There are serious, nagging questions about both McCain’s angry refusal to pursue actionable reports of vets alive on the ground and his impatience to seek "normalization of relations" with Viet Nam.
A special commentary by UnfitMcCain.com's editor, Hugh E. Scott
I haven't always disrespected Senator McCain. Quite the contrary, because I'm a Vietnam veteran, ex-Air Force pilot and lifelong registered Republican, he used to be a big hero of mine.
My feelings changed in May 2008, when I began investigating "swift boating" rumors about his POW record. During the facts-check, I ran across an article about John by the late Colonel David Hackworth, a much-decorated career Army officer, Vietnam combat legend and popular TV guest commentator Colonel Hackworth.
In 25 years of active military service, which spanned the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, "Hack" received 78 combat awards, including the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star with "V," Air Medal and eight Purple Hearts.
Before his death in 2005 from cancer, Col. Hackworth wrote the following:
John McCain is being hailed by the press as a "genuine war hero." But is he a war hero in the conventional sense like Audie Murphy and John Glenn? Or is his "war hero" status the creation of a very slick publicity campaign that plays on flag, duty, honor and country?
On a purely medal-count basis, McCain outweighs Murphy and Glenn, who both for years repeatedly performed extraordinary deeds on the ground or in the air against an armed enemy. Yet in McCain’s own words, just four days after being captured, he admitted violating the U.S. Code of Conduct by telling his captors, "O.K. I’ll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital."
The facts are that McCain signed a confession and declared himself a "black criminal who performed deeds of an air pirate." This statement and other interviews he gave to the Communist press were used as propaganda to fan the flames of the antiwar movement.
Accounts by McCain and other writers tell of the horror he endured: relentlessly beatings, torture, broken limbs--all inflicted during savage interrogations. Yet no other POW was a witness to these accounts.A former POW says, "No man witnessed another man during interrogations. We relied on each other to tell the truth when a man was returned to his cell."
The United States Navy says two eyewitnesses are required for any award of heroism. But for the valor awards McCain received, there were no eyewitnesses, less himself and his captors.
Our POWs in Vietnam were treated appallingly. The Viets would either break a POW or kill him. POWs provided info beyond name, rank and serial number or they didn’t come back. Based on these stalwart men’s horrific experiences, the Code of Conduct was changed.
A POW says, "Now the training is to give the enemy something... don’t risk permanent damage to health, mind or body."
From my perspective, Col. Hackworth was not completely accurate when he said the Code of Conduct had been revised because of Vietnam. Certainly that wasn’t the case with Air Force POW training, which allowed more information to be given to enemy captors than simply name, rank and serial number. The Code modification resulted from problems encountered years before by American prisoners in North Korea.
Accepting favors such as cigarettes while in captivity is a blatant violation of the Code of Conduct for prisoners of war. Food is different; a POW is obligated to eat all he can, when he can, and then share the information with fellow POWs so his rations can be divided among the other men based on the estimated calories consumed.
Section III of the Code of Conduct states, "I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy." Alone in the mock POW interrogation room, by lighting up with the Zippo, I would have been accepting a "special favor." I also would’ve signaled weakness on my part, which is typical of persons addicted to one of the most powerful stimulants known to man: nicotine.
In McCain’s 1999 autobiography, Faith of My Fathers, he admitted to smoking cigarettes provided him by his captors. It’s reasonable to assume the North Vietnamese weren’t aware he was addicted to nicotine. Thus, if McCain, a two packs a day smoker, had initially refused the tobacco favor, nothing would’ve been said or inferred. On the other hand, when he took that first puff, his captors knew instantly McCain had a weakness that could make him more vulnerable to disclosing military secrets during interrogations, which he did.
In return for medical treatment at a civilian hospital, a privilege never granted to other injured POWs, McCain reportedly told NVA interrogators the name of his aircraft carrier, how many Navy pilots had been lost, the number of planes in his flight formation, tactics used during bomb runs and the location of rescue ships in the Tonkin Gulf.
Because of the revelations which McCain repeated in propaganda radio broadcasts, the North Vietnamese contemptuously nicknamed him "Songbird."
On June 4, 1969, a U.S. wire service story headlined, "PW Songbird Is Pilot Son of Admiral," described one of McCain’s radio recordings: "Hanoi has aired a broadcast in which the pilot son of the United States commander in the Pacific, Adm. John McCain, purportedly admits to having bombed civilian targets in North Vietnam and praises medical treatment he has received since being taken prisoner."
During his six-week hospital stay and for months afterwards, McCain continued to cooperate with NVA interrogators. He made more radio broadcasts for the enemy and met with foreign dignitaries, enjoying hot tea, coffee and cigarettes in posh settings while back at the Hanoi Hilton and other internment camps, his fellow POWs struggled to stay alive.
In one case, while meeting with Cuban journalist Fernando Barral, McCain voluntarily spoke in Spanish, even though he was obligated as an American POW to be evasive during their conversation. Had McCain feigned ignorance of Barral's native language, the meeting might not have lasted five minutes.
The Barral interview took place in 1970, more than two years after McCain’s capture when he was no longer being physically abused. Cuban diplomats in Hanoi told Barral to say he was a Spanish psychologist, even though he hadn't lived in Spain since he was 11.
The interview lasted between 45 minutes and an hour, according to Barral. He said the meeting took place at the offices of Hanoi's Committee for Foreign Cultural Relations where cookies, oranges, coffee and cigarettes were offered to McCain and accepted.
Barral said he conducted a cursory medical examination and found that McCain had difficulty rotating his arms. McCain told him that he had not been subjected to "physical or moral violence."
After dispensing with the pro forma name, rank and serial number, the men talked in Spanish about McCain's family, his aspirations and the downing of his plane.
Quoting Barral, "McCain lamented, 'If I hadn't been shot down, I would have become an admiral at a younger age than my father.'"
Although McCain claimed he didn’t discuss military matters with Barral, the Hanoi Hilton's U.S. commander, SRO Jeremiah Denton, later issued an order forbidding POWs to be interviewed by visitors. Said McCain on page 305 of Faith of My Fathers (hard copy edition), "[Denton's] decision was a sound one, even though it deprived me of further opportunities to demonstrate my psychic equilibrium... not to mention the [loss of] extra cigarettes and coffee."
(Here's what)...Army Colonel Earl Hopper believes,A veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, Hopper contends the information McCain disclosed was used by North Vietnam to fine-tune their air defense system.
Hopper’s son, Air Force Lt. Colonel Earl Pearson Hopper, was shot down over North Vietnam and later declared "Missing in Action." As a result of his loss, the elder Hopper co-founded the National League of Families, an organization devoted to the return of Vietnam War POWs.
On March 25, 1999, two POWs, Ted Guy and Gordon Larson, told the Phoenix New Times they could not guarantee McCain had been tortured before his interrogations.
Another POW, Phillip Butler, has a more unflattering opinion of McCain’s character. In an article published in June 2008 by Military.com, Butler, a Navy pilot and U.S. Naval Academy graduate who spent more than eight years in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war, explained why he would not support McCain for the presidency.
Here are some excerpts from Butler’s Internet posting:
Believe me when I say that back then I would never in a million years have dreamed that the crazy guy across the hall would someday be a Senator and candidate for President! John was a wild man. He was funny, with a quick wit and he was intelligent. But he was intent on breaking every regulation in our four-inch-thick USNA Regulations book. And I believe he must have come as close to his goal as any midshipman who ever attended the Academy.
I could tell many other midshipman stories about John that year and he unbelievably managed to graduate though he spent the majority of his first class year on restriction for the stuff he got caught doing. In fact he barely managed to graduate, standing 5th from the bottom of his 800-man class. I and many others have speculated that the main reason he did graduate was because his father was an Admiral, and also his grandfather, both Naval Academy graduates.
I furthermore believe that having been a POW is no special qualification for being President of the United States. The two jobs are not the same, and POW experience is not, in my opinion, something I would look for in a presidential candidate.
Most of us who survived that experience are now in our late 60’s and 70’s. Sadly, we have died and are dying off at a greater rate than our non-POW contemporaries. We experienced injuries and malnutrition that are coming home to roost. So I believe John’s age (71) and survival expectation are not good for being elected to serve as our President for four or more years.
I can verify that John has an infamous reputation for being a hot head. He has a quick and explosive temper that many have experienced firsthand. Folks, quite honestly, that is not the finger I want next to the red button.
Other POWs are critical of Sen. McCain because of the abusive way he treated the families of American servicemen missing in Southeast Asia by abruptly halting the 1992 Select Senate Committee investigation of MIAs and sealing their records.
For reasons I will never understand, McCain took an unrelenting position that no living POWs were left behind in 1973, when he was freed by the North Vietnamese.
Quite the contrary, there is evidence that indicates at least one U.S. serviceman, MIA Kelly Patterson, may have been held captive after McCain’s release. I became interested in Patterson after meeting a POW on the Internet named Ron Mastin. We were both on an email list maintained by a mutual friend who was also a Vietnam vet.
Curious about Mastin’s background, I googled his name on the Web and found the following text:
"Lt. Cmdr. McDaniel was captured early the morning of 20 May 1967 and was transported by his captors to Hanoi. While a prisoner of war, McDaniel was told by a prison guard known as Onizz that his bombardier/navigator (Kelly Patterson) had recovered from his injury and was well."
"Other POWs who returned during Operation Homecoming in 1973 saw evidence that Lt. Patterson was also a prisoner of the North Vietnamese."
"Dewey Smith saw an interrogation questionnaire with Kelly Patterson's name written on the top of it in the fall of 1967, another POW saw his name scratched on the wall of his jail cell, and Ronald Mastin believes he saw a photo of Kelly Patterson's ID card in a Vietnamese newspaper during the same year."
Continuing my Internet research, I learned that in November 1985, the Vietnamese turned over Kelly Patterson’s ID card and Geneva Convention card in good condition to a Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) delegation.
In December 1990, in an attempt to satisfy questions asked about Patterson’s fate, the Vietnamese brought before U.S. investigators four "witnesses" who claimed to have been militiamen involved in the search for Patterson and his aircraft commander, Red McDaniel.
The militiamen said they shot Patterson to death when he stood up with a pistol in his hand. However, as Patterson reported over his survival radio to friendly aircraft in the area, he had suffered a compound leg fracture during bailout. So standing up would have been impossible for him to do.
In May 1992, Patterson’s alleged burial site was thoroughly excavated by a joint U.S./Vietnamese field team. The dig showed no trace of human remains. Moreover, soil examinations proved conclusively the strata in that location had never been disturbed by man.
In sum, the Vietnamese account that Patterson had been killed on the ground must be disbelieved because it was clearly a self-serving attempt to keep secret his fate as a captured and highly prized A-6A Intruder bombardier/navigator.
From Patterson’s ID cards, his interrogators would have eventually learned he was an expert on the Intruder’s state-of-the-art electronics used with great success against North Vietnam’s Russian-made missile defense system. The technical knowledge possessed by Patterson was exactly the kind of information the Soviets wanted. The North Vietnamese would have been foolish not to give Patterson to the Russians in return for continued war support. Of course, that was something Vietnamese officials could never admit--not then, not now. Hence the cover-up.
A reasonable person would think it was entirely possible that Kelly Patterson had been captured in North Vietnam and handed over to Soviet authorities but not John McCain. During the 1992 Senate Select Committee hearings on MIAs, Red McDaniel presented a letter to McCain for his consideration. Signed by 50 fellow POWs, it asked that the congressional investigation into missing American servicemen not be stopped.
McCain, who had threatened to terminate the hearings prematurely, ignored the letter. His conduct toward MIA families was even more disgraceful.
Consider the following narrative published on a Web site maintained by the nonpartisan organization, U.S. Veterans Dispatch:
In 1996, McCain encountered a group of POW/MIA family members outside a Senate hearing room. The family members were some of the same who worked tirelessly during the Vietnam War to make sure Hanoi released all U.S. POWs, including McCain.
He immediately began quarreling with the POW/MIA family members, who were eager to question him on the issue of what happened to their loved ones.
Instead showing courtesy and appropriate compassion by answering their questions, the Arizona senator pushed through the group, shoving them out of his way, nearly toppling the wheelchair of POW/MIA mother Jane Duke Gaylor. Her son, Charles Duke, a civilian worker in Vietnam, is among 2,300 American POWs and MIAs still unaccounted for by the communists.
The POW/MIA families, shocked at McCain’s overly aggressive behavior toward Mrs. Gaylor, registered complaints with Senate officials.
Only John McCain knows why he ended the Senate hearings early and sealed the DOD records of MIAs and POWs, including his own.
Some critics charge he was blackmailed by Vietnamese officials, to force his endorsement of a pending U.S. trade agreement favorable to the communist nation.
Whether or not the allegation is true, a man with John McCain’s fiery temperament and callous indifference to missing American war veterans should not occupy the White House.
Former POW Phillip Butler addressed this issue in his Military.com letter, saying: John was offered and refused "'early release." Many of us were given this offer. It meant speaking out against your country and lying about your treatment to the press. You had to "admit" that the U.S. was criminal and that our treatment was "lenient and humane." So I, like numerous others, refused the offer. This was obviously something none of us could accept. Besides, we were bound by our service regulations, Geneva Conventions and loyalties to refuse early release until all the POW's were released.
Another example of McCain exploiting his war record happened on July 9, 2008, when he was interviewed during a Pittsburgh radio broadcast by KDKA Political Editor, Jon Delano.
McCain told Delano that he had recited the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line-up to his North Vietnamese captors as aliases for the names of his Navy squadron mates. McCain added that he "naturally recalls" the football team whenever he thinks of Pittsburgh. "The Steelers really made a huge impression on me -- particularly in their early years."
"When I was first interrogated," continued McCain, "and had to give some information because of the physical pressures that were on me, I named the starting lineup of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron-mates!"
That sounds good, but it wasn’t what McCain said in Faith of My Fathers. On page 194 of the hardcopy edition, he wrote, "Eventually, I gave them [NVA interrogators] my ship’s name and squadron, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant. Pressed for more information, I gave the names of the Green Bay Packer’s offense line, and said they were members of my squadron."
McCain supporters will probably say he "misremembered" the NFL football team because his POW experience happened nearly 40 years ago. But how do they explain what he wrote in an article for U.S. News & World Report, published on May 14, 1973?
In the detailed, 12,000-word piece, McCain, whose memory had to be super sharp back then, never mentioned using the names of NFL players during his NVA interrogations, even though the deception would have mitigated the seriousness of his confessions.
One possible explanation for McCain's 1973 omission is that he never told the names of NFL players to the North Vietnamese. Conceivably, the story was a fantasy he created for his 1999 autobio, to make him appear heroic while campaigning for the White House in 2000. If so,it also explains why he later "misremembered" the Steelers.
On August 15, 2008, during a speaker's forum featuring Barack Obama and McCain in Lake Forest, California, hosted by Rev. Rick Warren and broadcast live on TV,the Arizona senator again played his shop-worn POW card to prove he was capable of dealing w/ Russian military adventurism,
such as this year's invasion of Georgia.
For example, he told Rev. Warren about being tortured by the North Vietnamese, which cannot be verified. But the most blatant exploitation of McCain's war record happened when he was asked about his greatest test of courage.
With the straightest of faces, McCain said it was when the North Vietnamese offered to release him early and he turned it down.
According to Col. Hackworth and former POW Phillip Butler, however, no valor was involved in the decision making.
In closing, to paraphrase the late Colonel David Hackworth:
John McCain may be a tough war survivor, but he is no hero.
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