The person about whom everybody is talking is Donald Trump, who is seeking the Republican Party (GOP) nomination to run for president. He has decided to call out Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war (POW) during the Vietnam War, by saying that he is not a war hero. McCain, for his part, did nothing to elicit this attack; he is not running against Trump. He has even remained silent on Trump’s attempts to defame him. Today, it is McCain and the horrors of the Vietnam War versus the billionaire, Trump, who seems unable to grasp the reality of the ordeal suffered by POWs.
McCain is, in fact, a war hero and has earned the right to claim this status. While Trump was playing college boy during the war, McCain was defending the United States’ position in Vietnam. After graduating the Naval Academy, he became a fighter pilot. During the war, he flew ground-attack missions from aircraft carriers.
According to McCain’s account, he was on his 23rd bombing mission over Hanoi, when a “Russian missile the size of a telephone pole came up” and blew off his right wing. He “fractured both arms and one leg after ejecting” from his jet. He plummeted into a lake and sank about 15 feet to the bottom. Subsequently, McCain was captured by North Vietnamese soldiers and stripped of his clothing. He endured being spit at, cursed at, yelled at and being kicked by a crowd of people who had gathered to see what was going on.
After being captured in 1967, McCain was taken to the central prison. He was put into a cell and his body was laid down on a stretcher. He was under a blanket, but undressed; wearing only his “skivvies.” Over a period of three to four days, he drifted in and out of consciousness, and was taken out of his cell only for interrogation. The captors threatened to withhold medical care unless he talked. He refused to give them more than “his name, rank, serial number and date of birth.”
When he finally was taken to the hospital, he received surgery on his right arm. It was too late for his left, as it had healed on its own. During his six-week stay, his knee was also repaired surgically. Afterward, he was taken to another camp, which the Americans referred to as “The Plantation.”
At the camp, he was told he would not live more than a week; he lost weight and slept 18 to 20 hours a day. Fortunately, his cellmates took good care of him and he swiftly recovered. Until March 1968, he had cellmates but, one by one, they were taken away. Afterward, he was in solitary confinement for two years without the right to speak to any other prisoners. He was randomly beaten, either several times a day or not for days at a time.
Trump has no idea what it was like to be in a place like the “Hanoi Hilton,” the horrendous POW camp in North Vietnam. McCain knows all too well that the prison cell he was in was tiny, and the conditions were inhumane. Unfortunately, today the story is McCain versus Trump, and the horrors of the Vietnam War continue to be clear memories for the naval officer, who spent 5 1/2 years imprisoned in Hanoi.
At the same time, Trump was attending an Ivy League University, where he wined and dined beautiful women. He also found ways to avoid Vietnam, receiving a physical deferment for an apparent foot problem. The billionaire was not alone in his avoidance of the war. In the 1960s, students often burned their draft cards, and by 1972, there were a total of 200,600 “induction-refusal” cases.
In December 1972, Hanoi was attacked by bombs which had been ordered by President Nixon. The Christmas bombing was spectacular, and, according to McCain, “we were all cheering and hollering.”
In April of 1973, the American government was able to bring home 591 POWs. However, it was estimated that there more than 2,000 POW/MIAs. According to writings by a North Vietnamese general, there were 1,205 Americans POWs in September 1972. To this day, there are still Americans unaccounted for, and the search continues. Over 58,000 troops died during the war. McCain made it home, and now Trump blasts him by saying he is not a war hero. The presidential hopeful has no idea of the real horrors of the Vietnam War.
Opinion by Cathy Milne
Edited by Jennifer Pfalz
U.S.News: John McCain, Prisoner of War: A First-Person Account
The Washington Post: What Donald Trump was up to while John McCain was a prisoner of war
VIETNAM WAR: Vietnam War Draft
VIETNAM WAR: Vietnam POWs
history-world: VIETNAM WAR STATISTICS
Featured Photo Courtesy of USArmy Alaska’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Photo Courtesy of NATO Training Mission’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License