Peter Cavanaugh

Farewell, Senator McCain, your straight talk and heroism will be missed

Sen. John McCain, then the Republican presidential nominee, speaks to supporters at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 31, 2008. McCain, the proud naval aviator who climbed from depths of despair as a prisoner of war in Vietnam to pinnacles of power as a Republican congressman and senator from Arizona and a two-time contender for the presidency, died on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, at his home in Arizona. He was 81.
Sen. John McCain, then the Republican presidential nominee, speaks to supporters at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 31, 2008. McCain, the proud naval aviator who climbed from depths of despair as a prisoner of war in Vietnam to pinnacles of power as a Republican congressman and senator from Arizona and a two-time contender for the presidency, died on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, at his home in Arizona. He was 81. New York Times file

A setting Arizona sun exploded across the heavens with fiery red, sacred salutation the evening John McCain went home.

In Michigan in 2000, I switched my official party registration to vote for him in the Republican presidential primary. I liked that “Straight Talk Express” guy. McCain carried the state over George W. Bush but bowed out of the race a few weeks later after lack of strong national conservative support and questionable oppositional tactics doomed his chances.

Surviving capture and torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam taught John McCain the mighty power of personal perseverance. Against all odds, he became the Republican Party’s 2008 candidate for president and was leading the Democratic upstart, Barack Obama, by a full 10 percentage points in early September USA/Gallup polling.

Then the stock market collapsed on Sept. 29 as the Dow Jones Average fell 777.68 points in a single day. McCain’s chances plummeted right along with it. He lost the presidency to Obama 52.1 percent to 44.4 percent, a theoretical shift of 17 percentage points in less than eight weeks’ time.

I was disappointed in the senator’s significant move to the right in subsequent years, although such was surely understandable from a practical political perspective.

The emergence of the Tea Party following Barack Obama’s election and their flag-waving impact on 2010 midterm elections was a very big deal. It resulted in GOP control of the House, while reducing Democratic strength in the Senate. McCain remembered those songs from ’Nam. “You don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.” Arizona reelected McCain to his sixth Senate term in 2016.

The TV news bulletin hit at 5:27 Saturday afternoon. It was a shock, even though eloquent word had been received only a day earlier that medical treatment for terminal brain cancer had come to a merciful end. The senator’s family said McCain “had surpassed expectations for survival, but the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age rendered their verdict.” But still. So fast.

With all of the many accomplishments this extraordinary warrior achieved in his amazing lifetime, there is one moment that seems to rise above the rest – when he unselfishly chose brotherly devotion over easy escape.

McCain was flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam on Oct. 26, 1967 when his A-4R Skyhawk was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. McCain fractured both arms and a leg when he ejected from the aircraft, nearly drowning when his parachute landed in a lake. North Vietnamese pulled him ashore, then crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt and bayoneted him several times for good measure. He was further beaten and interrogated without medical treatment until it was revealed that his father was a U.S. Navy admiral, after which he begrudgingly received minimal care.

In mid-1968, John’s dad, Admiral John McCain II, was named Commander of the Pacific Fleet. The North Vietnamese – in a cynical attempt at gaining favorable publicity – offered McCain immediate release. The future Senator McCain refused repatriation unless every man imprisoned before him was also freed.

After this display of “impudence,” young McCain was subjected to a program of severe torture, bound and beaten every two hours for weeks and suspended from the ceiling by his elbows. In one form or another, this went on for the next five years.

As his cortege departing Sedona drove into that glorious Saturday sunset, a true American hero went home.

With vibrant clouds of golden brilliance, “His Lord said unto him, well done, thou good and faithful servant.” – Matthew 25:21.

As the light shined upon him.

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