The John McCain I knew was an inspiration and mentor
John McCain believed that “the best thing that can ever be said of anyone is that they served a cause greater than their self-interest.” In my mind, John – a true American hero – more than deserves such praise. Our nation’s loss will leave a void that we need to fill, but his 60-year legacy of selfless service to our nation will echo for generations.
His father and grandfather, both four-star admirals, instilled this noble belief in him and his faith drove him forward – his “faith in God, faith in our country, and faith in each other.” His loving wife and beautiful family of seven children made him, in his eyes, the “luckiest person on earth.”
Lucky may not be the way most would describe John’s life. As an aviator in the U.S. Navy, he survived the horrific explosion aboard the USS Forrestal in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1967, only to endure a nightmare of torture until 1973. Flying hundreds of miles per hour during Operation Rolling Thunder in his subsonic attack aircraft, he was struck by enemy fire and forced to eject. He was captured by the North Vietnamese as a prisoner of war. I will forever remember the vivid images of John being pulled out of a lake by the enemy, his broken body further brutalized in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”
But John, his mind all too powerful for his barbaric captors, refused their repatriation offer to the U.S., denying them a propaganda coup against the United States and his father, who commanded all armed forces in the Pacific. He chose to sacrifice his freedom for his fellow POWs and for his country.
The John I know is an inspiration, a friend and a mentor. He was elected to Congress in 1982, where he felt he could “do more good there.” His innate understanding of global issues quickly earned him a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives – a committee I proudly serve on in the shadow of John’s legacy. His commitment to our nation’s interests abroad grew exponentially as one of our nation’s greatest statesmen.
I was lucky enough to benefit from his guidance and wisdom, particularly when we attended the Munich Security Conference together to discuss the importance of our transatlantic bond with our European friends and allies. As a dedicated attendee of the Munich Security Conference for 40 years, he was a stalwart supporter of this alliance and the democratic ideals that formed it. His vision of protecting universal values, upholding the rule of law, encouraging open commerce and respecting national sovereignty have helped shape mine.
In February, his wife, Cindy, delivered a message from John to the conference. He reminded our friends and allies “that the peace and prosperity we cherish depend on the survival and success of those values … and that they are worth fighting for.”
Let us honor and remember John’s faith, patriotism, duty, loyalty and selfless service to the nation that he, you and I love. Just as President John F. Kennedy inspired generations of Americans to serve their country, I know that senator, statesman and hero John McCain will do as well.
We will keep the faith; we will never give up; and we will continue to fight for the greatest nation on earth. We are the lucky ones. Thank you, John.
The op-ed originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, here.