5 things to know about Sen. John McCain’s military service

Though he is known for his politics and presidential bid, McCain’s past is one of a decorated military hero

By Military1 Staff

Last week, Arizona Sen. John McCain underwent surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye and during the procedure doctors found a brain tumor—a glioblastoma.

McCain, a six-term senator for Arizona and a 2008 presidential candidate, is also a decorated war hero who was held as a prisoner-of-war during Vietnam.

While McCain is known more recently for his politics, his military past is full of incredible moments.

His father and grandfather were both highly respected admirals

Both McCain’s father, John S. McCain, Jr. and grandfather, John Sidney McCain, Sr., were admirals in the U.S. Navy. They were the first father and son pair to achieve the high rank.

McCain Jr. was commander of U.S. Pacific Command during the Vietnam War in 1968. He also led the 1965 U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic.

McCain Sr. served during both world wars, and was present in Tokyo when the Japanese surrendered in 1945, though he died four days later of a heart attack.

He was involved in three flying accidents early in his career

Sen. McCain had a reputation for being a reckless flier in his early days in the Navy. During his time at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, he crashed his AD-6 Skyraider into Corpus Christi Bay, where it sank to the bottom. McCain managed to escape the aircraft and swim ten feet to the surface.

In 1960, while serving on the USS Intrepid, he flew his plane into some power lines while flying too low over Spain. The area suffered a power outage, but McCain was able to return his plane to the ship.

Later, while training in Virginia in 1965, McCain’s T-2 Buckeye trainer jet suffered engine failure, forcing McCain to eject safely from the aircraft before it crashed.

He was aboard the USS Forestal when it caught fire


(Photo/WikimediaCommons)

In July of 1967, a Zuni rocket was discharged due to an electrical power surge, which ultimately led to a massive fire and the death of 134 sailors.

McCain was strapped into his A-4 when he noticed the flames on the flight deck, and was able to dislodge and shimmy down the nose of the plane before the explosions began. He tried to help a fellow pilot but was thrown ten feet into the air during an explosion.

Later, he told the New York Times, “It's a difficult thing to say. But now that I've seen what the bombs and the napalm did to the people on our ship, I'm not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam."

He spent six years as POW during the Vietnam War

While flying a mission over North Vietnam on Oct. 26, 1967, the wing of McCain’s plane was blown off by anti-aircraft missile. During a harsh ejection from the plane, both arms and his left leg were severely fractured, and he was knocked unconscious.

His parachute landed him in a lake, and he was only able to inflate his life vest with his teeth, as he could not move his arms. He was pulled from the lake by several Vietnamese, who beat and spat on him.

McCain spent six years as a POW, two of them in solitary confinement. When pressed for information and names of his fellow service members, he instead gave them the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line.

He was finally released on March 14, 1973.

He refused early repatriation

While McCain was in solitary confinement as a POW in Vietnam, his father was named Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC). When the Vietnamese learned who McCain’s father was, only then did the offer him medical services.

They also offered for McCain to be released ahead of other prisoners, in an attempt to show the world that they were merciful, and also to prove to other prisoners that high-ranking officials would always receive preferential treatment.

Staying true to the military Code of Conduct, McCain refused the special treatment, and as a result, was severely beaten for several years for declining the offer.