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Sen. John McCain, war hero and statesman, has died

by Lynde Langdon
Posted 8/25/18, 08:52 pm

Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who championed veterans causes and made several unsuccessful bids for the presidency, has died from complications of brain cancer. He was 81.

The son and grandson of two four-star admirals, McCain graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958. He served as a naval pilot and deployed to Vietnam in 1967. The North Vietnamese captured him after his plane went down over Hanoi, and the injuries he received in the crash, plus those sustained from torture and maltreatment during five years as a prisoner of war, left him with lifelong disabilities. He couldn’t raise his arms over his head and greeted crowds with a shoulder-high wave the rest of his life.

While in Vietnam’s Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton,” his captors learned McCain’s father was a high-ranking military commander and offered him early release, but he refused unless the U.S. soldiers captured before him were also released.

McCain was freed in 1973 and continued to serve in the Navy until 1981. He entered Congress as a Republican representative for Arizona in 1983 and won election to the Senate in 1986.

In Washington, D.C., McCain made campaign finance reform a signature issue of his career, and the McCain-Feingold act in 2002 restricted how political parties could use “soft money” contributions from donors to directly benefit candidates. He earned the nickname “Maverick” for breaking with his party on certain positions. Most recently, he did not support GOP efforts to replace Obamacare, and he criticized President Donald Trump for firing FBI Director James Comey. 

McCain made two unsuccessful bids for the U.S. presidency, the first in 2000 when he lost in the Republican primaries to George W. Bush. In 2008 he won the GOP nomination and ran against then–Sen. Barack Obama with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the pastor of the Southern Baptist church McCain attended in the Phoenix area described  the senator’s faith as profound and private. He grew up in an Episcopalian family and led prisoners in reciting Scripture while in captivity in Vietnam. He repeatedly declined to answer questions about his faith on the campaign trail, saying, “It’s a personal thing,” according to a Bloomberg report.

In 2017, doctors diagnosed McCain with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. He briefly returned to the Senate and cast his final vote there in December 2017 before returning to Arizona for treatment. 

Asked how he wanted to be remembered, McCain said simply: “That I made a major contribution to the defense of the nation.”

McCain married twice and had seven children, including his first wife’s two children whom he adopted. His wife, Cindy, his children, and five grandchildren all survive him.


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Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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