Get to Know John McCain

Charles Gibson's private look at presidential hopefuls.

ByABC News
February 19, 2009, 12:49 AM

Nov. 8, 2007 — -- John McCain originally made a name for himself on the battlefield and developed a love of country while languishing in the Hanoi Hilton as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Now the four-term senator from Arizona is fighting his way toward the White House.

ABC News' Charles Gibson spoke with McCain as part of the "Who Is" series, which features one interview every week with a presidential candidate from now until December, with the focus fixed on their private lives.

Growing up in a military family, John Sidney McCain III had a future that was predetermined. Both his father and grandfather climbed the ranks of the American armed forces his father was commander to all U.S. forces in the Pacific during the Vietnam War and his grandfather oversaw the Air Force in the South Pacific during World War II.

Everyone who knew the youngest McCain just assumed he would follow the same path.

"Yeah, he's going to be the class of so-and-so at the Naval Academy, and I felt that I didn't have a choice," McCain said. "I resented it, but I wanted it. It was almost schizophrenic. I wanted to be the fighter pilot, I wanted to follow in the footsteps, at the same time I resisted."

For many years growing up, McCain missed his father.

"I revered him, but I revered him to some degree at a distance because he was gone so much. He was gone literally all of World War II from 1941 to 1945. He was gone during the Korean War for I think a couple of years. He was on sea duty a lot. And I certainly revered my father and respected him," McCain said.

When the time came for him to enroll in the Naval Academy, his resistance showed in his grades.

"I thought I would like it. My ambition was to be one of these scarf-in-the-wind fighter pilots. I couldn't think of anything more romantic and exciting than to do that," McCain said. "At the same time I rebelled against the discipline and kind of rigidity that I saw there at the Naval Academy."

His demerits piled on, and his grades slipped.