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The John McCain Story

We have come across a well written book report that we thought you would enjoy reading. This book report is written by Wayland Mayo. ~ Publisher


This book report covers one of the greatest pieces of literature, and is a must read by every man of military background. It is a serious, utterly gripping account of faith, fathers, and the military. John McCain, one of the most admired leaders in the United States Government, tells a story that, in the words of NEWSWEEK, “makes the other presidential candidates look like pygmies”. John McCain learned about life and honor from his father and grandfather, both four star admirals in the U.S. Navy. This story covers their lives, their heroism, and the ways that sons are shaped and enriched by their fathers. John McCain’s grandfather was one of the Navy’s greatest commanders, and led the strongest aircraft carrier force of the THIRD FLEET in key battles during WWII. John’s father followed a similar path, equally distinguished by heroic service in the Navy as a submarine commander during WWII, rising to the rank of four star admiral. The McCains became the first family in American History to achieve that distinction. John McCain Jr. became commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific during the Vietnam war.

It was in the Vietnam war that John McCain III faced the most difficult challenge of his life. As a naval aviator he was shot down over Hanoi in 1967. His story tells of torture beyond belief, inhumane treatment by his Vietnamese captors during five and a half years of imprisonment.

After a career in the U.S. Navy and two terms as a U.S. Representative (1982-1986), John McCain was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986 and re-elected in 1992 and 1998. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, with 22 years in the military, McCain became best known as ” The U.S. Senator from Arizona.”


John McCain was always aware of the strict military background of his father and his grandfather. The first nine chapters cover in intricate detail the military accomplishments of both family members. The McCain family, including John was small in stature, perhaps accounting for their stern and somewhat indifferent attitude. All were easily combative, hard drinking, and in the case of John, nonconformist. Most military families have a sense of pride, and a great respect for their branch of the service. Every son striving to make his father proud of his accomplishments, and displaying leadership qualities. It was always understood that John would go to Annapolis. The next statements came as a complete surprise to me. I had expected young John McCain to be a strict disciplinarian, excelling in every phase of his career at Annapolis. On the contrary, he was a heavy drinking, gambling, controversial, obstinate, confrontational nonconformist. He was always at the very bottom of the entire class, certainly nothing to be proud of. As a plebe in his first year, he fought every accepted ritual, and was always very close to receiving the number of demerits which would cause immediate expulsion from the academy. Hazing was a way of life there and collided head on with John’s personality. He hated the academy, and certainly he was not welcomed there by many of the upperclassmen who had it in for him. He was always on report for a “grossly messy room.” His drinking, fighting, and poor grades put him on the very edge of dismissal. The disclosure of his insubordination was a complete surprise to me, as was his revolt against the strict requirements of the academy. His room continually in gross disorder, his demerits precariously close to the allowable limit, and his poor grades which placed him fifth from the bottom of the class, virtually guaranteed that John McCain would be dismissed from the academy. He barely made it by the skin of his teeth, but he made it. Learning important lessons, John left the academy for an undetermined future. His life was changed forever. I cannot determine anywhere that his family influenced any progress, he was strictly on his own. Although John was small in stature he was an accomplished wrestler, and his athletic ability easily placed him on many teams.


After the close call at the academy, John was sent to Pensacola flight school. His lifestyle had changed very little, driving a Corvette, dating many different women, and spending most of his time in bars and at beach parties. He attended advanced flight school at Corpus Christi, Texas. His new career in aviation had him flying A-1 Skyraiders from the USS Intrepid and the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise. Like his father and his grandfather he loved the life at sea, and he loved flying off aircraft carriers. He was beginning to acquire a reputation for commendable achievements rather then his previous one as a “rounder.” He proved capable of commanding a carrier at sea, and gave his superiors a reason to believe he would become a gifted officer. Serving on the staff of the Chief of Air Base Training in Pensacola for nine months became boring. McCain, after playing tennis with Paul Fay, Undersecretary of the Navy, he asked for help in getting a combat tour in Vietnam. Fay promised he would see what he could do. Soon McCain was advised he would be sent to Vietnam after he finished his current rotation.

McCain married Carol Shepp in 1965, and at the end of 1966 was ordered to report to Jacksonville, Florida, and join the USS Forestall, flying the A-4 Skyhawk. Later, McCain was on his way to Vietnam. In his wildest dream he would never imagine the life that was in store for him.


As time went by McCain mentions in his book of a slow but positive transition from nonconformist to a top-flight Navy Officer. He put in many hours to become a better pilot. His fitness reports began to reflect the first signs of maturity. His superiors began to notice traces of qualities associated with that of an outstanding officer. He was even selected as instructor of the month. Maybe after all the family tradition was finally working it’s way down to John. As a pilot I feel compelled to mention here my admiration for Navy flight officers. It takes the best of the best to fly a jet off an aircraft carrier. With nothing but water under you navigation is a problem, fuel management is critical, weather is always a consideration. Then just finding that microscopic speck in the ocean and landing on it seems almost an impossibility.

McCain was now 31 years old, and had flown five bombing missions over North Vietnam without incident. On the morning of July 29, 1967, McCain was in his A-4, third in line on the port side. He got the thumbs up signal, his canopy was shut, and then all hell broke loose. A Zuni missile somehow fired from across the deck struck his belly fuel tank igniting 200 gallons of fuel that spilled on the deck. The impact knocked two bombs loose, both falling to the deck. An electrical charge used to start the engine of an F-4 Phantom waiting for take off had fired the Zuni that struck McCain’s plane. As McCain’s fuel tank exploded his plane became a flaming fireball. He managed to open the canopy and crawl out on the nose, and jumped ten feet into the flaming inferno setting his flight suit on fire. At that time one of the thousand pound bombs that had been knocked loose from his A-4 exploded, sending small pieces of hot shrapnel into his legs and chest. More bombs exploded destroying many planes. Pilots ejected into the firestorm. More Zunis were fired setting off huge explosions. Burning fuel poured into the holes spreading the fire below. The fire was consuming the Forrestal and she was in grave danger of sinking. Fires burned below deck for 24 hours. It was a total disaster. 134 men died, dozens were wounded and more than 20 planes were destroyed. The Forestall suffered several large holes below the waterline, but managed to make it’s way to Subic Naval Base in the Philippines. It took over two years before she was seaworthy enough to return to duty. McCain was upset with the idea of waiting that long. An officer from the USS Oriskany requested volunteers for combat duty aboard his ship. They had lost a number of pilots and were undermanned. McCain signed up immediately. The Oriskany had suffered a terrible disaster at sea when a magnesium flare ignited a blaze which very nearly destroyed the ship. 44 men were killed, and they were also suffering from high combat loses. On Sept. 30, 1967, McCain requested immediate duty on the Oriskany. The Oriskany during Operation Rolling Thunder lost 38 pilots and 60 aircraft. In 1967 alone one third of the squadrons pilots were either killed or captured. Of the 60 planes lost 29 were A-4s. Every one of the original fifteen A-4s were destroyed. It was indeed a very dangerous ship for McCain to transfer to.

Orders came down to escalate the bombing, and McCain was scheduled to bomb the city of Hanoi with it’s extensive network of Russian made SAM missile sites. On McCain’s next mission he was headed for Hanoi and ran into a wall of antiaircraft fire and 22 SAM missiles. One of the missiles blew the right wing off McCain’s A-4.


After the SAM struck McCain’s plane he was spiraling violently toward earth at over 500 miles per hour. He managed to pull the ejection seat handle blowing him out of his disabled aircraft. He struck part of the plane, breaking his left arm, his right arm in three places, and his right knee. He landed in the middle of a lake in the center of the city. He pulled the life vest toggle with his teeth. In a matter of seconds hundreds of Vietnamese were beating him. Someone smashed a rifle butt into his shoulder, breaking it. Another jabbed him in the ankle and the groin with a bayonet. Fortunately an army truck arrived and he was thrown in the back and taken away from the savage mob. For sure he would have been killed in another minute or so. He was taken to the famous “Hanoi Hilton” where the dreaded interrogations began. In exchange for information he was promised medical treatment. He gave them his name, rank, and serial number. They beat him until he blacked out.

On the fourth day he realized how serious his condition was. He had a high fever and was loosing consciousness for long periods of time. He was lying in his own vomit and bodily waste. His knee was grossly swollen and discolored. The guards found a camp officer who spoke some English. McCain begged for treatment and even offered to cooperate. He was refused, and told it was “too late.” The Vietnamese usually refused treatment to the seriously injured. Many of our men died who should not have. He received a few shots, nothing more. His interrogations were relentless torture. The beatings continued. The Viets had newspaper clippings detailing his capture, and stories about his being the son of an important Admiral. The Viets were extremely aware of the advantage of propaganda and used it to get what they wanted. They told McCain he was smearing his families honor. They were well aware of the importance of the capture of Lt. Commander John McCain, and explored different ways to take advantage of it. He was rolled into a treatment room where a Doctor tried to set the three fractures in his right arm without any anesthesia. He was then told he needed two operations on his leg, and if he did not cooperate with the interrogators they would remove the makeshift cast. The cast had worn two holes in his arm down to the bone. They were extremely pleased to have captured an Admirals son. This information rather than help caused the beatings to increase. His condition deteriorated, the high fever remained, and he was now suffering from dysentery. He had lost over 50 pounds and was in very poor condition. Most of the time he was in solitary confinement. Whenever possible fellow prisoners did what they could to clean him up and help. John’s dysentery became so bad it caused a severe case of hemorrhoids. Just another source of irritation. The unpredictable beatings continued.

McCain was interrogated in June, 1968, for over two hours, and then was astonished when he was asked if he wanted to go home to be with his family. He still had dysentery, seriously underweight, and most injuries were now infected and had not healed at all. John knew the Code of Conduct, and replied that an American POW could not accept parole or amnesty or special favors. He was told that his injuries made his survival very doubtful, and he could not survive without medical care. McCain replied that prisoners must be released in the order of capture and that he would reject their offer. He was promised that things were really going to get much worse for him. Again he was called in and asked if he was ready to confess his crimes. He replied “fuck you.” The next day the beatings started in earnest, he was knocked down and kicked in the head. They cracked several ribs, and knocked out several teeth. Again he was lying in his own blood, vomit and waste when guards came in and gave him his worst beating yet. One guard hit him in the face knocking him down. He fell on the waste bucket and broke his left arm again. They left him lying on the floor, the pain in the re-fractured arm was excruciating. He considered taking his own life.

The months and years passed with life at the Hilton a painful heartache. The Hilton, with it’s individual “torture” rooms became a real hellhole for McCain. He was singled out as having a bad attitude. The “attitude” group was relocated to a place they called “skid row.” Life there became extreme as they were kept in solitary confinement with no ventilation and no bath facilities. The camp had a stinking well filled to overflowing with human waste. Conditions were miserable, with many men suffering from hepatitis. They were soon transferred back to camp Unity, which restored their morale. One POW named Mike was a navy bombardier -navigator shot down in 1967. He had been there six months longer than McCain. He sewed an American flag inside his blue prisoner shirt. Every day before they ate they would hang Mike’s flag on the wall and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The Viets found his flag and confiscated it. For his punishment he was beaten savagely, puncturing his ear drum and breaking several ribs. They dragged his bloody body back to his cell. With both eyes swollen shut he quietly began sewing a new flag.


The bombing was halted in October. It was on again off again with the B-52s. The atmosphere in the Hilton was that something was about to happen. On March 15 McCain was called in and told he was being released that day. Dressed in cheap civilian clothes they boarded buses for an airport near Hanoi. There a C-141 transport plane was waiting to take them to Clark AFB in the Philippines. The Los Angeles Times ran a huge banner headline: Hanoi to Release Admiral’s Son. Arriving home, McCain finally realized the hell of Vietnam was finally over. He stepped off the airplane as gracefully as he could, took a deep breath, and looking to the future- moved on.

John McCain is a United States Senator from Arizona. He retired from the Navy as a Captain in 1981, and was first elected to Congress in 1982. He is now serving his third term in the Senate.


I can only hope that every man that was ever in the military will read this book and appreciate the contributions of men like John McCain III. We all owe a debt of gratitude to men like him, true Americans who sacrificed everything for their country.

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  1. 2 Comment(s)

  2. By Ben Relles | Reply

    That is some inspirational stuff. Never knew that opinions could be this varied. Thanks for all the enthusiasm to offer such helpful information here.

  3. By davenycity | Reply

    great blog thank you

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