“I Have Often Observed That I Am the Luckiest Person on Earth”: The Life and Legacy of John McCain

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Senator John McCain

After Senator John McCain’s death from cancer in August 2018, men and women from all over the world shared their stories of interactions with the man who graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1958, served in the U.S. House of Representatives and later, the U.S. Senate (where he won re-election five times) and ran for President twice.

McCain also famously survived an experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam from October 1967 to 1973, which included beatings, two suicide attempts and two years in solitary confinement in a windowless cell, and McCain admitted to reaching his “breaking point.”

It’s an experience shared in part by decorated combat pilot and legendary aviator Joe Kittinger, who was also shot down and imprisoned in the “Hanoi Hilton” and spent time in a cell next to McCain. And it’s a story Col. Kittinger shared only with Growing Bolder:

McCain, the son and grandson of four-star U.S. Navy admirals, was offered early release by the North Vietnamese, which he refused. He followed the POW code of conduct, which says that troops must be released in order of their capture — and until the POWs who had been imprisoned longer were also released, McCain would not accept.

After his release in 1973, McCain returned to the United States to run for political office, where he often told constituents that his five-year ordeal as a POW actually gave his life purpose, and helped him fall even more deeply in love with his home country.

McCain — a father of seven — was 81 when he died, and helped craft the message that an aide read to the public after his death. Included were these powerful words:

“Thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead. I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.

I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life. I have loved my life, all of it. I have had experiences, adventures and friendships enough for ten satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else’s.”

McCain will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, where representatives from both politicial parties will present wreaths and pay tribute. Members of the public will also be allowed to pay respects as the McCain family escorts the late senator to the Vietnam War Memorial and a public memorial at the Washington National Cathedral, before final, private, funeral services.