Orson Swindle, a fellow POW, says that he remembers McCain telling the story about the cross in the dirt sometime in 1971.
ETA: A correction is below and a mea culpa is in my next diary, The Battleground McCain Prefers.
From the McCain blog:
In the least credible and most vicious corner of the internet, liberal bloggers at the Daily Kos are accusing John McCain of plagiarizing from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The story Solzhenitsyn told was of a prisoner who drew a cross in the dirt in a Soviet Gulag. McCain's story is of a guard who drew a cross in the dirt in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.
The only similarity between the two stories is a cross in the dirt, but it is hardly an unlikely coincidence that there were practicing Christians in both Russia and Vietnam, or that in the prisons of those two Communist countries the only crosses to be found were etched in the dirt, as easily disappeared as the Christians who drew them.
But those desperate to discredit Senator McCain's record will have to impugn his fellow prisoners as well. Orson Swindle, who was held as a prisoner of war along with McCain, tells the McCain Report that he heard this particular story from McCain "when we first moved in together." That was in the summer of 1971, Swindle said, though "time blurred" and he couldn't be sure. He said it was some time around then that the Vietnamese moved all "36 troublemakers" into the same quarters, where they "talked about everything under the sun."
It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others. John McCain has often said he witnessed a thousand acts of bravery while he was imprisoned, and though not every one has been submitted into the public record, they are remembered by the men who were there (one such only recently reported by Karl Rove though it escaped mention in any of Senator McCain's books). But as Swindle said, this is a "desperate group of people trying to make something out of nothing."
The McCain camp intends for Barack to cut off the Kos, ladies and gentlemen. Get ready because here it comes.
ETA: To make sure this stays right at the top (thanks, dlcox1958), the Free Republic made this charge first. Yes, Mr. O'Reilly, I'm talking to you and your staff.
EATA: Orson Swindle, not Oscar.'
Update: Orson Swindle did not join Citizens Against Government Waste until 2006 (not Consumers Against Government Waste, my bad). This was after the Abramoff problems with the charity.
But as has been pointed out by many, a mention of this story well before 1999 would start to shut this story down. McCain doesn't do that. Instead, he makes Daily Kos the target.
ETA: Please read my latest, The Battleground McCain Prefers.