As a rule I typically try to avoid writing about present-day political leaders, because on the whole I find politics to be a petty, divisive, boring and ultimately meaningless exercise that only serves to piss regular people off and give them a reason to be irrationally angry about government workings that they have absolutely no realistic chance of ever legitimately changing. Plus, I have such a diverse reader base that any political statement I make is likely to alienate 50% of my target audience. However, earlier this week, noted Capitalist Bond-villain and self-aggrandizing fuckwit maniac Donald Trump, a man who has never discharged a weapon in anger in his entire pretentious life, came out and publicly said that U.S. Senator John McCain isn’t a real war hero because (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Lol looser any retard can get captured in a war haha, if you think that’s hard why don’t you try inheriting millions of dollars from your rich parents sometime rofl”.
When asked about whether or not he was a hero for being captured by enemy forces in downtown Hanoi immediately after blowing the power to the entire city from the cockpit of an air-to-ground attack jet fighter, McCain gave the kind of response you’d expect to hear when you pull the ripcord on the back of a talking POW/MIA Special Edition G.I. Joe action figure: He said, nah, Trump doesn’t owe me an apology for this, but he might possibly owe one to the tens of thousands of American POWs who dutifully sacrificed their health and freedom and endured brutal hardships at the hands of cruel enemy captors for their country over the past three hundred years or so.
It’s the perfect response. But fuck that. Sure, the typical, “I’m not a hero, the real heroes are the guys who are out there blah blah blah….” is the sort of thing you expect to hear from a badass war hero when he talks about how he single-handedly beat twenty-seven enemy corporals to death with the severed dong of their commanding officer, but this is some serious grade-A bullshit. I don’t care where you stand on political issues – saying John McCain isn’t a fucking war hero is a top-ten all-time dick move, right up there with those hipster dipshits who get off on telling people they “don’t see what the big deal is” about Escape from New York or who love to boast that Predator is only good because it’s ironically funny. This guy volunteered for front-line combat, flew 20+ missions deep into enemy territory, risked his life to pull his comrades out of burning aircraft, survived a six-year nightmare in the most hellish POW camp this side of WWII, and then refused a golden ticket out of there because he didn’t want to demoralize the rest of the men in the camp who were heroically resisting some of the most brutal torture you can possibly imagine. Then, after a half-decade of torture in a brutal black hole of soul-crushing misery, the second he was released he requested to be returned to front-line military duty.
Born on a naval base near the Panama Canal in 1936, John McCain III comes from a long line of American war heroes who stomped the fucking balls of freedom’s enemies from Normandy Beach to the South China Sea. His grandfather was a hard-drinking, gambling, foul-mouthed sailor who commanded a U.S. Navy cruiser escorting convoys to Europe during World War I. During the Second World War, John McCain I also commanded air operations over Guadalcanal (including the Cactus Air Force) and led Fleet Task Forces during the Battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf. The dude was so fucking important that he was there first-hand to witness the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in 1945, and he died three days later because his work was done and the country didn’t need him to stomp asses any more. Meanwhile, beneath the waves, John McCain II was commanding a U.S. submarine that blasted the shit out of half a dozen Japanese ships off the coast of Tokyo itself. McCain II later went on to command a cruiser during the Korean War, took a couple posts at the Pentagon, and then became overall commander of all U.S. Navy assets in the Pacific Ocean during the Vietnam War.
Rolling into action like an awesome action movie sequel, John McCain III followed in the footsteps of his ancestors (both of whom were four-star Admirals) and attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. A high school wrestler and lightweight boxer with a badass appreciation for Theodore Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln, McCain graduated in 1958 and immediately went to flight school to learn how to bomb the piss out of Commies at Mach One from the cockpit of an awesome-looking fighter jet. Known for going full-throttle balls-to-the-wall all the time, McCain crashed two aircraft trying to push it to the limit, and then he used his R&R shore leave to go off and hook up with (and eventually marry) a chick who was working as a professional model.
Well, this was cool and everything, but McCain realized he was getting some pretty soft postings on account of the fact that his dad was such an important bastard, and he wanted to see some action. So with the Vietnam War really picking up speed in 1967 McCain requested a transfer to a combat posting, and was sent to the Gulf of Tonkin to fly A-4 Skyhawk air-to-ground attack fighters in insanely-daring bombing runs over the heart of North Vietnam itself.
McCain was stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal off the coast of Vietnam, but disaster struck before he’d barely had any chance to get shit going. On July 29, 1967, McCain was strapping into his jet fighter when suddenly a nearby U.S. fighter had a malfunction that sent one of its missiles hurtling into the deck of the Forrestal. The blast was so close to McCain that it caught the fuel tanks of his fighter on fire, and within seconds his ammo started to cook off as well, releasing more rockets and explosions into the flight deck. Somehow McCain managed to break his way through the flaming cockpit and climb out, and then, already covered with minor cuts and burns, this guy ran head-first into the inferno to try and rescue a few of his fellow pilots. While helping one pilot, however, a nearby bomb exploded from the heat, racking McCain with shrapnel and knocking him hard to the deck. The blaze cost 134 sailors their lives, making it the worst disaster for the U.S. Navy since the days of World War II.
John McCain’s injuries were so bad that he was ordered to be evacuated stateside for additional treatment.
In the next few months, Lieutenant Commander John McCain flew twenty-three bombing missions over North Vietnam as part of Operation Rolling Thunder, the U.S. plan to smash the North Vietnamese infrastructure with hundreds of thousands of tons of high-explosive death from above. Hurtling through MiG fighter-infested skies while Communist forces locked on to him with state-of-the-art Soviet Union-produced surface-to-air missiles, McCain barrel rolled his way through intense fields of flak fire and rockets to hammer the North Vietnamese capital day after day.
McCain’s twenty-third sortie came on October 26, 1967, when the thirty-one year old Lieutenant Commander was leading an attack on a power plant in downtown Hanoi. Streaking through the skies, McCain’s squadron came under heavy attack from surface-to-air missiles. No fewer than 15 SAMs being launched in his direction, and reports were coming out that MiGs were scrambling to the air as well. McCain juked and banked hard, cranking heavy G’s to evade shot after shot, but one heat-seeking missile found its way towards the fuselage, exploding very close to the A-4 Skyhawk and slamming it with hundreds of shards of razor-sharp shrapnel.
McCain had the option to turn back. He could have pulled out of the attack, made a break for the sea, and hoped that he could ditch close enough that he would be recovered by friendly forces.
But he didn’t. He had a fucking mission to do, and he was going to finish this.
He pushed the stick forward and dove in for his attack run.
McCain unleashed his bombs, slamming them into the North Vietnamese capital’s primary thermal power plant, but when he cranked back on the stick to pull up, his controls were unresponsive. Despite his best efforts, was still careening nose-first towards the Earth at a very high speed. Gunners on the ground were spraying his windshield with tracer fire.
With no other options and every sensor in his cockpit screaming out with high-pitched whines, McCain pulled the latch above him and ejected from his fighter. As he slammed up into the cockpit glass, he broke both of his arms and was showered with broken glass. The force of the ejection shattered his knee on the dash on the way out, and the battered, broken aviator parachuted down into a lake less than a mile from Ho Chi Minh’s headquarters, severely injured by alive.
He was barely conscious when enemy forces fished him out of the water.
Cut, bruised, disoriented, and injured, with two broken arms and a broken knee, Lieutenant-Commander McCain was brought to Hoa Loa prison – the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”. One of the most infamous prisons in the modern world, for good reason.
Despite crippling injuries, McCain was initially denied medical treatment. Instead, his captors tied his wrists, strung him up so he was hanging by his broken arms, and then beat him with bamboo sticks, demanding for him to reveal everything he knew about future American plans to attack Hanoi. McCain said nothing.
When it was obvious he wouldn’t talk, McCain was thrown into a cell with a dozen or so other American prisoners of war – all of them in fucking brutal shape, wasting away to nothing due to constant torture, malnutrition, and dysentery. McCain was among the highest-ranking officers there, however, and he did what an officer is supposed to do – he told them to keep their heads up. You are Americans. Don’t tell these fucks anything. Don’t lose yourselves in here; this will all be over, and we’re going to get out of this.
Fuck anyone who says POWs aren’t war heroes.
After two months of nearly daily beatings, McCain weighed less than 100 pounds. He still hadn’t received medical treatment. Eventually the NVA realized they had the son of the American Naval commander in Vietnam, however, and they came to McCain and made him a deal – you can go home, free of charge, and we’ll exchange you for a high-ranking NVA officer in U.S. custody.
John McCain, half-dead, in the most hellish prison since the Black Hole of Calcutta, stared his captors in the face and said fuck you. No way were they going to get to use his capture as pro-Vietnam propaganda. No way was he going to violate the U.S. POW code of conduct. And no way was he going to demoralize the rest of the POWs by abandoning them to their fate. By this point, they were all looking to him for guidance, and he wasn’t about to turn his back on it.
McCain remained a prisoner for the next five and a half years. Subjected to extreme brutality, both mentally and physically, he adamantly refused to talk, or to sign any of these bullshit propaganda letters claiming that the U.S. was evil and wrong and killing children on purpose or whatever the hell else. He willed himself through the pain of being beaten with iron rods on his broken leg.
He kept up the spirits of his men, whether it was teaching them stories about Teddy Roosevelt or leading them in daily prayers or creating a secret hand signal codes so they could communicate even when NVA guards were posted at the door of their cell. Eventually he caused so much trouble for his captors that they put him in a box in solitary confinement. He stayed there for three years.
Meanwhile, half a world away, Donald Trump was a 21 year-old recent Ivy League grad who skipped the draft and was now making about $200,000 a year working for his dad’s real estate company.
After resisting all attempts at breaking his spirit (McCain did sign one paper once and regrets it to this day, even though it was only done after a week where he was getting beatings every two hours until he agreed) and his will, John McCain was released by the North Vietnamese on March 14, 1973. He had spent 65 months in NVA custody.
The first thing he did after being released from nine months of intensive physical therapy and rehab? He requested a transfer to combat aviation.
I spent five and a half years in prison. The worst part was coming home
and finding Green Acres had been cancelled.
What the hell was I fighting for?
While everyone appreciated McCain’s gigantic balls, the shit he went through in ‘Nam fucked him up too bad to allow him to get back into the cockpit. For starters, his broken arms were so fucked that to this day he can’t raise his arms up over his head. People like to make fun of this on the Internet. These are the people who wouldn’t have lasted two seconds in the Hanoi Hilton.
Unable to fight, McCain went to the National War College and became commander of the training squadron at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. Later he became the Navy liaison to the U.S. Senate, where he was able to get funding and modernization funds for the Navy at a time when the last fucking thing anyone wanted to hear about was another war. He retired in 1981 with a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, two Legion of Merit awards, a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and a Prisoner of War Medal.
After his military service McCain moved to Arizona and went into politics, serving two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and then being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986. Now, like I said, I don’t want to get too much into politics here, but I do always have a soft spot for politicians who will actually think for themselves instead of just blindly following the party line, and McCain is definitely one of those guys. During his 29 years in the Senate, McCain has negotiated for POW/MIA soldiers being held abroad, put limits on “soft money” bullshit campaign contributions, tried to tightened EPA standards to reduce carbon emissions, passed a bill prohibiting torturing prisoners at Guantanamo, and set up legislation that protects Native American tribes’ income from reservation-based casino gambling. These are all things I’m cool with. He also overcame skin cancer, adopted one of Mother Theresa’s orphans in Bangladesh, has more Twitter followers than any other U.S. Senator, and is one of like six people who have season tickets to the Phoenix Coyotes NHL team.
We all have our own political beliefs, and every man has his flaws, but if all of these things I’ve listed don’t qualify a man as a hero, I honestly can’t imagine what does.