Image Credits: J. Scott Applewhite/AP.

[This originally appeared on August 21st, 2008. I am reposting it here now because of this.]

John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, is a POW. For the uninitiated, POW is an acronym for Prisoner of War. But it’s not really true that John McCain is a POW. After all, he’s walking around free right now in the good ole United States of America. But he once was a POW. In other words, John McCain is a former POW. If you don’t believe me, here is proof:

A monument on Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi marks the site where then-Navy pilot John McCain was shot down and captured in 1967, beginning five years as a prisoner of war. (Photo by Dennis G. Jarvis/Creative Commons)

That’s a monument to the shooting down of John McCain that still exists near Truc Bach Lake in Vietnam (formerly North Vietnam). The inscription reads “On October 26, 1967, Lt. John McCain in his A4 B1 was shot down in this lake.” The picture shows Lt. John McCain surrendering. It does not show the plane that was destroyed during this incident. Nor does it show any of the three other Navy planes that John McCain destroyed during his lackluster career as a pilot.

McCain III lost jet number one in 1958 when he plunged into Corpus Christi Bay while practicing landings. He was knocked unconscious by the impact coming to as the plane settled to the bottom.

McCain’s second crash occurred while he was deployed in the Mediterranean. “Flying too low over the Iberian Peninsula,” Timberg wrote, “he took out some power lines [reminiscent of the 1998 incident in which a Marine Corps jet sliced through the cables of a gondola at an Italian ski resort, killing 20] which led to a spate of newspaper stories in which he was predictably identified as the son of an admiral.”

McCain’s third crash three occurred when he was returning from flying a Navy trainer solo to Philadelphia for an Army-Navy football game.

Now, it may have been (let’s hope so) that the Navy gave John McCain a fourth plane because he was the son of an admiral. Ordinarily, I would not think it common practice to give a plane to a man that has previously wrecked three multi-million dollar airplanes.

In fact, if the Navy believed in bad mojo, they might have grounded McCain after he was involved (not his fault) in the disaster on the USS Forrestal.

McCain’s fourth aircraft loss occurred July 29, 1967, soon after he was assigned to the USS Forrestal as an A-4 Skyhawk pilot. While seated in the cockpit of his aircraft waiting his turn for takeoff, an accidentally fired rocket slammed into McCain’s plane. He escaped from the burning aircraft, but the explosions that followed killed 134 sailors, destroyed at least 20 aircraft, and threatened to sink the ship.

I wouldn’t count this fourth loss of an airplane against John McCain, but I might have concluded that letting him fly just wasn’t a good idea. And that turned out to be the case because less than three months later the North Vietnamese shot him down (destroying a fourth airplane) and took him captive.

In retrospect, the Navy probably never should have graduated McCain from the Academy. He finished fifth from the bottom of his class and led the world in receiving demerits. In fact, he would have been kicked out if he had not allowed a fellow cadet to take the fall for a hidden television he kept in the duct work of his dorm. (He liked to watch the TV western, Maverick).

McCain didn’t take his Naval career seriously and he went on to wreck three planes, proving he was a terrible pilot. But at least he showed up for work, unlike the present occupant of the White House who didn’t crash any of the few planes he flew before going AWOL. In short, McCain dishonored the institution he served and never should have been trusted to fly. But he did fly…right into a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile. And that’s when he became a POW.

He didn’t stay a POW forever, though. Eventually he was released and became a former POW. That’s what he remains today.

Before McCain shipped out for the USS Forrestal, he was married to a woman from Philadelphia named Carol Shepp. In 1969, while McCain was a captive of the Vietnamese, Carol McCain had a horrible car accident.

While visiting her family in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve 1969,[13] Carol McCain was driving alone in snowy, icy conditions. Approaching an intersection on an isolated country road, she skidded and collided with a telephone pole, was thrown from the car into the snow, and went into shock. Some time later she was found and taken to Bryn Mawr Hospital;[9] she had two smashed legs, a broken pelvis, broken arm, and ruptured spleen. She spent six months in the hospital, and over the course of the next two years had 23 operations[9] as well as extensive physical therapy.

She didn’t tell John McCain about her accident in her letters to him because she did not want to burden his mind. H. Ross Perot helped pay for her medical bills. When McCain gained his release and came home from the war, he had a little surprise.

She was now four inches (ten centimeters) shorter, on crutches, and substantially heavier than when he had last seen her…

In other words, she was no Cindy McCain. He began to cheat on her.

Ross Perot would later say, “After he came home, he walked with a limp, she [Carol McCain] walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona [Cindy McCain, his current wife] and the rest is history.”

As for Carol, she just said, “The breakup of our marriage was not caused by my accident or Vietnam or any of those things. I don’t know that it might not have happened if John had never been gone. I attribute it more to John turning 40 and wanting to be 25 again than I do to anything else.”

Who knows what goes on in the hearts of two people? Regardless, just last week McCain acknowledged that his treatment of his first wife was his greatest moral failing. I’d dispute that, by the way, but McCain seems to believe it, and there you are.

McCain married Cindy Hensley, with whom he had been having an affair for several months before his divorce. Cindy was the 24-year old daughter of a major beer distributor. She would go on to buy McCain so many homes that he can’t even offer a guess as to how many there are. There are at least seven or eight, but we’re still counting.

John and Cindy were married in 1979, and McCain had still shown no signs of being an honorable man. He had refused early release from captivity, but that was no more than was expected of a Naval officer. I suppose he didn’t dishonor himself while a prisoner. But neither did he shower himself in glory. I will not criticize him for making anti-American propaganda films. He was tortured. [Ed note: not by Dick Cheney’s definition, but still…really]

In 1982, McCain was elected to the House of Representatives and in 1986 he was elected to the Senate. He did not show himself to be an honorable man.

Between 1982 and 1987, McCain had received $112,000 in lawful[59] political contributions from Keating and his associates.[60] In addition, McCain’s wife Cindy and her father Jim Hensley had invested $359,100 in a Keating shopping center in April 1986, a year before McCain met with the regulators. McCain, his family, and their baby-sitter had made nine trips at Keating’s expense, sometimes aboard the American Continental jet.

By March 1987, Keating was asking McCain to travel to meet with regulators regarding Lincoln Savings; McCain refused.[58] Keating called McCain a “wimp” behind his back, and on March 24 the two had a heated, contentious meeting.[58] On April 2 and April 9, 1987, McCain and the other senators met at the Capitol with regulators, first with Edwin J. Gray, chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, and then members of the FHLBB San Francisco branch, to discuss the government’s investigation of Lincoln.[58] McCain would write in 2002 that attending the two meetings was “the worst mistake of my life”.[61]

It was the worst mistake of his life but not, evidently, his ‘greatest moral failing’. The episode became known as the Keating 5 Scandal and it resulted in a rebuke by the Senate Ethics Committee (ever the strict watchdog).

Somewhat shamed by the dishonor, McCain set out to repair his image by advocating for campaign finance reform. He eventually got those reforms passed but chose to violate the laws once he was forced to abide by them.

So, McCain has a long history of unserious, dishonorable, and unethical behavior. But he was a POW once. That means he is currently a former POW. He’s a former POW who couldn’t fly a plane worth a crap. But he’s a former POW. So you can’t criticize him.

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