That “Ace” pilot, McCain

by Michael O. Allen on August 22, 2008

In a lot of ways, this presidential campaign is about biography, who John McCain is and who Barack Obama is.

A lot of people say, for instance, despite his books, that they don’t know much about Sen. Obama. He’s still too new to the national scene.

Here’s my question: John McCain has occupied the national scene for decades. Does it matter that much of what we know about him is either incomplete, or outright fabrication?

For instance, his record in the United States Navy.

I came across an article, Will `Ace’ McCain Flame Out Again? by Kelly Patricia O’Meara, that lays out in more details what I’m about to tell you.

We’ve heard ad nauseum about how McCain came from a family of warriors, how his fathers and other forebears were admirals. How about McCain himself?

McCain has been a Congressman and United States Senator. We know him as a “war hero” (McCain spent all of 20 hours in combat, getting 28 medals) who was a prisoner of war for five and half years. Just this week, when John McCain could not remember just how many houses he owned, one of his campaign handlers mentioned that he was a prisoner of war for five and half years.

Before any of this, however, McCain was indeed a pilot in the navy and he did fly in Vietnam. But he probably should have never flown in anyone’s navy.

John McCain graduated 894th out of 899 cadets at the U.S. Naval Academy.

McCain got elite assignments in the Navy despite racking up an unusual number of crashes. Until his fateful crash that led to his capture and POW status in Vietnam, McCain had been involved in four other crashes.

McCain’s engine allegedly “quit” and his plane plunged into Corpus Christi Bay in 1958. He would regain consciousness at the bottom of the water. But, when the engine was tested afterward, there was no indication of engine failure. Later, while deployed in the Mediterranean, McCain flew too low over the Iberian Peninsula and took out power lines. Then, returning from flying solo to Philadelphia for an Army-Navy football game, McCain allegedly got a “flameout” and had to eject, landing on a deserted beach as the plane slammed into trees.

Then, in 1967, the ever snakebit McCain was seated in the cockpit when a rocket slammed into the exterior fuel tank of his assigned A-4 Skyhawk. McCain escaped from the burning aircraft but dozens of his shipmates were killed and injured in the explosions that followed.

Just three months after this incident, the Vietcong shot McCain’s A-4 Skyhawk down over Truc Bach Lake near Hanoi, North Vietnam.

“John McCain,” says one Navy pilot in the linked O’Meara article who was an acquaintance of McCain in that era, “was the kind of guy you wanted to room with — not fly with. He was reckless, and that’s critical when you start thinking about who’s going to be the president,” The old pilot laughs, and then continues: “But the Navy accident rate was cut in half the day John McCain was shot down.”

The rest of the story–McCain’s torture during five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war–we pretty much know. He came home a war hero, cheated on the wife who raised his family while he was away, then dumped her for a much younger woman who then financed his political career.

I just would have loved to see what Karl Rove would have done with McCain, especially his conduct as a POW, if he had had the opportunity.  There are Vietnam veterans (in the video above) now who see McCain as less than a hero for his conduct as a POW. They are calling for the record from that time to be declassified.

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