with the 1860 attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. Fliers were mailed to households throughout the state claiming that John McCain, a true American hero whose son is serving in Iraq with the US Marines, had betrayed his fellow POW's in Vietnam by receiving special treatment from the enemy. As regular readers know, Senator McCain is not my first choice for President this year, but I couldn't let this base and vile attack go unanswered. For the real story, I highly recommend the exhaustively researched and definitive work on the POW experience, P.O.W.: A Definitive History of the American Prisoner-Of-War Experience in Vietnam, 1964-1973, as well as Robert Timberg's The Nightingale's Song, from which the following excerpts are taken:
Knocked out on ejection, he regained consciousness as he hit the tepid water of a small lake in the center of Hanoi...His right knee was broken...he also broke both arms...An angry crowd of several hundred Vietnamese had gathered, all seemingly armed. Stripped down to his skivvies, he was kicked and spat on, then bayoneted in the left ankle and left groin...an onlooker slammed a rifle butt down on his shoulder, smashing it.
His captors, demanding military information, told him that as a war criminal he was not protected by international covenants governing the treatment of prisoners of war. He responded as he had been trained, with name, rank, serial number, and date of birth. Infuriated, his interrogators kicked him and pounded him with their fists. "That just knocked me out, so the interrrogations were fairly short," recalled McCain, as if he had somehow outfoxed the North Vietnamese by getting them to beat him senseless.
For the rest of his hospital stay he was never bathed, never cleaned, never shaved...He was told he needed more surgery on (his) knee but that he wouldn't get it because of his "bad attitude." One day an officer asked McCain if he wanted anything special to eat. He said, no, he would eat what everyone else ate...One evening (fellow POW Norris Overly) told McCain and (Air Force pilot Bud) Day that the Vietnamese might send him home...Said McCain, "I wouldn't even consider any kind of a release. They'll have to drag me out of here."...The next day Overly was moved out...Five years later, when McCain was freed with the rest of the POWs, Overly called him. They spoke briefly. They have not talked since.
One day, (fellow POW) Jack Van Loan peered through a peephole in his cell door and saw a crowd of North Vietnamese dignitaries trudging through the courtyard toward the cell that McCain and Day shared...A few minutes later, Van Loan heard McCain cut loose with a string of obscenities that knifed through the silence of the cellblock. "It was some of the most colorful profanity that you would ever hope to hear," said Van Loan. "He was calling them every name in the book, and telling them that he was not going home early, that he wasn't going to ask for amnesty and not to ask him that again and to get out and, furthermore, screw you and the horse you rode in on...Those guys came tumbling back out of there like tumbleweeds... You can't imagine the example John set for the rest of the camp by doing that."...That night, guards removed Bud Day from the cell, leaving McCain by himself. He was alone for the next two years.
A week later he was braced in a stark room...Ten guards were standing by...Amid laughter and muttered oaths, (McCain) was slammed from one guard to another, bounced from wall to wall, knocked down, kicked, dragged to his feet, knocked back down, punched again and again in the face. When the beating was over, he lay on the floor, bloody, arms and legs throbbing, ribs cracked, several teeth broken off at the gumline. "Are you ready to confess your crimes?"..."No." The ropes came next...his arms, battered, broken, and bruised in one way or another since the day he was shot down, were lashed behind his back, then cinched tightly together to intensify the pain. He was left on a stool. Throughout the night, guards came in, asked him if he was ready to confess, then smashed their fists into him when he told them no.
The next several days fell into a harrowing routine. The ropes came off in the morning. Beatings were administered throughout the day, usually by one guard, sometimes two. On occasion two guards would hold him up while a third hammered him senseless. At night, the ropes were reapplied...Still plagued by dysentery, he often regained consciousness to find himself lying in his own waste. During one beating, staggered by a fist to the face, he slumped to the floor, smashing his left arm...breaking it again. But he was back in torture ropes that night.
There is obviously much more, but you get the picture. Regardless of what you think of Senator McCain's politics, you have to respect and honor him for his valor and service to our nation during wartime. You especially have to respect him for allowing his own son to join the Marines and deploy to Iraq, something only a handful of legislators, including fellow Naval Academy graduate and Senator Jim Webb, have done. Back to finance with the next post...