The quite McCain biography
...I think these stories show the character of the man and his family. BTW, Bud Day won the congressional Medal of Honor and was McCain's roommate at the Hanoi Hilton.
Mr. Day relayed to me one of the stories Americans should hear. It involves what happened to him after escaping from a North Vietnamese prison during the war. When he was recaptured, a Vietnamese captor broke his arm and said, "I told you I would make you a cripple."
The break was designed to shatter Mr. Day's will. He had survived in prison on the hope that one day he would return to the United States and be able to fly again. To kill that hope, the Vietnamese left part of a bone sticking out of his arm, and put him in a misshapen cast. This was done so that the arm would heal at "a goofy angle," as Mr. Day explained. Had it done so, he never would have flown again.
But it didn't heal that way because of John McCain. Risking severe punishment, Messrs. McCain and Day collected pieces of bamboo in the prison courtyard to use as a splint. Mr. McCain put Mr. Day on the floor of their cell and, using his foot, jerked the broken bone into place. Then, using strips from the bandage on his own wounded leg and the bamboo, he put Mr. Day's splint in place.
Years later, Air Force surgeons examined Mr. Day and complemented the treatment he'd gotten from his captors. Mr. Day corrected them. It was Dr. McCain who deserved the credit. Mr. Day went on to fly again.
Another McCain story, somewhat better known, is about the Vietnamese practice of torturing him by tying his head between his ankles with his arms behind him, and then leaving him for hours. The torture so badly busted up his shoulders that to this day Mr. McCain can't raise his arms over his head.
One night, a Vietnamese guard loosened his bonds, returning at the end of his watch to tighten them again so no one would notice. Shortly after, on Christmas Day, the same guard stood beside Mr. McCain in the prison yard and drew a cross in the sand before erasing it. Mr. McCain later said that when he returned to Vietnam for the first time after the war, the only person he really wanted to meet was that guard.
Mr. Day recalls with pride Mr. McCain stubbornly refusing to accept special treatment or curry favor to be released early, even when gravely ill. Mr. McCain knew the Vietnamese wanted the propaganda victory of the son and grandson of Navy admirals accepting special treatment. "He wasn't corruptible then," Mr. Day says, "and he's not corruptible today."
The stories told to me by the Days involve more than wartime valor.
For example, in 1991 Cindy McCain was visiting Mother Teresa's orphanage in Bangladesh when a dying infant was thrust into her hands. The orphanage could not provide the medical care needed to save her life, so Mrs. McCain brought the child home to America with her. She was met at the airport by her husband, who asked what all this was about.
Mrs. McCain replied that the child desperately needed surgery and years of rehabilitation. "I hope she can stay with us," she told her husband. Mr. McCain agreed. Today that child is their teenage daughter Bridget.
I was aware of this story. What I did not know, and what I learned from Doris, is that there was a second infant Mrs. McCain brought back. She ended up being adopted by a young McCain aide and his wife.
"We were called at midnight by Cindy," Wes Gullett remembers, and "five days later we met our new daughter Nicki at the L.A. airport wearing the only clothing Cindy could find on the trip back, a 7-Up T-shirt she bought in the Bangkok airport." Today, Nicki is a high school sophomore. Mr. Gullett told me, "I never saw a hospital bill" for her care.
A few, but not many, of the stories told to me by the Days have been written about, such as in Robert Timberg's 1996 book "A Nightingale's Song." But Mr. McCain rarely refers to them on the campaign trail. There is something admirable in his reticence, but he needs to overcome it.
Private people like Mr. McCain are rare in politics for a reason. Candidates who are uncomfortable sharing their interior lives limit their appeal. But if Mr. McCain is to win the election this fall, he has to open up....
When others say they honor McCain's service and his heroism, these stories should be a part of that. I don't expect McCain to talk about them, unless someone interviewing him drags it out of him. Perhaps he will grant such an interview. It would be good not just for his candidacy but for the country to hear what some of its heroes are capable of.