America Remembers John McCain

I was in attendance on Pearl Harbor Day, 2016, when John McCain spoke at the World War II Memorial in Washington.

There has probably been no family as associated with the Pacific as the McCain’s. John McCain’s grandfather, John S. McCain Sr., was a 4-star Admiral leading Carrier Attack Forces in the Pacific during the Second World War. Later, during the Vietnam War, his father, John S. McCain Jr., was CINCPAC, Commander in Chief Pacific, at the same time his son was being held as a Prisoner of War in Hanoi.

Senator McCain (John S. McCain III) told some family stories that day which I had never heard. He was 4 or 5 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed. On that day, a Navy car pulled into the family driveway. A man in uniform came up to his father and said: “Mr. McCain, you must return to the base. The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.” “We rarely saw my father after that for the next four years,” Senator McCain said. “He ended up out in the Pacific in submarines fighting the war.” He also related that his grandfather, Admiral “Slew” McCain, came home exhausted from the war effort in the Pacific, and died just days after the formal surrender of the Japanese in Tokyo Bay.

When you try to think of a family who has sacrificed more than the McCain’s for this country, it is hard to come up with a name. As a Vietnam veteran, it was mind-boggling to me that President Trump could make light of Senator McCain being a prisoner of war for 5 years in Hanoi. The lowering of the flag at the White House when McCain died, then the premature raising of it, followed by again putting it at half-mast in accordance with policy at the rest of federal government buildings … was an especially sad commentary on the state of our national politics.

As a young man, John McCain was a rebel. He probably felt constrained by the expectations of being in a famous military family. He grew up in a family where a Naval career was the norm. Though he attended Annapolis, he chafed under the regimentation of the Academy and graduated fifth from the bottom in his class. As a Naval Aviator, he took chances and sometimes flew too low. He is reported to have taken out an electrical transmission line while making a low pass in an airplane over a river in Spain … and survived.

When I was in the Navy they called aviators like McCain “Airdales.” They partied hard, they flew hard, they fought hard. I ran into a few of them one night at a Naval Officer’s Club in the Philippines. (Their aircraft carrier was in port for just a few days to refuel and resupply.) It was an experience I will never forget. Two days after that party they were back out on the line in the South China Sea flying missions over North Vietnam. For all I know, one of them, that night, could have been John McCain.

Courage is a hard thing to define. However, I have always believed that those “Airdales” flying combat missions, day-after-day from carriers against North Vietnam qualified as such. When he became a U.S. Senator, I didn’t always agree with McCain’s aggressive stance on military policy. However, he was in the mainstream when it came to the big issues facing the country, and was ready to look across the aisle when it came to matters like immigration, election finance reform and health policy. He would have been a good President.

If I were back at an Officers Club on a Naval Base in the Pacific today, I would have to raise a glass and toast to a life well-spent on behalf of the country. You were a good man, John McCain.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.