Under the Radar

Will Americans Remember John McCain as a Hero?

Richard Nixon, John McCain
FILE - In this May 25, 1973, file photo, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. John McCain is greeted by President Richard Nixon, left, in Washington, after McCain's release from a prisoner of war camp in North Vietnam. An aide says that McCain died Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018. He was 81. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges, File) -- The Associated Press

The facts of the late Senator John McCain's service in the Navy are well-known: a Naval Academy graduate, he flew an A-4E Skyhawk while serving in Vietnam and was shot down and captured on October 23, 1967. He spent 5 1/2 years in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton,” where Medal of Honor recipients Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness, Navy Vice Admiral James Stockdale and Air Force Col. Bud Day were also held captive during the war. McCain reportedly never cracked under interrogation, enduring torture that left much of his body broken (his wartime injuries left him permanently incapable of lifting his arms over his head).

Upon his return from the war, McCain embarked on a career in public service that led to two terms in the House of Representatives and 31 years as a Senator from Arizona. He was both a strong advocate for the military and a fierce critic of the Pentagon when he believed money was being wasted on the wrong defense programs.  He ran for president in 2000 and was the Republican Party’s nominee in 2008.

McCain was an often-controversial, sometimes grouchy presence in Washington. He stood by his principles as his party shifted course and insisted on maintaining civil if not outright friendly relationships with members of the opposing party. Many gave his thoughts about national security issues (especially enhanced interrogation) extra weight because of his own wartime experiences.

However, not everyone was impressed with his resumé. President Donald Trump attacked him soon after he began his own campaign in 2015, announcing at an early Iowa campaign rally: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

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Upon learning of McCain’s passing over the weekend, Trump offered sympathies to the family, wording his tweet in a way that some took as one last swipe at the Maverick.

White House staffers told the Washington Post that they prepared a statement that “gave the decorated Vietnam War POW plaudits for his military and Senate service and called him a 'hero’,” but that President Trump rejected the statement and issued the tweet shown above.

What do you think? Will Americans remember McCain as a hero for his service? Or will he be mainly remembered for the ups and downs of his political career, and President Trump's remarks about him?

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