Remembering An American Hero: John McCain—A Man Of Sterling Character

Sep 8th, 2018 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The death of John McCain on 25 August 2018 appropriately led to a series of memorial services in his home state of Arizona and then in our nation’s capital.  Because he was a naval hero, he was buried at the US Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.  Few people in American history deserve the title “hero” but John McCain is certainly one of those.  My father served in the Pacific theater during World War II (Guam, Okinawa) and, before he died, he and I frequently discussed the heroic aspects of John McCain’s life.  Because my dad was in the Navy, he regarded McCain as a model of a man dedicated to military and public service.  In this Perspective, I want to review significant aspects of McCain’s life, all of which demonstrate why he is a genuine American hero.

  • First, a comment about his faith. Ed Stetzer and Laurie Nichols of Christianity Today write:  “McCain did not talk a lot about his faith, but he was a believer. He held to his convictions and his understanding of the humanity of all in good times and bad. And, he sought to live his life with passion and urgency as he fought for the good of others . . .  McCain was a man of faith and talked about his faith when he had little, and quietly practiced when he had much. He has been attending North Phoenix Baptist Church for years. His experiences might have pushed him away from God, but he quietly engaged there at the church. When Rick Warren asked what being a Christian meant to Senator McCain, he replied, ‘It means I’m saved and forgiven.’  [He was close to the former pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, Dan Yeary.  Dan constantly confirmed that Senator McCain was a believer in Jesus Christ.]  In an interview last year . . . McCain said he attends North Phoenix Baptist because he likes [Pastor Dan] Yeary’s ‘message of reconciliation and redemption, which I’m a great believer in.’ He added: ‘. . . I’m grateful for the spiritual advice and counsel that I continue to get from Pastor Dan Yeary.’  One woman [from McCain’s church] posted on Facebook this message:  ‘I had the privilege of being in the same Bible study (Sunday school) class with [McCain] and [his wife] Cindy when they were home. In his later years, I have disagreed with much of his politics, but I always admired him for speaking his mind, and not being swayed just because some disagreed with him. I have no doubt about his relationship with the Lord . . . .’”


  • Another profound reason why I so admired McCain was that he refused to see those with whom he disagreed as his political or cultural enemy. He showed that even in the midst of intensifying polarization, you can resist the allure of tribalism. One of the most powerful examples of this was when he refused, during the 2008 presidential campaign, to take the bait from a woman (incorrectly) implying that President Obama was a Muslim.  He gently, lovingly explained that her conclusion was wrong and why she needed to rise above her false claim.  “As believers, this lesson is one we sorely need to hear. Democrats are not the enemy, Republicans are not the enemy. Those different from us are not the enemy. All are made in the very same image of God that we are, worthy of dignity and respect.”  Noe GarciaIt, lead pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church today, writes that “it’s important that people hear that John McCain was a man of courage, he was a man who loved his family and loved his wife well, and he was a man of faith. Those are three things I hear a lot throughout our church about what he meant and what he represented to people.”


  • Third, John McCain was truly a hero. During the 2016 presidential primaries, then candidate Donald Trump made the reprehensible and disgusting comment about John McCain as a former prisoner of war: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”  Trump’s ongoing offensive mockery of John McCain needs to be answered:  During the Viet Nam War, on 29 July 1967, McCain had just strapped himself into his cockpit of his A-4E Skyhawk on the Carrier Forrestal, when a missile fired accidentally from another jet struck his 200-gallon fuel tank, and exploded in flames.  He crawled out of his plane.  As additional explosions occurred, he was hit in the leg and chest by burning shrapnel.  Despite his injuries, McCain volunteered for more missions and was transferred to the carrier Oriskany.  On 26 October he took off on his 23rd mission of the war, and, after completing his bombing mission over Hanoi, his plane was hit by a Soviet-made missile.  He ejected from his plane, with both arms broken and his right knee shattered.  After falling into a lake, he was captured.  He was stripped to his skivvies, kicked and spat upon, then bayoneted in the left ankle and groin.  A North Vietnamese soldier struck him with his rifle butt, breaking his shoulder.  He was taken to the prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton.”  He was denied medical care and lapsed in and out of consciousness for days.  When he finally awoke, his cell was filled with roaches and rats.  He was continually interrogated and beaten, still defying his tormentors.  Finally, the North Vietnamese allowed him to be cared for by two American prisoners, who brought him back from death.  In March of 1968, he was placed in solitary confinement, which lasted for two years, being fed only watery pumpkin soup and scraps of bread.  Overall, he was in prison for 5 and ½ years. His ordeal finally ended on 14 March 1973, two months after the Paris Peace Accords, which ended American involvement in the war.  After months of rehabilitation and recovery, he returned to active duty and became the Navy’s Senate liaison.  John McCain was a hero, regardless of President Trump’s baseless mockery!


  • Finally, John McCain represented a politician who desired to work with both sides of the political isle to make this democracy work. Few will be satisfied with how he did this.  But some of his closest friends in Washington were both Republicans and Democrats.  He sought both civility and unity in Washington, and he understood two key bedrock principles of this democratic-republic:


  1. Laws are not made by bullying and mocking your political opponents. Compromise and building coalitions are how laws are made in this democratic-republic.
  2. According to the Constitution, there is a separation of power in this democratic-republic. The Congress is a check on the power of the president, as the president is a check on the power of Congress.  The US is not an authoritarian nation, where power is concentrated in one person.  Rather, it is a nation where power is separated among the three branches of government, and where there is a system of checks and balances (designed by our Founders) to prevent the abuse of power by one individual.

I will miss John McCain.  He truly was one of the great heroes of our nation.  Every eulogy and every demonstration of thankfulness and honor indicated how important he was to this nation.  He represented the character, the sacrifice and the integrity this Republic needs to survive.

See the New York Times obituary on John McCain (27 August 2018), which provided many of the details about McCain’s imprisonment in Viet Nam; and “Three Lessons We Can Learn from the Brave Life (and Quiet Faith) of Sen. John McCain”  by Ed Stetzer and Laurie Nichols in (28 August 2018).

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