For decades, John McCain actively cultivated the image of a “warrior” and “war hero,” the genuine article, toting that carefully crafted impression around like a Louis Vittuon carry-all. The problem is that the supposedly genuine Vittuon is actually a cheap knock-off, a piece of counterfeit luggage that has no more in common with the genuine article than I have with McCain himself.
After years of McCain perpetuating the myth, it’s time someone publicly calls McCain what he is: An exaggerator of his military experience and fabricator of his status as war hero.
To bastardize a distasteful campaign line he unwrapped not long ago, McCain would rather win a campaign than be honest about his wartime experience.
In fact, the record shows that the Man Who Would Be President was a not-very-bright Naval Academy student who preferred parties to studying and graduated fourth from the bottom of his Annapolis class; a mediocre pilot who crashed three jet fighters during training before being shipped out to ‘Nam where he crashed a fourth; an insubordinate junior officer who got shot down over Hanoi because he disobeyed direct orders to abandon his 23rd mission and return the A-4 Skyhawk he flew to the USS Forrestal; and, as a POW, willingly provided so much intelligence – admittedly, bits of it false – and co-operated so extensively with the North Vietnamese in exchange for favorable treatment over a three-year period that his fellow prisoners at the Hanoi Hilton gave him the derisive nickname “Songbird.” In propaganda aimed at the US, the North Vietnamese even used his nickname in a news release about McCain, not understanding it was an insult given him by prisoners who were disgusted by his behavior.
Two former POWs, Air Force Colonels Ted Guy and Gordon “Swede” Larson, told the Phoenix New Times in 1999 that they doubted McCain was tortured or harmed while a prisoner. Both Guy and Larson were senior ranking officers in McCain’s POW camp at a time he claims he was in solitary confinement and being tortured.
“Between the two of us, it’s our belief, and to the best of our knowledge, that no prisoner was beaten or harmed physically in (the Plantation),” Larson stated.
“My only contention with the McCain deal is that while he was at the Plantation, he was not physically abused in any way. No one was in that camp.”
Put bluntly, the closest John McCain has ever come to a war hero was when he sat on his grandfather’s lap as a child. The first John McCain commanded naval aviation at the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The candidate’s father, also an Admiral named John, commanded American forces in Vietnam for a time.
In other words, John S. McCain III (or “Johnny Three Sticks” as a Republican Senate aid called him when being interviewed for this article) not only changes his positions on substantive issues in the campaign, he totally changes the reality of his “service to my country.” No wonder he seems to have so much trouble staying on message as a candidate; he can’t keep the story of his life straight.
In the process of repeatedly violating the Military Code of Conduct during his time as a POW, he placed other naval airmen in jeopardy.
Declassified North Vietnamese and Pentagon records confirm that he provided Hanoi with detailed information about the number of airplanes on the Forrestal, flight paths into and out of North Viet Nam, how targets were selected, the positioning of rescue ships and the success rate of attacks from fighter-bombers based on his carrier. As far as can be discovered, the only thing he deceived the North Vietnamese about was the names of the pilots with whom he flew, for which he substituted the names of the Green Bay Packer’s offensive linemen. McCain has dined out on the Green Bay Packer story for decades, omitting the other, less noble, portions of his captivity.
If the fact that his father and grandfather were Annapolis grads kept him from being booted out of the Navy, then his forefathers also contributed to McCain being awarded 28 medals including a Silver Star, a Legion of Merit for Valor, a Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze stars, two commendation medals and a dozen other service medals. But he only flew 23 missions – which amounts to a medal-and-a-half for every hour he flew in combat.
“There were infantry guys, grunts on the ground, who had more than 7,000 hours in combat without winning a medal other than maybe a purple heart,” explains Bill Bell, a veteran of Vietnam and former chief of the U.S. Office for POW/MIA Affairs – the first official US representative in Vietnam since the 1973 fall of Saigon.
“I can tell you that there were times and situations where I’m sure a prison cell would have looked pretty good to them by comparison,” Bell states. “But the question really is how many guys got that number of medals for not being shot down.”
Eventually, even the Navy was on to McCain. He left the service after being told twice that he would not be made an Admiral like his father and grandfather.
For years, McCain has been an unchecked master at manipulating an overly friendly and oft-times biased news media. The former POW turned Congressman, turned U.S. Senator, turned Presidential candidate, has managed to gloss over his failures as a pilot and his collaboration with the enemy to become America’s POW-hero presidential candidate.
After Bush and Cheney’s 935 lies to get us into Iraq, isn’t it time for a President who doesn’t lie about everything, including his own life story?
Viet Nam Veterans Against McCain provided some research information for this article.
The Progressive Curmudgeon
If you’re born in Milwaukee, you are born a Democrat. And so I gravitated naturally to liberal politics, first as journalist and then an activist. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and, after working in newsrooms for far too long, I have devoted much of the past decade as an independent investigtative jouralist. When not writing about politics or George Bush, I scribble out essays on the peculiarites of modern times.
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