Sometime ago, I had the opportunity to review Jose Aguayo’s The Color of Duty, a book about Latino veterans that in its simplicity has captured the imagination of readers and generated at least one nomination for excellence. The book profiles a selected number of veterans and projects both a light-hearted view of human nature as well the terrible seriousness of tragedy and death in battlefields.
I have also have had the opportunity to profile the plight of Latino immigrant veterans that after faithfully serving in America’s military and fighting battles around the world find themselves deported and deprived of honors for their contributions and their sacrifice. This treatment has reached the level of a scandal and the damage it is causing calls for action by every organization and individual that cares.
One of the major defenders of veterans is the Senator from Arizona John McCain. Senator McCain himself is a veteran and a hero of the Vietnam War.
The latest episode of his life represents a severe challenge caused by a brain tumor that threatens his time on earth. However, he has faced severe or more threats to his life as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
McCain had a very bad year in 1967 beginning with a major fire aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestall on July 29th that almost took his life. This was followed on October 26th with his 23rd mission over Hanoi where he was shot-down, made a prisoner and tortured at times as often as every 2 hours in an effort to extract some kind of confession.
He spent almost 6 years as a prisoner and returned to the United States at a time when the country was moving on from the Vietnam War. But the memories of his time in prison continued to color his life.
For example, when he first ran for Congress, another candidate accused him of being a carpetbagger and he responded: “Listen pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My father was in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived the longest in my life was Hanoi.”
When candidate Donald Trump said that Senator John McCain was a hero “because he was captured” and further stated that, “I like people that weren’t captured,” his words had the opposite effect of making the President look too small to ever fit into a military uniform and not deserving of its meaning. It also served to emphasized the epic quality of the McCain persona that cannot be erased by trite words.
Senator John McCain is again in a fight for his life. His previous brushes with death reveal the soul of a fighter that will not go down.
I am reminded of the black POW flags that fly in front of a lot of veteran organization buildings that continue to honor the prisoners of war. Senator McCain is a personification of those flags.
America owns a hero with an epic story that represents the best in all of us. Let’s take a moment to honor his service.