Arizona Senator John McCain, who served three decades in Congress and went on to become the Republican Party’s nominee for president in 2008, died Saturday. He was 81.
A Vietnamese doctor examines McCain after he was captured in 1967. Photo: AFP – Getty Images
McCain spent 5½ years in captivity as a POW in North Vietnam. His first-person account of that harrowing ordeal was published in U.S. News & World Report on May 14, 1973. Shot down in his Skyhawk dive bomber on Oct. 26, 1967, Navy flier McCain was taken prisoner with fractures in his right leg and both arms. He received minimal care and was kept in wretched conditions that he describes vividly in a U.S. News special report.
We also had a guy in our camp whom we named “The Soft-Soap Fairy.” He was from an important family in North Vietnam. He wore a fancy uniform and was a real sharp cookie, with a dominant position in this camp. “The Soft-Soap Fairy,” who was somewhat effeminate, was the nice guy, and the camp commander—”Slopehead”—was the bad guy. Old “Soft-Soap” would always come in whenever anything went wrong and say, “Oh, I didn’t know they did this to you. All you had to do was co-operate and everything would have been O.K.”
To get back to the story: They took me out of my room to “Slopehead,” who said, “You have violated all the camp regulations. You’re a black criminal. You must confess your crimes.” I said that I wouldn’t do that, and he asked, “Why are you so disrespectful of guards?” I answered, “Because the guards treat me like an animal.”
When I said that, the guards, who were all in the room—about 10 of them—really laid into me. They bounced me from pillar to post, kicking and laughing and scratching. After a few hours of that, ropes were put on me and I sat that night bound with ropes. Then I was taken to a small room. For punishment they would almost always take you to another room where you didn’t have a mosquito net or a bed or any clothes. For the next four days, I was beaten every two to three hours by different guards. My left arm was broken again and my ribs were cracked.
They wanted a statement saying that I was sorry for the crimes that I had committed against North Vietnamese people and that I was grateful for the treatment that I had received from them. This was the paradox—so many guys were so mistreated to get them to say they were grateful. But this is the Communist way.
I held out for four days. Finally, I reached the lowest point of my 5½ years in North Vietnam. I was at the point of suicide, because I saw that I was reaching the end of my rope.
You can read the entire lengthy article here.