US Senator John McCain, a war hero, dead at 81

WASHINGTON: US Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam and a self-styled maverick Republican, died on Saturday, his office said.

He was 81.


Name of imageJohn McCain, bottom right, in 1965 with his Navy squadron.  National Archives

McCain was the proud naval aviator who climbed from depths of despair as a prisoner of war in Vietnam to pinnacles of power as a Republican congressman and senator from Arizona and a two-time contender for the presidency.

He died on Saturday at his home in Arizona.

According to a statement from his office, McCain died at 4:28 p.m. local time.

Chemotherapy

He had suffered from a malignant brain tumour, called a glioblastoma, for which he had been treated periodically with radiation and chemotherapy since its discovery in 2017.

Despite his grave condition, he soon made a dramatic appearance in the Senate to cast a thumbs-down vote against his party’s drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But while he was unable to be in the Senate for a vote on the Republican tax bill in December, his endorsement was crucial, though not decisive, in the Trump administration’s lone legislative triumph of the year.

A son and grandson of four-star admirals who were his larger-than-life heroes, McCain carried his renowned name into battle and into political fights for more than a half-century.

It was an odyssey driven by raw ambition, the conservative instincts of a shrewd military man, a rebelliousness evident since childhood and a temper that sometimes bordered on explosiveness.

Nowhere were those traits more manifest than in Vietnam, where he was stripped of all but his character.

He boiled over in foul curses at his captors. Because his father was the commander of all-American forces in the Pacific during most of his-five-and-a-half years of captivity, McCain, a Navy lieutenant commander, became the most famous prisoner of the war, a victim of horrendous torture and a tool of enemy propagandists.

Shot down over Hanoi, suffering broken arms and a shattered leg, he was subjected to solitary confinement for two years and beaten frequently.

Often he was suspended by ropes lashing his arms behind him. He attempted suicide twice.

His weight fell to 105 pounds. He rejected early release to keep his honor and to avoid an enemy propaganda coup or risk demoralizing his fellow prisoners.

He finally cracked under torture and signed a “confession.”

No one believed it, although he felt the burden of betraying his country. To millions of Americans,

McCain was the embodiment of courage: a war hero who came home on crutches, psychologically scarred and broken in body, but not in spirit.

He underwent long medical treatments and rehabilitation, but was left permanently disabled, unable to raise his arms over his head. Someone had to comb his hair.

His mother, Roberta McCain, Navy all the way, inspired his political career.

After retiring from the Navy and settling in Arizona, he won two terms in the House of Representatives, from 1983 to 1987, and six in the Senate.

He was a Reagan Republican to start with, but later moved right or left, a maverick who defied his party’s leaders and compromised with Democrats.

Reactions:

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL

“In an era filled with cynicism about national unity and public service, John McCain’s life shone as a bright example. He showed us that boundless patriotism and self-sacrifice are not outdated concepts or cliches, but the building blocks or an extraordinary life.”

FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AND MICHELLE OBAMA

“Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt. Michelle and I send our most heartfelt condolences to Cindy and their family.”

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH

“Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant, it is hard to think of them stilled. John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order. He was a public servant in the finest traditions of our country. And to me, he was a friend whom I’ll deeply miss.”

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN

“As a POW, John endured the worst of what human beings can do to one another. In politics, he fell short of his greatest ambition. At the end of his life he faced a cruel and relentless disease. And yet through it all he never lost sight of what he believed most: Country First. And the spirit that drove him was never extinguished: we are here to commit ourselves to something bigger than ourselves.”

ARIZONA GOVERNOR DOUG DUCEY

“John McCain is one American who will never be forgotten. He was a giant. An icon. An American hero. But here at home, we were most proud to call him a fellow Arizonan. Like so many of us, he was not born here, but his spirit, service and fierce independence shaped the state with which he became synonymous.”

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