US Senator John McCain, a former presidential candidate and Vietnam War hero, died Saturday after losing his battle with brain cancer, his office said in a statement.
“Senator John Sidney McCain III died at 4:28 p.m. on August 25, 2018. He died before his wife Cindy and their family,” the statement read, noting that the Republican senator had “served the United States of America faithfully for 60 years.” The McCain family announced Friday that the senator had chosen to discontinue his cancer treatment.
“We have lost a man who steadfastly represented the best ideals of our country,” said US Defense Secretary James Mattis. President Donald Trump, who had a strained relationship with McCain, sent his ” deepest sympathies and respect” to the senator’s family on Twitter.
On July 25 2017, a week after disclosing his cancer diagnosis, McCain returned to the Senate floor where he had been serving for 30 years. He delivered a remarkable speech — one that in many ways summed up what he believed in and stood for throughout his unique military and political career.
“What greater cause could we hope to serve than helping keep America the strong, aspiring, inspirational beacon of liberty and defender of the dignity of all human beings and their right to freedom and equal justice?” he asked in the widely praised address. If almost anyone else had posted the question, it could have come across as heavy-handed or corny; coming from the widely respected McCain, it distilled his decades of service and purpose in life.
In 1967 John McCain was held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison (here in a Hanoi hospital in 1967)
As the US ramped up its military campaign in Vietnam, McCain requested a combat assignment which sent him flying bombing missions over the country. In October 1967, on his 23rd bombing mission, his plane was shot down and McCain, badly injured, was captured by the North Vietnamese. He spent the following five-and-half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, receiving no adequate medical care for the serious injuries he sustained from the crash. He was repeatedly and severely tortured and was held in solitary confinement for two years.
His father was made commander of all American forces in the area, the North Vietnamese offered to release McCain early, which he rejected. He was finally released in March 1973 after peace accords were signed.
His Vietnam experience not only helped shape McCain’s view of America’s special role in the world, it also made him a convincing advocate for the difficult argument that such a role sometimes had to be paid for in blood, said Jeffrey.
“McCain was exactly the guy who could make that argument, because few people who are still alive have paid more in blood than he had,” he said.
McCain, who was decorated with the highest honors for his military service, decided to end his career in the Navy after it became clear — also due to his lasting injuries from his imprisonment in Vietnam — that it would be unlikely for him to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and rise to the rank of admiral. Instead, he decided to embark on a political career.
He was first elected as a Republican congressman to the US House of Representatives in 1983, but in 1987 switched to the Senate, where he continued to serve his adopted home state of Arizona until his death. During his long tenure in Congress, McCain became the leading legislator on foreign policy and military affairs of his generation.
“John McCain was one of the most talented members of Congress of the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Mara Karlin, a strategic studies scholar at Johns Hopkins University who served five US secretaries of defense in various capacities.
“His leadership on a wide range of issues — from enabling a transformed US relationship with Vietnam to helping build a capable and resourced US military — was essential as the United States navigated its role first in the post-Cold War world and then in the post-September 11th world,” she said.
His attempts to become president culminated in McCain clinching the 2008 Republican nomination, only to be defeated in the general election by Barack Obama. McCain’s selection of archconservative Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, a decision he later said he regretted, has been criticized by some as paving the way for the tea party movement and then the rise of current President Donald Trump.
McCain’s repeated departures from party orthodoxy during his political career had long ago earned him the media moniker “maverick” — a term Jeffrey rejects because it implies someone taking a position simply because he or she wants to be contrarian. That, Jeffrey explained, was never McCain’s intention. A better word to describe McCain, he suggested, would be “patriot,” because McCain always tried to act in accordance with his own ideas and conscience.
May his soul Rest in Peace.