I did a podcast with Senator McCain in April 2015. The day before, there had been an obit in the New York Times. I brought it up with McCain, and he had read it too. “Robert Hite, 95, Survivor of Doolittle Raid and Japanese Imprisonment, Dies.” Our man “was imprisoned for 40 months, 38 of them in solitary confinement. His weight had dropped to 76 pounds from 180 when the war ended.”
As the headline indicated, Robert Hite went on to live a very long life: 95. At the time of our interview, McCain was 78. Had he expected to live — and to have a long life — when he was in those North Vietnamese prison cells and torture chambers? “Obviously, I didn’t know, but we all hoped. . . . We stuck together, that was the main thing.”
He said of Admiral James Stockdale, that great man, “He motivated us and caused us to do things that we otherwise would never have been able to do because of his inspirational leadership.”
At another point in our conversation, I asked McCain about his loss to Barack Obama in the presidential race of 2008. It seemed to me he had bounced back pretty quickly from that. “Yeah, you know, the best cure, I found, for something like that is: Get goin’. Don’t look back. It’s so mentally harmful for you to look back — ‘I shoulda, coulda, woulda.’ . . . The best thing to do is press on.”
McCain further said, “I do not know anyone alive — I’ve never heard of anyone — who is as lucky as I am. I crashed airplanes. I was a terrible disciplinary problem at the Naval Academy. I managed to avoid being killed in a fire on the Forrestal. I was shot down. I had the honor of winning the nomination for the presidency of the United States. The honor of serving in the United States Senate. And now following in the footsteps of one Barry Goldwater as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. I am exuberant and so fortunate. I’m telling you, I wake up every morning and go to bed every night saying, ‘Thank you, God.’”
John McCain was a great American, of course. A classic American. And he was as patriotic as anyone in the country. But he was also a champion of freedom, democracy, and human rights, for all. An American and a man attuned to the world. A tough old cuss, with a great heart. I loved him and I hope that we will see his like again. And again.