I have to confess, I've been like lots of other folks and have made some pretty snide remarks about John McCain. You know, those mean-spirited "moves like a robot" or "walks like a machine" comments. Then that stupid rap by Ludacris hit the air waves. The "song" stated, among other things, that the only "chair" the Senator deserves is the paralytic's wheelchair. After hearing that, I realized that I've been considerably less than respectful of this man.
Then I found his autobiographical essay from US News and World Report about his years as a POW in the Vietnam War. Oh, boy, did I feel "ludicrous." If you want to read the whole article, you can click on the above link.
I want to quote a little of it here--particularly as it relates to the injuries that he experienced after his plane was shot down over Hanoi and the torture he lived through over the course of his 5 1/2 year imprisonment.
All I know is, I'll never say another word about his stiff arms and legs.
Here are his own words:
In those days--still in 1968--we were allowed to bathe every other day, supposedly. But in the camp they had a water problem and sometimes we'd go for two or three weeks, a month without a bath. . . . The bath was a sort of a stall-like affair that had a concrete tub. After everyone else had bathed, [my guard let me go, and] there usually was no water left. So I'd stand there for my allotted five minutes and then he'd take me back to my room.
For toilet facilities, I had a bucket with a lid that didn't fit. It was emptied daily; they'd have somebody else carry it, because I walked so badly [from the severely broken leg and two broken arms].
Eventually, they wanted to send me home at the same time that my father took over as commander in the Pacific. [In 1968, Admiral John Sidney McCain, Jr. became Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command.] This would have made them look very humane in releasing the injured son of a top U.S. officer. It would also have given them a great lever against my fellow prisoners, because the North Vietnamese were always putting this "class" business on us. They could have said to the others, "Look, you poor devils, the son of the man who is running the war has gone home and left you here. No one cares about you ordinary fellows." I was determined at all times to prevent any exploitation of my father and my family.
There was another consideration for me. Even though I was told I would not have to sign any statements or confessions before I went home, I didn't believe them. They would have got me right up to that airplane and said, "Now just sign this little statement." At that point, I doubt that I could have resisted, even though I felt very strong at the time.
But the primary thing I considered was that I had no right to go ahead of men like Alvarez, who had been there three years before I "got killed"--that's what we say instead of "before I got shot down," because in a way becoming a prisoner in North Vietnam was like being killed.
About a month and a half later, when the three men who were selected for release had reached America, I was set up for some very severe treatment which lasted for the next year and a half. They took me out of my room to [the commanding officer] who said, "You have violated all the camp regulations. You're a black criminal. You must confess your crimes." I said I wouldn't do that, and he asked, "Why are you so disrespectful of guards?" I answered, "Because the guards treat me like an animal."
When I said that, the guards, who were all in the room--about 10 of them--really laid into me. They bounced me from pillar to post, kicking and laughing and scratching. After a few hours of that, ropes were put on me and I sat that night bound with ropes. Then I was taken to a small room. For punishment they would almost always take you to another room where you didn't have a mosquito net or a bed or any clothes. For the next four days, I was beaten every two or three hours by different guards. My left arm was broken again and my ribs were cracked.
They wanted a statement saying that I was sorry for the crimes that I had committed against the North Vietnamese people and that I was grateful for the treatment that I had received from them. This was the paradox--so many guys were so mistreated to get them to say they were grateful. But this is the Communist way.
I held out for four days. Finally, I reached the lowest point of my 5 1/2 years in North Vietnam. I was at the point of suicide, because I saw that I was reaching the end of my rope.
I said, O.K., I'll write for them.
They took me up into one of the interrogation rooms, and for the next 12 hours we wrote and rewrote. The North Vietnamese interrogator, who was pretty stupid, wrote the final confessional and I signed it. It was in their language, and spoke about black crimes, and other generalities. It was was unacceptable to them. But I felt just terrible about it. I kept saying to myself, "Oh, God, I really didn't have any choice." I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has a breaking point. I had reached mine.
Then the "gooks" made a very serious mistake, because they let me go back and rest for a couple of weeks. They usually didn't do that with guys when they had them really busted. I think it concerned them that my arm was broken, and they had messed up my leg. I had been reduced to an animal during this period of beating and torture. My arm was so painful I couldn't get up off the floor. With the dysentery, it was a very unpleasant time.
Thank God they let me rest for a couple of weeks. Then they called me up again and wanted something else. I don't remember what it was now--it was some kind of statement. This time I was able to resist. I was able to carry on. They couldn't "bust" me again.
Senator McCain, I humbly apologize for my cavalier and disrespectful attitude. You certainly deserve better--from ALL of us.