Senator John Sidney McCain III passed away on Saturday, August 25, 2018 just over a year after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
I did not know Senator McCain personally, and can in no way attempt to eulogize him in the manner in which he deserves. However, as service members and military families, we are all connected to one another through our service and sacrifice – regardless of age, generation, branch, rank or duty station.
John McCain was one of us. His family, one of our own.
Senator McCain served for 32 years in the United States Senate where he was known as a “renegade” and a “maverick.” But, first and foremost, John McCain was a Sailor.
He came from a long line of distinguished Naval officers. He saw the Navy as his family and the U.S. Naval Academy as his spiritual home. This Sunday, he returns to Annapolis for the last time and will be buried next to his Academy classmate and best friend, Admiral Chuck Larson.
This last act is perhaps John McCain’s most enduring statement to the world – that he was a veteran and proud of it.
In 1967, on a balmy September morning in Orange Park, Florida, Lieutenant Commander McCain hugged his wife and children before departing for what he thought would be a short deployment on the USS ORISKANY. The following month he was shot down and seriously injured over Hanoi in North Vietnam and subsequently taken prisoner. McCain was nursed back to health from certain death by his fellow American cellmates, placed in solitary confinement for two years, and tortured incessantly for refusing to be released for reasons contrary to the Code of Conduct.
In March 1973, after a five-and-a-half-year separation from his family and the country he loved, John McCain finally came home. No one would have blamed him if he had decided to say farewell to the Naval service after everything he’d been through.
But that was not John McCain.
Following a stint at the National War College, he spent nine grueling months of intensive physical therapy to get back into flight status. Not only did he fly again, he went on to command an A-7 squadron in Jacksonville and was eventually promoted to Captain.
Seeing that his physical limitations due to his treatment at the “Hanoi Hilton” would prevent him from remaining in a flight status for much longer, Captain McCain sought another avenue of public service and brought his extensive experience of military service to elected office. There is no doubt that his three decades in the Senate were made more impactful as a result of the years he spent as a POW. The politics of D.C. were no match for a man who demonstrated such strength and resiliency during the five years he spent as a “guest” of the “Hanoi Hilton.”
John McCain had many faults, he would be the first to admit that. He was human, subject to all the “slings and arrows” that life throws at us, subject to mistakes in judgement, both professional and personal, and subject to bouts of passion and outrage. But love him or hate him, John McCain loved this country and the people who call it home. He gave his life to its service. What more can we ask of our public servants?
When my husband and I heard the news of his death, we made a point to talk to our kids about John McCain – who he was, his military service and the sheer bravery he demonstrated in the face of the unimaginable. We told them, “you will remember this moment someday.”
The great man himself said it best in his farewell letter to his fellow Americans:
“Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.”
This is the lesson we want our children to learn and hold in their hearts as they forge their own way in this world.
Fair winds and following seas, Captain McCain.
Jen’s husband, Captain Timothy Kinsella (USN), contributed to this post.