John McCain

Introduction

John McCain first entered the public spotlight as a Navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. Taken prisoner after his plane was shot down, he suffered five and a half years of torture and confinement before his release in 1973. In 1986, he began his long tenure as the U.S. senator from Arizona, a position he holds to this day. McCain ran for president on the Republican ticket in 2008, losing to Democrat Barack Obama in the general election.

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“Now, we begin the most important part of our campaign: to make a respectful, determined and convincing case to the American people that our campaign and my election as president, given the alternatives presented by our friends in the other party, are in the best interests of the country we love,” McCain said during a victory speech.

John Sidney McCain III was born on August 29, 1936, at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, the second of three children born to naval officer John S. McCain Jr. and his wife, Roberta. At the time of his birth, the McCain family was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, under American control.

Both McCain’s father and paternal grandfather, John Sidney McCain, Sr., were four-star admirals and his father rose to command all the U.S. naval forces in the Pacific.

McCain spent his childhood and adolescent years moving between naval bases in America and abroad. He attended Episcopal high School, a private preparatory boarding school in Alexandria, Virginia, graduating in 1954.

Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, McCain graduated (fifth from the bottom of his class) from the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1958. He also graduated from flight school in 1960.

With the outbreak of the Vietnam War, McCain volunteered for combat duty and began flying carrier-based attack planes on low-altitude bombing runs against the North Vietnamese. He escaped serious injury on July 29, 1967, when his A-4 Skyhawk plane was accidentally shot by a missile on board the USS Forestal, causing explosions and fires that killed 134.

On October 26, 1967, during his 23rd air mission, McCain’s plane was shot down during a bombing run over the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. He broke both arms and one leg during the ensuing crash. McCain was moved to Hoa Loa prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton,” on December 9, 1969.

His captors soon learned he was the son of a high-ranking officer in the U.S. Navy and repeatedly offered him early release, but McCain refused, not wanting to violate the military code of conduct and knowing that the North Vietnamese would use his release as a powerful piece of propaganda.

McCain eventually spent five and a half years in various prison camps, three and a half of those in solitary confinement, and was repeatedly beaten and tortured before he was finally released, along with other American POWs, on March 14, 1973, less than two months after the Vietnam cease fire went into effect. McCain earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.

Though McCain had lost most of his physical strength and flexibility, he was determined to continue serving as a naval aviator. After a painful nine months of rehabilitation, he returned to flying duty, but it soon became clear that his injuries had permanently impaired his ability to advance in the Navy.

His introduction to politics came in 1976, when he was assigned as the Navy’s liaison to the U.S. Senate. In 1981, after marrying his second wife, Cindy Hensley, McCain retired from the Navy, and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. While working in public relations for his father-in-law’s beer distribution business, he began establishing connections in politics.

McCain was first elected to political office on November 2, 1982, easily winning a seat in the House of Representatives after his well-known war record helped overcome doubts about his “carpetbagger” status. He was re-elected in 1984.

Having adapted well to the largely conservative politics of his home state, McCain was a loyal supporter of the Reagan administration and numbered among a group of young “new Right.”

In 1986, after the retirement of the longtime Arizona senator and prominent Republican Barry Goldwater, McCain won election to the U.S. Senate. Both in the House and the Senate, McCain earned a reputation as a conservative politician who nonetheless was not afraid to question the ruling Republican orthodoxy. In 1983, for example, he called for the withdrawal of U.S. Marines from Lebanon, and he also publicly criticized the administration’s handling of the Iran-Contra affair.

McCain weathered the scandal and won re-election to the Senate three times, each time with a solid majority. His reputation as a maverick politician with firm beliefs and a quick temper only increased, and many were impressed with his willingness to be extremely open with the public and the press. He has worked diligently in support of increased tobacco legislation and especially the reform of the campaign finance system, professing some more liberal views and generally proving to be more complex than merely a straight-ahead conservative.

In 1999, McCain published Faith of My Fathers, the story of his family’s military history and his own experiences as a POW. He also emerged as a solid challenger to the frontrunner, Governor George W. Bush of Texas, for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. Many people from both political parties found his straight talk refreshing. In the New Hampshire primary, McCain won by a surprisingly wide margin, largely bolstered by independent voters and cross-over Democrats.

After a roller-coaster ride during the primaries–Bush won South Carolina, while McCain captured Michigan and Arizona–Bush emerged triumphant on “Super Tuesday” in early March 2000, winning New York and California, among a number of others. Though McCain won in most of the New England states, his large electoral deficit forced him to “suspend” his campaign indefinitely. On May 9, after holding out for two months, McCain formally endorsed Bush.

In August 2000, McCain was diagnosed with skin cancer lesions on his face and arm, which doctors determined were unrelated to a similar lesion which he had removed in 1993. He subsequently underwent surgery, during which all the cancerous tissue was successfully removed. McCain also underwent routine prostate surgery for an enlarged prostate in August of 2001.

McCain was back in the headlines in the spring of 2001, when the Senate debated and eventually passed, by a vote of 59-41, a broad overhaul of the campaign finance system. The bill was the fruit of McCain’s six-year effort, with Democratic Senator Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin to reform the system. Central to the McCain-Feingold bill was a controversial ban on the unrestricted contributions to political parties known as “soft money.” The new law was narrowly upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003.

McCain supported the Iraq War, but criticized The Pentagon several times, especially about low troop strength. At one point, McCain declared he had “no confidence” in the leadership of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. McCain supported the 2007 surge of more than 20,000 troops, which supporters say has increased security in Iraq.

McCain also publicly supported President Bush’s bid for re-election, even though he differed with Bush on several issues including torture, pork barrel spending, illegal immigration, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and global warming. He also defended the Vietnam War record of Bush’s opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, which came under attack during the campaign.

With Bush limited to two terms, McCain officially entered the 2008 presidential race on April 25, 2007, during an announcement in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. McCain and running mate Sarah Palin were defeated by Democrat Barack Obama in the November 2008 election.

McCain married Carol Shepp, a model originally from Philadelphia, on July 3, 1965. He adopted her two young children from a previous marriage (Doug and Andy Shepp) and they had a daughter (Sydney, b. 1966). The couple divorced in April 1980.

McCain met Cindy Lou Hensley, a teacher from Phoenix and daughter of a prosperous Arizona beer distributor, while she was on vacation in 1979 with her parents in Hawaii. He was still married at the time, but separated from his first wife. John and Cindy McCain were married May 17, 1980 in Phoenix. They have four children: Meghan (b. 1984), John IV (known as Jack, b. 1986), James (known as Jimmy, b. 1988), and Bridget (b. 1991 in Bangladesh, adopted by the McCains in 1993).

Biography courtesy of BIO.com

Article Details:

John McCain

  • Author

    History.com Staff

  • Website Name

    History.com

  • Year Published

    2009

  • Title

    John McCain

  • URL

    http://www.history.com/topics/john-mccain

  • Access Date

    July 28, 2014

  • Publisher

    A+E Networks