John Sidney McCain III, a decorated war hero and one of the most respected American politicians in recent memory, died on Saturday, August 25, 2018, at his ranch in Sedona, Arizona. The senator, who was just days away from celebrating his 82nd birthday, was admired for his ability to put aside political party differences and do what he believed was best for the country.
Born on August 29, 1936 at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone where his father, a naval officer, was stationed, Mr. McCain’s childhood and adolescent years were spent moving between Navy bases both in America and overseas. After graduating from Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia in 1954, he followed the legacy of his father and grandfather, both Navy Admirals, and joined the Naval Academy in Maryland. While his grades were decent, his propensity to disobey rules did not go over well with his superiors, resulting in him graduating fifth from the bottom of the class in 1958. Mr. McCain, who spent a further two years training as a fighter pilot, told a Naval Academy graduating class in 2017, "My superiors didn't hold me in very high esteem in those days. Their disapproval was measured in the hundreds of miles of extra duty I marched in my time here.”
Soon after graduation, Mr. McCain volunteered for combat duty in the Vietnam War and began flying attack planes on low-altitude bombing runs against the North Vietnamese. His first close brush with death came on July 29, 1967, when a rocket accidentally launched on board the USS Forrestal resulted in a deadly fire, killing 134 US military personnel and destroying twenty planes.
Shortly after, on October 26, 1967, while conducting his 23rd air mission, a Vietnamese missile shot down Mr. McCain's jet over the capital city of Hanoi. Though he managed to parachute out safely into a lake, he broke both his arms and a leg and was soon captured by the communist soldiers. He, along with the other prisoners of war (POWs) were brutally beaten and kept in solitary confinement. In 1968, after realizing that Mr. McCain’s father was a US Navy Admiral, the North Vietnamese officials offered him the opportunity to return home. Despite being in severe pain from his injuries, Mr. McCain turned down the offer because according to the POW code of honor, American soldiers captured earlier should be the first ones to be repatriated. He later said, "I just knew it wasn't the right thing to do. I knew that they wouldn't have offered it to me if I hadn't been the son of an admiral. I just didn't think it was the honorable thing to do."
Mr. McCain’s ordeal finally came to an end five and a half years after he was first captured, on March 1973, when he and a group of US POWs, were led to a truck and driven to Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi. “At the time, it wasn't that overwhelming. It was one of those things that you had anticipated for so long, nothing could have lived up to my expectations," he said. "It's like when a kid waits for Christmas, and then it arrives, and it can't quite live up to what he expected."
The decorated war hero got his first taste of politics when he was made Navy liaison to the US Senate in 1976. After retiring from the Navy in 1981, Mr. McCain and his second wife, Cindy Hensley, moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he began charting his political career. In 1986, after spending two terms as a member of the US House of Representatives from Arizona’s 1st congressional district, Mr. McCain ran for, and won, the senate seat for Arizona.
In 2000, Senator McCain tried his first bid at the US presidency, but failed to obtain the Republican nomination against the then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. His second attempt for the White House, this time as the Republican nominee, came in 2008 when he faced off against Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Though he never attained the nation’s highest office, Mr. McCain, who held his seat in the Senate for nearly 32 years, was a force of nature in Washington.
The senator spent the final years of his illustrious political career heading the Armed Services Committee, where he championed the need for higher defense spending. His efforts came to fruition on August 13, 2018, with the enactment of the $716 billion John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act.
Per his wishes, the late senator will be put to rest at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland on September 2, 2018, in a plot adjacent to his close friend, Navy Adm. Charles Larson, who died in 2014. The death of the statesman, who was never afraid to stand up for his beliefs, leaves a huge void in the Senate and U.S. politics, one that will be hard to fill. But as Mr. McCain succinctly put it in his recently published memoir, The Restless Wave, "It's been quite a ride. I've known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war, and helped make peace. I've lived very well, and I've been deprived of all comforts. I've been as lonely as a person can be, and I've enjoyed the company of heroes. I've suffered the deepest despair and experienced the highest exultation. I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times."