Ol’ Fred Thompson Tells of McCain’s Character

By Arnab Datta

Sep 2, 2008 10:32pm

Still battling a throat irritant of some sort, former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., is right now making the case for his ol’ buddy, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Thompson started by describing the McCain family, including McCain’s mother Roberta.

“All I gotta say is that if Ms. Roberta had been the McCain captured by the North Vietnamese, they would have surrendered," Thompson quipped.

He then told the story of McCain, with a focus on McCain’s time as a POW.

"On October 26, 1967, on his 23rd mission over North Vietnam, a surface-to-air missile slammed into John’s A-4 Skyhawk jet, blowing it out of the sky," Thompson said. "When John ejected, part of the plane hit him — breaking his right knee, his left arm, his right arm in three places.  An angry mob got to him.  A rifle butt broke his shoulder.  A bayonet pierced his ankle and his groin.  They took him to the Hanoi Hilton, where he lapsed in and out of consciousness for days. He was offered medical care for his injuries if he would give up military information in return.

"John McCain said ‘No.’ After days of neglect, covered in grime, lying in his own waste in a filthy room, a doctor attempted to set John’s right arm without success and without anesthesia. His other broken bones and injuries were not treated. John developed a high fever and dysentery. He weighed barely a hundred pounds. Expecting him to die, his captors placed him in a cell with two other POWs who also expected him to die. But with their help, John McCain fought on. He persevered.

"So then they put him in solitary confinement. For over two years. Isolation. Incredible heat beating on a tin roof. A light bulb in his cell burning 24 hours a day. Boarded-up cell windows blocking any breath of fresh air. The oppressive heat causing boils the size of baseballs under his arms. The outside world limited to what he could see through a crack in a door.

"We hear a lot of talk about hope these days. John McCain knows about hope. That’s all he had. For propaganda purposes, his captors offered to let him go home. John McCain refused. He refused to leave ahead of men who’d been there longer. He refused to abandon his conscience and his honor, even for his freedom. He refused, even though his captors warned him, ‘It will be very bad for you.’ They were right. It was. The guards cracked ribs, broke teeth off at the gums. They cinched a rope around his arms and painfully drew back his shoulders. Over four days, every two to three hours, the beatings resumed. During one especially fierce beating, he fell, again breaking his arm.

"John was beaten for communicating with other prisoners. He was beaten for not communicating with so-called ‘peace delegations.’ He was beaten for not giving information during interrogations. When his captors wanted the names of other pilots in his squadron, John gave them the name of the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers. Whenever John was returned to his cell — walking if he could, dragged if he couldn’t — as he passed his fellow POWs, he would often call out to them. He’d smile, often give them a thumbs-up.

"For five-and-a-half years this went on. John McCain’s bones may have been broken but his spirit never was. Now, being a POW certainly doesn’t qualify anyone to be President.  But it does reveal character. This is the kind of character that civilizations from the beginning of history have sought in their leaders. Strength, courage, humility, wisdom, duty, honor. It’s pretty clear there are two questions we will never have to ask ourselves, ‘Who is this man?’ and ‘Can we trust this man with the Presidency?’"

- jpt

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