Why John McCain wasn’t all that much of a hero

John McCain was not a hero.

All humans have breaking points. Many men being tortured give confessions, often telling lies so that other men and their country would know that there is no truth in what they say. John McCain was an exception. John was shot down over a lake in North Vietnam while flying an A-4 Sky Hawk. This was an attack aircraft that had no defensive weapons, carried bombs only and was used to take out targets on the ground.

While attacking a power generation plant near Hanoi, his A-4 was hit by a surface-to-air missile that severed the aircraft’s left wing. John was forced to eject and he did so with the aircraft inverted. The ejection broke both his shoulders in at least two places, broke his ribs and legs. When he hit the water he almost drowned but was able to remove his chute with his teeth. He was captured in the water and taken to the Hanoi Hilton and here is where the beatings and torture begin.

McCain held his position of non-cooperation for months. But near death, John broke while at Hoa Li prison in Hanoi. It is not clear whether whether the taped confession McCain gave to his captors to void further torture has played a role in his post-war role in the Senate.

The confession was played endlessly over loud speakers to all the other prisoners, and over the State Radio across the entire nation. The U.S. Navy also recorded his confession and it was played to John’s father, four-star admiral John McCain II, who at the time was in charge of all Naval forces in the Pacific. John had given information about his squadron, his aircraft carriers, the USS Forrestal and USS Kitty Hawk. He had confessed to bombing hospitals, villages, and killing innocent civilians, including women and children on the ground. All this information can be found in John McCain’s book “Faith of my Fathers.” It also seems that the North Vietnamese considered him a prize prisoner because of his high-ranking father. This led to his receiving necessary medical care, food and good treatment the remainder of his prison stay.

John was ashamed of his confession taken while in prison. He prayed his father would not hear what he had said. In January 1973, Hanoi released 591 men. One of them was Navy combat pilot John McCain. He was found fit for duty and returned to active duty, where he advanced to Commanding Officer of another VA squadron in Florida. Sounds like the end to an amazing story but it’s not.

It has been documented that 1,205 prisoners of war were left in North Vietnam after the war ended. All of these men, if any are left alive would be in their 70s today. Hanoi tried to get billions from the US for these prisoners, to no avail. One North Vietnam army officer reported that the prisoners were all shot in 1982 when President Reagan refused to pay $4 billion for damages caused by the war. John McCain was responsible for this massive cover-up in Congress even though there was evidence gathered by different agencies of the U.S. government that prisoners were indeed alive. Was McCain haunted by memories of his confession? Did he suppress information of POWs in Hanoi because its surfacing would rekindle his feelings of shame?

I flew at the same time as McCain in attacking North Vietnam. Maintaining a top-secret crypto clearance, I was able to witness numerous files, and data, on lost aircraft. From the air, I directed traffic of the bombing attacks coming from the aircraft carriers in the Tonkin Gulf. I talked to attacking pilots, gave them locations of enemy aircraft and attacking surface-to-air missiles. I witnessed the loss of numerous military aircraft, including air force B52’s. Hundreds of flyers left their damaged aircraft to only vanish on the ground — to disappear and never reappear. I feel many were sent to China and Russia for interrogation. I have no proof, but I know there are many Vietnam Veterans who know what I say is truthful. If only they would stand up again and be counted.

— ATCS James D. Brooks,

US Navy, retired,