John S. McCain III Has Passed

Lt Cmdr John S. McCain III was a hero to me. I idolized him and wanted to be like him when I reported to Navy AOCS in Pensacola. That was in May of 1975, two years after McCain had been released from a North Vietnamese prison, and just weeks after the fall of Saigon.

I received my commission in November of 1976. One of the traditions in a commissioning ceremony is that the Navy Hymn is sung after the new Ensigns have have taken that oath to “defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” but before the benediction.

It was a proud moment in my life. Receiving that commission and pinning on those gold bars was quite an experience.

The very inauspicious chapter of my Navy career when, four months later, I dropped flight training and was then told by a disposition board that the Navy didn’t need me in the surface fleet was a huge disappointment.

I was as deflated and numb going through that experience as I had been pleased and proud four months before when our band of brand-new Ensigns sang the Navy Hymn together.

For some reason, I still remember the words. But that has nothing to do with my admiration for Senator McCain.

This is hard to explain, but even though the career I had dreamed about for years fell apart when I got into the hard part of Naval flight training, the eight months I was in Uncle Sam’s Navy marked me for life.

I’ve never lost sight of how vitally important it is to be a part of something greater than myself. Working as a team doesn’t come naturally for me, I’m too much of a lone wolf.

But I learned how to do that in those 16 weeks of Aviation Officer Candidate School.

I learned that the rigors of military life and the necessity of putting the needs of your unit, your mates and the folks back home ahead of your own could impose a very high cost on the individual.

I never had to pay any cost for my shipmates. Or my country. I never knew the perils of an angry sea or a determined enemy.

John McCain did. That’s the kind of man he was. That’s the kind of life he lived.

Lt Cmdr McCain completed 22 very perilous missions over the skies of North Vietnam before his A-4 Skyhawk was shot out of the sky in October of 1967.

The story of how he spent 5 1/2 years as a POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton is well-known. What some may have forgotten is that his North Vietnamese captors offered to release him shortly after they learned that his father, Adm John McCain Jr., was the Commander of American forces in Vietnam.

But John refused to be released under those conditions and finally made it home with his comrades-in-arms in 1973, under the terms of the Paris Peace Accord.

The never-ending maltreatment and torture that McCain endured in his years of imprisonment left him with a lifetime of debilitating injuries. You may have noticed that he was never able to raise his arms above his shoulders when waving to crowds at political events.

That can happen when your wrists are lashed together behind your back, you’re suspended from the ceiling and the sadists who are trying to break you have the ropes so taut that you can’t get both feet flat on the dirt floor beneath you.

These are the kinds of sacrifices that John McCain made. Cmdr McCain and our other POW’s endured hardships and made sacrifices for their country and their loved ones that you and I can’t even imagine.

They did it in fulfillment of the oath they all took. They did it without “reservation or purpose of evasion” just as they had sworn to do.

That’s the kind of man, the kind of hero John McCain was.

The many years of service he gave to his country after he retired from the Navy have been chronicled over and over. One can read reams of information about that part of his service to our country now that he’s passed.

I admire him greatly for his time in the US Senate. He always deported himself with great dignity. He always acted with the courage of his convictions.

I admire him no less as a politician and public servant as I did when his service to country put him in constant peril of life and limb. His fearlessness and his integrity inspire me as much today as they did when I wanted to follow in his footsteps as a 21 year old Officer Candidate.

All told, he rendered more than 60 years of faithful service to the United States. He never shirked his duty, even under conditions that would have broken ordinary men.

I’m not sure why, exactly, but the first thing that happened for me when I heard the news of his passing a few hours ago, is that the strains of the Navy Hymn began to “play” in my head.

I aspired to greatness as a young man so many years ago while singing those words with my mates. Alas, there was to be no greatness in my brief, inglorious military career.

But I, like you, recognize greatness instantly when I see it or hear of it.

I recognized greatness in John McCain more than 43 ago. His selflessness, his devotion to his family, his fellows and his country stand out like that lighthouse at Fort Barrancas on a squally night.

God rest your warrior’s soul, Cmdr McCain. Thank you for your lifetime of selfless service to the country you loved so well.

 

© 2018 Ben Lawrence Basile
All Rights Reserved

The words of the Navy Hymn:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walked’st on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Oh, Watchful Father who dost keep
Eternal vigil while we sleep
Guide those who navigate on high
Who through grave unknown perils fly,
Receive our oft-repeated prayer
For those in peril in the air.

The United States Navy Chorus singing
“Eternal Father Strong to Save”

As we head into the thick of the 2016 elections, this could happen

As we head into the thick of the 2016 elections, this could happen

The Bulldog Barks

I’ve been paying close attention to elections since Nixon vs McGovern in ’72 and although I’ll admit to not voting in that one, I haven’t missed one since. I was a freshman in college out of my home state and waited too late to get an absentee ballot and mail it in. But that was the first and only time I didn’t make it to the polls.

There have been some important and memorable contests in the 43 years and ten elections which have come and gone since then. I was in Navy AOCS in Pensacola back in ’76 when Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford squared off. Voted for Mr. Ford in that one. Both had solid careers in the Navy, but I’m thinking that few in my class went with Mr. Carter.

Being the flaming, tree-hugging liberal that I am today, I hate to admit this, but I did volunteer work in both Reagan campaigns and voted for him. Twice. Loved pretty much everyone on King Ronnie’s team back then, Col. Oliver North especially. Suffice to say that I saw the world very, very differently back then.

The 1980 contest was not noteworthy only because Reagan won; it saw John B. Anderson run the first third-party candidacy the American people has seen since George Wallace that had to be taken seriously. Well, semi-seriously. Okay, I noticed it, because he appeared in Tulsa, where I was living at the time, and I happened to catch it. Didn’t change my vote, but he made an impression.

By the time Reagan’s second term was winding down, my views on politics had changed considerably. I did not vote for “George Bush the Elder” in 1988, though I generally respected him. Of course, Dan Quayle was pretty hard to take. Yes, before Sarah Palin was let loose on the world, there was V.P. Dan Quayle! Boy, that was quite a spectacle back then, wasn’t it? Some of the drama we’ve seen in recent elections is not so different. But I digress.

If you’ve gotten this far into this piece, I will not bore you with my recollections of all the other elections that have taken place in the last quarter-century. But I will say that 2000 was a big one, of course, and that I still carry in my heart a white-hot hatred for both Ralph Nader and Antonin Scalia for the roles they played in making George W. Bush our 43rd President. Pundits and politically-savvy people went on and on about how Nader’s candidacy would suck votes away from Gore and it did. Some maintain to this day that Gore’s shortcomings are the real reason he lost, but I look at the 97,488 votes Nader got in the Sunshine State and cry “bullshit!”  And, as we all remember, Bush carried Florida by 537 votes. For a good treatment of that debacle click here.

As for the role played by Mr. Scalia and the four other justices who joined in his twisted, partisan logic in Bush v. Gore, that would be fodder for another post. On another day. Wait, let me get an Advil. Or three.

True to my word, I am not going to go into the four intervening contests in this post, so let’s bring back the focus to 2016. A whole lot of people who pay attention to Presidential elections are beginning to say that this year’s contest is starting to look a bit like 2000. I am one of those people. Even though we’re still not “there” yet as far as having two official nominees, it’s going to be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I’d bet that somewhere around 92% of the political prognosticators would say so. And I’ll be damned if the candidacy of Bernie Sanders isn’t starting to loom Nader-esque on the American landscape. I think there’s a damn good chance that Bernie could do to Hillary what Ralph did to Al. I hope to God I’m wrong about that. But it’s a  possibility that can’t be easily dismissed. May the soul of Yogi Berra rest peacefully; I damn sure hope it ain’t “deja vu” all over again!

 

Barking from my semi-palatial doghouse in Orlando, I am,

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

 

© 2016 Benjamin Lawrence Basile

Photo credit Benjamin Lawrence Basile