US Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam and a self-styled maverick Republican, died on Saturday, his office said.
He was 81.
John McCain, bottom right, in 1965 with his Navy squadron. National Archives
McCain was the proud naval aviator who climbed from depths of despair as a prisoner of war in Vietnam to pinnacles of power as a Republican congressman and senator from Arizona and a two-time contender for the presidency.
He died on Saturday at his home in Arizona.
According to a statement from his office, McCain died at 4:28 p.m. local time.
He had suffered from a malignant brain tumour, called a glioblastoma, for which he had been treated periodically with radiation and chemotherapy since its discovery in 2017.
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Despite his grave condition, he soon made a dramatic appearance in the Senate to cast a thumbs-down vote against his party’s drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
But while he was unable to be in the Senate for a vote on the Republican tax bill in December, his endorsement was crucial, though not decisive, in the Trump administration’s lone legislative triumph of the year.
A son and grandson of four-star admirals who were his larger-than-life heroes, McCain carried his renowned name into battle and into political fights for more than a half-century.
It was an odyssey driven by raw ambition, the conservative instincts of a shrewd military man, a rebelliousness evident since childhood and a temper that sometimes bordered on explosiveness.
Nowhere were those traits more manifest than in Vietnam, where he was stripped of all but his character.
He boiled over in foul curses at his captors. Because his father was the commander of all-American forces in the Pacific during most of his-five-and-a-half years of captivity, McCain, a Navy lieutenant commander, became the most famous prisoner of the war, a victim of horrendous torture and a tool of enemy propagandists.
Shot down over Hanoi, suffering broken arms and a shattered leg, he was subjected to solitary confinement for two years and beaten frequently.
Often he was suspended by ropes lashing his arms behind him. He attempted suicide twice.
His weight fell to 105 pounds. He rejected early release to keep his honor and to avoid an enemy propaganda coup or risk demoralizing his fellow prisoners.
He finally cracked under torture and signed a “confession.”
No one believed it, although he felt the burden of betraying his country. To millions of Americans,
McCain was the embodiment of courage: a war hero who came home on crutches, psychologically scarred and broken in body, but not in spirit.
He underwent long medical treatments and rehabilitation, but was left permanently disabled, unable to raise his arms over his head. Someone had to comb his hair.
In this Oct. 30, 2008 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, accompanied by his daughter Meghan McCain, waves to supporters as he enters a campaign rally in Defiance, Ohio. Former Vice President Joe Biden sought to console the daughter of ailing Sen. John McCain after she began crying while discussing her father’s cancer on ABC’s “The View.” McCain battled the same aggressive type of brain cancer that killed Biden’s son Beau in 2015. AP Photo/Stephan Savoia
His mother, Roberta McCain, Navy all the way, inspired his political career.
After retiring from the Navy and settling in Arizona, he won two terms in the House of Representatives, from 1983 to 1987, and six in the Senate.
He was a Reagan Republican to start with, but later moved right or left, a maverick who defied his party’s leaders and compromised with Democrats.
He was edged out by George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, but became his party’s White House candidate eight years later.
After gambling on political neophyte Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, McCain lost in 2008 to Democrat Barack Obama, who became the first black U.S. president.
McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was a frequent critic as well as a target of his fellow Republican, Trump, who was elected president in November 2016.
McCain denounced Trump for among other things his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders the senator described as foreign “tyrants.”
“Flattery secures his friendship, criticism his enmity,” McCain said of Trump in his memoir, “The Restless Wave,” which was released in May.
McCain in July had castigated Trump for his summit with Putin, issuing a statement that called their joint news conference in Helsinki “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” He said Trump was “not only unable but unwilling to stand up to Putin.”
Sources close to McCain have said Trump would not be invited to the funeral.
Shortly after McCain’s death was announced, Trump tweeted: My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain.”
McCain, a foreign policy hawk with a traditional Republican view of world affairs, was admired in both parties for championing civility and compromise during an era of acrid partisanship in U.S. politics. But he also had a famous temper and rarely shied away from a fight. He had several with Trump.
He was the central figure in one of the most dramatic moments in Congress of Trump’s presidency when he returned to Washington shortly after his brain cancer diagnosis for a middle-of-the-night Senate vote in July 2017.
File: Sen John McCain (R-AZ) leaves the Senate Chamber after a vote on a stripped-down, or ‘Skinny Repeal,’ version of Obamacare reform on July 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. McCain was one of three Republican Senators to vote against the measure. AFP
Still bearing a black eye and scar from surgery, McCain gave a thumbs-down signal in a vote to scuttle a Trump-backed bill that would have repealed the Obamacare healthcare law and increased the number of Americans without health insurance by millions.
Trump was furious about McCain’s vote and frequently referred to it at rallies, but without mentioning McCain by name.
After Trump in 2015 launched his presidential campaign, McCain condemned his hard-line rhetoric on illegal immigration and said Trump had “fired up the crazies.” Trump retorted that McCain was “not a war hero,” adding: “I like people who weren’t captured.”
After Trump became president, McCain blasted what he called the president’s attempts to undermine the free press and rule of law, and lamented the “half-baked, spurious nationalism” of the Trump era.
McCain denounced Trump’s performance at a summit meeting with Putin in July as “a tragic mistake,” adding, “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate.”
MCCAIN VS OBAMA
McCain, the son and grandson of U.S. Navy admirals, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona in 1982 after more than two decades of Navy service.
He served four years in the House before Arizona voters elected him to the Senate in 1986 to replace Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee revered by conservatives.
In running for president in 2008, McCain tried to succeed an unpopular fellow Republican in Bush, who was leaving office with the country mired in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and stuck in a financial crisis.
It was a stark contrast between McCain, then a 72-year-old veteran of the Washington establishment, and the 47-year-old Obama, who was offering a “Yes, we can” message of change.
McCain tried to inject some youth and enthusiasm into his campaign with his selection of Palin, Alaska’s governor, as his running mate. But the choice backfired as her political inexperience and shaky performances in media interviews raised concerns about her qualifications.
In his new book, McCain voiced regret for not choosing then-Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, as his running mate.
McCain wrote that he had originally settled on Lieberman, Democrat Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 election, but was warned by Republican leaders that Lieberman’s views on social issues, including support for abortion rights, would “fatally divide” the party.
“It was sound advice that I could reason for myself,” McCain wrote. “But my gut told me to ignore it and I wish I had.”
Obama won 53 percent of the vote to McCain’s 45.6 percent.
During the Vietnam War, McCain flew attack planes off aircraft carriers. He was preparing for a bombing run in 1967 when a missile inadvertently fired from another plane hit his fuel tanks, triggering a fatal explosion and fire. He suffered shrapnel wounds.
A few months later on Oct. 26, 1967, McCain’s A-4 Skyhawk was shot down on a bombing mission over North Vietnam’s capital and he suffered two broken arms and a broken leg in the crash.
A mob then dragged him from a lake, broke his shoulder and stabbed him.
Held at the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” prison and other sites, McCain was beaten and tortured, suffering broken bones and dysentery. He was released on March 14, 1973, but was left with permanent infirmities.
In Congress, McCain built a generally conservative record, opposing abortion and advocating higher defense spending. He supported Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq and criticized Obama for not doing more to intervene in Syria’s civil war.
Still, he prided himself on his reputation as a maverick and had a history of working across party lines on immigration, climate change and campaign finance reform.
He also spoke out against the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding, a torture technique that simulates drowning, and other harsh interrogation tactics on detainees in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
He urged the closure of the prison for foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and also sponsored an anti-torture measure that passed Congress in 2005.
In a 2002 memoir, McCain wrote, “I’m an independent-minded, well-informed public servant to some. And to others, I’m a self-styled, self-righteous maverick pain in the ass.”
John Sidney McCain III was born on Aug. 29, 1936, at an American naval installation in the Panama Canal Zone - U.S. territory at the time - when his father was stationed there.
He conceded he was a “smart ass” during his years at the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated fifth from the bottom of his class.
McCain divorced his wife Carol after 15 years of marriage in 1980 and weeks later married the former Cindy Henley, daughter of a wealthy beverage distributor in Arizona.
A dark period for McCain came as one of the “Keating Five” group of senators accused of improperly intervening with federal regulators to help political contributor and bank executive Charles Keating, whose Lincoln Savings and Loan failed in 1989 at a cost to taxpayers of $3.4 billion.
McCain was cleared of wrongdoing in 1991, but the Senate Ethics Committee rebuked him for poor judgment.
On July 25, 2017, McCain delivered a Senate floor speech not long after his cancer diagnosis that was widely seen as his farewell address. It included a call to fellow Republicans to stand up to Trump and for all lawmakers to work together to keep America as a “beacon of liberty” in the world.
“That is the cause that binds us and is so much more powerful and worthy than the small differences that divide us,” McCain said.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
"My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!"
FIRST LADY MELANIA TRUMP
"Our thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathy to the McCain Family. Thank you Senator McCain for your service to the nation."
VICE-PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE
"Karen and I send our deepest condolences to Cindy and the entire McCain family on the passing of Senator John McCain. We honor his lifetime of service to this nation in our military and in public life. His family and friends will be in our prayers. God bless John McCain."
MCCAIN'S WIDOW, CINDY
"My heart is broken. I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years. He passed the way he lived, on his own terms, surrounded by the people he loved, in the place he loved best."
FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON
"Senator John McCain believed that every citizen has a responsibility to make something of the freedoms given by our Constitution, and from his heroic service in the Navy to his 35 years in Congress, he lived by his creed every day. He was a skilled, tough politician, as well as a trusted colleague alongside whom Hillary was honored to serve in the Senate. He frequently put partisanship aside to do what he thought was best for the country, and was never afraid to break the mold if it was the right thing to do. I will always be especially grateful for his leadership in our successful efforts to normalize relations with Vietnam. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Cindy, his mother, Roberta, his children, and his entire family." -
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY
"John McCain served our nation with honor and distinction. He fought for a world that was safer and more free and sacrificed mightily for the nation he loved. Lynne and our family join me in sending our condolences and prayers to the McCain family."
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE
"Senator John McCain was an American hero and a true patriot. I always admired and respected John from the opposite side of the aisle, because he thrived under pressure, and would work to find common ground, no matter how hard. He dedicated his life to serving the country he loved. I have no doubt that the Maverick's legacy will forever be an important model of leadership and civil discourse."
"Today we lost an American original. Sen. John McCain was a maverick and a fighter, never afraid to stand for his beliefs. John never took the easy path in life - and through sacrifice and suffering he inspired others to serve something greater than self. John McCain was my friend. I will remember the good times. My family and I send prayers for Cindy and the McCain family."
HOUSE SPEAKER PAUL RYAN
"This is a sad day for the United States. Our country has lost a decorated war hero and statesman. John McCain was a giant of our time_not just for the things he achieved, but for who he was and what he fought for all his life. John put principle before politics. He put country before self. He was one of the most courageous men of the century. He will always be listed among freedom's most gallant and faithful servants. Our hearts are with his wife, Cindy, his children, and his grandchildren. This Congress, this country, mourn with them."
HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADER NANCY PELOSI
"The nation is in tears. Today, with the passing of John McCain, Congress and America have lost a leader and public servant of deep patriotism, outstanding bravery and undaunted spirit. Compelled by his unshakeable faith and deep love of country, he dedicated his life to defending both America and the American idea - fighting tirelessly to ensure that our nation always remains a land of justice, freedom and hope.
"Over the course of John McCain's years of distinguished service, whether as a naval officer, Member of Congress, US Senator or presidential candidate, we all saw firsthand his integrity, humility, courage and grace. He never forgot the great duty he felt to care for our nation's heroes, dedicating his spirit and energy to ensuring that no man or woman in uniform was left behind on the battlefield or once they returned home.
"Paul and I join with all Americans in mourning the loss of this extraordinary national hero. May it be a comfort to his wife, Cindy, and his beloved children, Douglas, Andrew, Sidney, Meghan, John, James and Bridget, and his beautiful mother, Roberta, that so many people in America and around with the world mourn with them and pray for them during this sad time."
CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU
"Senator John McCain was an American patriot and hero whose sacrifices for his country, and lifetime of public service, were an inspiration to millions. Canadians join Americans tonight in celebrating his life and mourning his passing."
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL
“In an era filled with cynicism about national unity and public service, John McCain’s life shone as a bright example. He showed us that boundless patriotism and self-sacrifice are not outdated concepts or cliches, but the building blocks or an extraordinary life.”
FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AND MICHELLE OBAMA
“Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt. Michelle and I send our most heartfelt condolences to Cindy and their family.”
FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
“Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant, it is hard to think of them stilled. John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order. He was a public servant in the finest traditions of our country. And to me, he was a friend whom I’ll deeply miss.”
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN
“As a POW, John endured the worst of what human beings can do to one another. In politics, he fell short of his greatest ambition. At the end of his life he faced a cruel and relentless disease. And yet through it all he never lost sight of what he believed most: Country First. And the spirit that drove him was never extinguished: we are here to commit ourselves to something bigger than ourselves.”
ARIZONA GOVERNOR DOUG DUCEY
“John McCain is one American who will never be forgotten. He was a giant. An icon. An American hero. But here at home, we were most proud to call him a fellow Arizonan. Like so many of us, he was not born here, but his spirit, service and fierce independence shaped the state with which he became synonymous.”
FIVE KEY DATES
August 29, 1936: John Sidney McCain III is born in the Panama Canal Zone. With his father a US Navy submarine commander and his grandfather an admiral, McCain follows their footsteps into a military career. He graduates from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, and becomes a fighter pilot.
October 26, 1967: McCain's A-4E Skyhawk is shot down over Hanoi by a surface-to-air missile. He ejects and is taken prisoner. Fractures in both his arms and right leg are poorly treated, and McCain - whose father has risen to become commander of all US forces in the Pacific, including Vietnam - is beaten and tortured throughout his detention. He is released on March 15, 1973, at the end of US involvement in the war.
November 2, 1982: Upon leaving the military, McCain, recently remarried after divorcing his first wife, is elected to an Arizona seat in the US House of Representatives. Four years later he is elected to the Senate, where he was re-elected five times and serviced until his death, although his final months were spent away from the Senate floor as he underwent treatment for brain cancer in his home state of Arizona. His term would have ended in January 2022.
September 4, 2008: Eight years after a stinging defeat in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries to George W. Bush, McCain formally becomes the party's White House nominee against Democrat Barack Obama. He chooses a virtually unknown governor as his running mate: Alaska's Sarah Palin. The Republicans are defeated in November.
July 28, 2017: At around 1.30 am, McCain enters the Senate chamber and, with a dramatic thumbs down gesture, casts the deciding vote against the partial repeal of the Obamacare health law, torpedoing one of Trump's central campaign promises. The American president is livid.
Source: Gulf News