Heros All

POW Medal
US POW Medal.

At this point in the election cycle I usually turn a deaf ear to the political jockeying, and won’t start paying attention until around the primaries. It’s good for the ol’ blood pressure, and at this point it’s all yah-yahing, anyway. The Republican field is so broad it’s easier to say who isn’t running than who is. When The Donald decided to run, my reaction was a shrug and say “Join the club.” But then Trump went and said this of John McCain:

“He’s not a war hero … I like people that weren’t captured.”

Politically, I don’t really care for John McCain. One reason is the McCain – Feingold campaign “reform” legislation that struck at the 1st Amendment. His support for illegals is another. But any man who was a guest at the Hanoi Hilton deserves respect. And every single man who endured that prison is a hero.

We don’t hear much of the Hanoi Hilton these days. The name was a bit of POW dark humor for the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi. If you’ve never heard of it, read the book In the Presence of Mine Enemies, by Howard Rutlage, who spent seven years there. It’s out of print, so it might be hard to find. Or look for other books. There prisoners were starved, beaten, and faced regular torture that makes waterboarding look like spiffing up for church.

I once had the opportunity to briefly meet a former guest of the Hanoi Hilton. He was a motivational speaker, one of the best I’ve even heard. And he knew John McCain, just as all the prisoners knew each other.

John McCain is the son of a four-star Admiral. That might not make much of a difference to us, but it did to the North Vietnamese, and John McCain knew it. As he kept his father’s identity secret from his captors, John McCain experienced the North Vietnamese version of tender loving care, as they treated his broken arm and leg by breaking his shoulder with a rifle stock and stabbing his foot with a bayonet. His injuries went untreated until the North Vietnamese learned from an outside source that McCain was the son of an admiral. That made John McCain a potential intelligence resource and dandy bargaining chip. They decided they better patch him up, sent him to a hospital for a time (where they wiggled his broken bones around for over an hour without administering pain medicine), and when he was discharged a month and a half later, they tossed into a cell with two other prisoners who didn’t expect him to live – McCain was down to around 100 pounds. In his cell, John McCain had to teach himself how to walk again. Before it was over, he would spend two years in solitary confinement.

Such was the treatment of American prisoners by the North Vietnamese. Then one day he was brought out and given a deal. They offered him early release.

Put yourself in John McCain’s shoes. You have been beaten since your plane was shot down over North Vietnam. You have been tortured. You have almost died. You have been in solitary for years. Your broken bones have never healed properly. And now you have a chance to go home.

John McCain looked at his captors and said no. He refused to be released until every prisoner captured before him was released as well. It wasn’t only that the North Vietnamese would use this as a propaganda tool. He was thinking about the other men in the prison, men who had suffered as he had, and the Code of Conduct, which held prisoners should be released in the order they were captured. And he was also thinking that they wouldn’t have offered him the deal if he wasn’t the son of an admiral. And his captors beat him.

They beat him for days. Beating and torturing him for his refusal, not caring he was sick, adding to the injuries he’d already sustained. And finally they cracked John McCain, as they had starved and beaten and tortured others until they cracked. McCain made a forced “confession,” for which he felt shame. Every person has his breaking point, and they had found his.

The other prisoners knew McCain, knew who he was, knew he had refused release, knew that he realized what the North Vietnamese would do when he said no. Some of them had received the same treatment when they had said no to early release. And they knew that he could have left, but chose to stay.

When John McCain was finally released along with the other prisoners at Hoa Lo, he could not raise his arms above his head. One of the tortures of the North Vietnamese was to bind a prisoner’s arms tight behind his back, tie a rope to them, and lift his entire body in the air. There the prisoner would hang, in excruciating pain, with his arms sometimes popping out of socket, and there they’d leave him, suspended in mid air. And this torture had left John McCain without full use of his arms.

Any man who went through that is a hero. And all prisoners at the Hanoi Hilton did.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Donald Trump was in college. Because of this he received four student deferments, as did many other men. As the prisoners of the Hanoi Hilton were beaten and tortured, Donald Trump graduated having earned, while working for his father, “about $200,000.”

Donald Trump does not consider John McCain, or any other POW, a hero.

John McCain could very easily have come back at The Donald. But he has not. Instead, when asked on MSNBC if The Donald owned him an apology, McCain said no, but he owed one “… to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict, and who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country.” He went on to say: “A great honor of my life was to serve in the company of heroes. I’m not a hero.”

Meanwhile, while others, including John Kerry, have defended John McCain, saying that he is, indeed, a hero, The Donald has struck by his claim that McCain is not.

And John McCain still can’t raise his arms over his head.