Fellow blogger “Veteran Veritas” (Marine Michael Patrick Brewer) wrote a recent article about the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam war (click here), complete with photos. Coincidentally I had recently I picked up a copy of Arizona Senior Senator John McCain’s 1999 memoir “Faith of my Fathers”, co-authored with his former legislative/administrative aide Mark Salter.
It is engrossing, compelling autobiography of a boy who grew up in the shadow of a 4 star Admiral grandfather, John Sidney McCain Senior, and a 4 star Admiral father John Sidney McCain Junior, both commanders in the U.S. Navy. John Sidney McCain III (now Arizona’s senior U.S. Senator) had no choice but to enter the U.S. Naval Academy (where he was a disobedient student) and then volunteered to fight in Vietnam, as a Navy pilot. On his 23rd bombing run over North Vietnam, his A-4 plane was shot down near Hanoi.
The book has several harrowing chapters detailing the subsequent capture and imprisonment of Navy pilot Lt. Commander McCain in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” jail and “The Plantation” POW camp, as well as others. Warning to readers: this is not easy reading due to the graphic nature of the deprivations/hardships & torture described over a 5 and a half year period. I am truly amazed that anyone survived those POW camps run by the Vietcong. Many did not.
To survive the repeated beatings, McCain says he turned to his faith (page 257 in “Lanterns of Faith” chapter):
“This is the faith that my commanders affirmed, that my brothers-in-arms encouraged my allegiance to. It was the faith I had unknowingly embraced at the Naval Academy. It was my father’s and grandfather’s faith. A filty, crippled, broken man, all I had left of my dignity was the faith of my fathers. It was enough.” Despite the torture, McCain turned down several opportunities to be sent home early (due to being an Admiral’s son) as he refused to leave before everyone was freed.
He also eloquently wrote in the previous paragraph: “Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely, and who rely on you in return. No misfortune, no injury, no humiliation can destroy it.”
McCain was a POW from October 26, 1967 to March 14, 1973 during the Vietnam Conflict, and he suffered permanent injuries from his torture (read more in wikipedia).
Towards the end of his captivity he recalls witnessing guards dragging fellow POW Mike Christian (Navy bombardier-navigator) away & later returned him beaten badly (punctured eardrum & several broken ribs). Mike had been punished because had sewn a make-shift American flag from scraps, which the other POWs had been saying the Pledge of Allegiance to. That evening while others slept injured Mike crawled over to some naked light bulbs and starting sewing another flag. Says McCain of this incident “I witnessed many acts of heroism in prison, but none braver than that.” (from “Pledge of Allegiance” chapter, page 336)
Even if you don’t always agree with Arizona’s Senator John McCain’s political stances, pick up this gripping, well-written memoir to learn more about his courageous past, and his strong sense of family.