A Noun, A Verb and POW POW POW POW …..

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

*** I reworked my original diary and added more to it, the first one was unplanned, a work in progress. ****

First of all I want to say this diary is not about denigrating the service of our military or making light of the heroism of our POWs. There are things about McCain’s POW experiences that need to be put into perspective, because being a POW like John McCain doesn’t automatically make one presidential material or particularly heroic. If this is true of any POW it is true of McCain in spades. Follow me below the fold for some straight talk.

According to John McCain, John McCain spent 5 and a half years as a POW, starting October 26, 1967 and ending March 14, 1973. He spent time at the Hanoi Hilton, Hoa Lo Prison the main prison in Hanoi. There were 12 other prisons in North Vietnam, however bad it was, the Hanoi Hilton was not the worst.   After being periodically slapped around for “three or four days” by his captors who wanted military information from him, McCain called for an officer on his fourth day of captivity. He told the officer, “O.K., I’ll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital.” He was afraid he would get blood poisoning and die. After 6 weeks recovering he was sent to another prison on the outskirts of Hanoi, the Plantation. It was there he was nursed back to health by Bud Day and Norris Overly.

McCain spent two years in solitary confinement, starting in March of 1968. In August of ’68 the severest beatings started on McCain, after 4 days he broke again giving the North Vietnamese antiwar statements against the US. However, the North Vietnamese wanted him to sign additional statements and he refused giving them a pro football lineup, which got him 2-3 beatings a week. He was ashamed, but everyone has their breaking point. According to McCain he refused early release as well as meeting with anti-war activists not wanting to give the North Vietnamese a propaganda victory.  December of 1969 he was moved to the Hanoi Hilton. Thus is the myth as spoken by John McCain.

But we can see a different truth, gain some perspective on the myth.

Part of the perspective we need from nampows.org

Of the 802 Southeast Asia POWs (661 military, 141 civilians/foreign nationals), 472 were tortured and imprisoned in North Vietnam, some longer than eight years, 263 in the South Vietnam jungle POW camps for as long as nine years, 31 in Laos, 31 in Cambodia and 5 in China (two of whom were held for over 19 years under sub-human conditions).  We are one of the strongest fraternal organizations that exists in the world today.  We are bonded together, not by rank or service, but by the deep knowledge and faith that we are one unit – one entity that the enemy could not destroy.  We held our heads high with pride as we served our nation as Prisoners of War.  We accomplished our sworn goal…

Altho the real number will never be known those POWs were awarded eight Medals of Honor, 42 Service Crosses, 590 Silver Stars, 958 Bronze Stars and 1,249 Purple Hearts. VADM Jim Stockdale, USN; Col. Bud Day, USAF; Col. Don Cook, USMC (Posthumously); Capt. Lance Sijan, USAF (Posthumously); Capt. Rocky Versace (Posthumously) for action above and beyond the call of duty as POWs and Col. Leo Thorsness, USAF, SGM Jon Cavaiani, USA and SGT William Port, USA for heroism prior to their being captured. Please read their citations, these are stories of unparalleled bravery and determination.

Receiving the MOH for their service while in captivity.

Col. Donald G. Cook  

Major George Day

Capt. Lance Sijan

Capt. James Stockdale

Capt. Humbert (Rocky) Versace

These are the heroes recognized by our government but there were many, many more. Many of those heroes never came home, or came home broken bodies, the effects of their captivity dogging them every day of their lives.

McCain’s own memories of his time as a POW often conflict. His “misremembering” of the cross in the sand is kind, it is apparently an outright fabrication.  John McCain’s recollections very often are at odds with those POWs who shared capitivity with him and existing government documents. As we go thru the time line it might be instructive to read the 1973 Newsweek article written by McCain about his experiences and set the stage for his hero status meme. It is also important because it outlines the experiences of other prisoners.

He was pulled from Truc Bach Lake, actually saved from drowning by a Vietnamese peasant. Mai Van On ran from the safety of a bomb shelter and swam to the wreck. McCain was tangled in his parachute lines, On untangled him enough to get him to the surface and with the help of another man pulled him to the shore. He was beaten by the towns people. On also tried to protect McCain driving the villagers off. He was taken to the main prison in Hanoi. They refused to give hm medical treatment. This was common for seriously injured captives, there was little use in expending the energy and resources to treat individuals the North Vietnamese believed would die anyway.  In his own words they slapped him around a little, however his injuries (typical of ejections in those circumstances) were severe enough the pain from those alone would have been unbearable.  After three or four days he traded the name of his ship, the number of aircraft in his flight, information about rescue ships, the order of which his attack was supposed to take place and the targets for treatment. He was afraid he would get blood poisoning and die. Ironically at the same time the Vietnamese were learning his father was an Admiral. It was the discovering of his importance as a political tool that prompted the North Vietnamese to give him the best medial treatment they had available, transferring him Gai Lam military hospital, a facility unavailable to other POWs. It was in that hospital he got his nickname, the Crowned Prince. He stayed for approximately 6 weeks recovering.  McCain was interviewed extensively in the hospital by the North Vietnamese and foreign press. These are also violations of the Military Code of Conduct. McCain gave more than 20 such interviews, his first just 14 days after his capture. Among those declassified, to the Cuban News Broadcast Nov. 9, 1967, Nhan Dan interview Nov. 9, 1967, all done at the military hospital.

Early Dec. 1967 McCain was taken from the hospital to the Plantation, the model prison, the show prison, the prison where people didn’t get beaten or tortured.

The Plantation, his roommates Bud Day and Norris Overly who nursed him back to health. In fact it was Overly who bathed and tended McCain.  In January 1968 all three where transferred to the ‘Corn Crib’ area within the Plantation, it was there McCain was visited by high level Soviets officials according to his book. Both Day and Overly were transferred to another camp March 1968.  In April of 1968, McCain was “moved into another building, the largest cell block in the camp, ‘the Warehouse.'”  McCain began solitary confinement.  

The Prince spent about 90 days with his cell mates. It was in Jan 1968 McCain gave another interview with French journalist named Chalais. This interview was broadcast in Europe. It would seem his former cell mates were unaware of the interview or its content and not aware of McCain’s visits by the Soviets, altho it would seem unlikely.

Both Guy and Larson were senior ranking officers (SRO’s) in McCain’s POW camp at a time he claims he was in solitary confinement and being tortured.

Larson told the New Times, “Between the two of us, it’s our belief, and to the best of our knowledge, that no prisoner was beaten or harmed physically in that camp (known as ‘The Plantation’). “My only contention with the McCain deal is that while he was at The Plantation, to the best of my knowledge and Ted’s knowledge, he was not physically abused in any way. No one was in that camp. It was the camp that people were released from.”

Collaborator, those who broke, who gave information rather than nonsense,  that number is actually very, very small. But in his book, Faith of My Fathers, McCain levels some very serious accusations against cell mates who he tells us collaborated. In McCain’s own words. “They not only stopped resisting but apparently crossed a line no other prisoner I knew had even approached,” McCain wrote. “They were collaborators, actively aiding the enemy.” John McCain has also crossed that line when he gave information about his squadron and targets. The two  POWs in question Edison Miller and Walter Wilber deny all the accusations and unfortunately there is no way to verify either version of the story. What is known is Miller did make anti-war statements used as propaganda, but then so did John McCain. Both Miller and Wilber insist is they never spoke against their country or give away military secrets. The difference is Miller’s statements along with that of another POW were played over the loud speakers to undermine morale. This angered many, including James Stockdale.  In the end, POWs who made antiwar statements under the duress of captivity would not be prosecuted for their statements.

McCain continued to collaborate with the North Vietnamese while he was at the Plantation. In May of 1968 he allowed himself, on two separate occasions to be interviewed by North Vietnamese generals.  He spoke to a Cuban psychologist/journalist interview broadcast June, 1969. His interview of June 1969 is really quite telling, he is rebutting the claim by the US Government that POWs were being mistreated.

From a NY Daily News article regarding these interviews. June 1969 – “Reds Say PW Songbird Is Pilot Son of Admiral. . . Hanoi has aired a broadcast in which the pilot son of 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.” New York Daily News, June 5, 1969

Many of his fellow POWs believe the beatenings never happened.  For the two or more years he was at the Plantation it is unlikely there were beatenings or solitary confinement in the generally acceepted sense. McCain simply was not assigned other cellmates, he was still occupying a cell usually holding three to four POWs. It is very possible he was secluded from the general population so they could attempt to retrain him, brain wash him. Meticulous records were kept of all prisoners the Communists tried to brainwash, those records are sealed. In September of 1969 Hi Chi Minh died and there was no more torture, beatings, food and medical care improved. It would seem unlikely McCain would have been beaten past Sept. 1969. Altho McCain would have us believe he was beaten virtually every day of those 5 1/2 years.

As of of January 1970 McCain was back at the Hanoi Hilton in a single man cell and giving interviews again.

The Granma clipping in Barral’s restaurant, dated Jan. 24, 1970, recalls one of the defining periods of McCain’s life, his 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war after his Navy jet was shot down over North Vietnam. The tale of that photo and how an obscure Cuban psychologist came to interview McCain -The interview lasted between 45 minutes and an hour, Barral recalled. He said the men met at the offices of Hanoi’s Committee for Foreign Cultural Relations, while McCain said in his book that the interview took place in a hotel.

McCain was escorted to the interview from the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” a prison where American servicemen were tortured and lived in miserable conditions. Barral said he does not know why his North Vietnamese handlers chose the cultural center as the site for the interview.

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,” Barral noted at the time. Barral’s interview with the son and grandson of U.S. admirals was considered a huge coup and “newsworthy,” according to the 1970 Granma article. The communist party newspaper ran a close-up of McCain’s face on its front page.

According to the DOD report, the meeting between Barral and McCain (which was photographed by the Vietnamese) took place away from the prison at the office of the Committee for Foreign Cultural Relations in Hanoi. During the meeting, POW McCain sipped coffee and ate oranges and cakes with his interrogator.

While talking with Barral, McCain seriously violated the military Code of Conduct by failing to evade answering questions “to the utmost” of his ability when he, according to the DOD report, helped Barral by answering questions in Spanish, a language McCain had learned in school.

Many believe McCain used his father’s position to gain more favorable treatment. While it may have spared him beatings, the more favorable treatment in every other regard is subjective, no treatment was good even after September of 1969. We will never know for sure what transpired between McCain and the North Vietnamese because McCain worked to have those records sealed, not even surviving family members can find out about the last days of their loved ones. Records that could have been declassified years ago. Would you not think a hero the stature McCain believes he is would want those records made public?

Why am I bothered? It is because McCain continues to make such a big deal out of being a POW and by inference a hero, so much so it tends to overshadow everything else. The fact he uses it as an excuse for virtually everything cheapens the service and experience of EVERY person who has served and particularly those who lost far more than McCain. His unwillingness to support service men and women to this day. The fact there will never be a full accounting because of John McCain. We will never know how many POWs were left behind and neither will their families. His lock step support of Bush and his program of torture and the loss of habias. He is contemptable in his cravenness, his actions the very definition of selfishness.

These allegations are not innuendo, McCain admits to most of it in his own autobiography, he can be undone by his own words. The truth is McCain’s time as a POW was exactly like the rest of his life, self absorbed, unremarkable and rather unheroic.

We have yet to touch on his temper and how it may relate to PTSD. It is generally accepted that virtually all POWs suffer from PTSD to a greater or lesser degree. One of the primary indications is the inability to put those experiences in the past, constantly bringing them up. The inappropriate angry outbursts attacking friend and foe alike.

We haven’t looked at the possiblity he may also be in the beginning stages of Alzheimers. He shows distinct signs of memory issues. This should be a real concern after Reagan.

Nothing about John McCain has been properly vetted, we are to believe the hype, the myth and never question the potential problems we see. We can’t criticize or question based on the biggest lie of all, his war record makes him a hero.

Counter Punch Article June 2008

McCain’s Code of Conduct Report 1974 for the National War College.

The Military Code of Conduct

History and Documents from Second Indochina War 1959-1975

Bobby Garwood

POWs left behind

Additional Transcripts of McCain POW interviews.

Declassified CIA document


Skip to comment form

  1. putting to rest the POW war hero meme forever!

    cross posted st KOS

    • Viet71 on August 27, 2008 at 23:34

    Thanks for your diary.

    I’m not here to defend McCain.

    Can’t imagine his POW experience.

    My experience was mild:  hot nights, hotter days, humidity that rotted your clothes and wallet.

    Insects at night that covered your mosquito net.  Big fucking insects.

    Mortars, rockets.  Taking machine gun fire in helicopters.

    Some great meals and great Vietnamese girls.

    Adrenalin every day.

    That’s the easy part.

    Not here to defend McCain.

    But knowing he was a POW means I hold back criticism of him.

Comments have been disabled.