John McCain’s father and grandfather were both four-star admirals which is one of the highest ranks in the U.S. Navy. He was born into a military family. Although he attended the Naval Academy, his heart was in history and literature. He loved Ernest Hemingway. After graduating fifth from the bottom of his class as a rebellious student, he didn’t really take his military career seriously until after he survived a solo plane crash and a horrific fire on the USS Forrestal aircraft carrier that killed over 130 sailors. Then he was shot down over Vietnam and captured. He was a prisoner of war for five and a half years. He was sick, starved and tortured. At one point, he was offered early freedom because of his family’s military standing. But he refused unless all those captured before him were also released. Because of his decision, he was tortured even more.
Most of us will thankfully never know what it is like to be a prisoner of war. But to have the character and honour to make the decisions John McCain made, under that kind of duress, is the definition of a hero. He didn’t choose the military life, and he rebelled against it at first, but once he accepted it he never looked back.
The torture meant that he would never again raise his arms above his shoulders, but the next thing he did once home from war was commit to a life of service in politics. Although he was Republican, he voted from his heart and often crossed the aisle. We may not have agreed with every decision he made, but in his mind he always put his country first. Before red or blue he was American.
In his recent memoir, McCain said, “I hope those who mourn my passing, and even those who don’t, will celebrate as I celebrate a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued success is the hope of the world. And I wish all of you great adventures, good company, and lives as lucky as mine.”
Lives as lucky as mine. May we all be so blessed to see our ups and downs, our highest peaks and our lowest lows, as lucky.
RIP Senator McCain. Thank you for being an inspiring maverick to us all.