MCCAIN RE­MEM­BERED AS TRUE AMER­I­CAN HERO

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Paul Post ppost@dig­i­tal­first­media.com Re­porter

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> Dozens of peo­ple turned out Satur­day to honor a great Amer­i­can whose pub­lic ser­vice was greatly in­flu­enced by his five years as a pris­oner of war in North Viet­nam.

The late Sen.John McCain, R-Az., who passed away Aug. 25, was the Repub­li­can Party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in 2008.

A navy pi­lot, he was shot down and held cap­tive at the in­fa­mous Hanoi Hilton, where he and other ser­vice mem­bers en­dured bru­tal treat­ment, in­clud­ing se­vere beat­ings and tor­ture.

“I can’t help but think that that ex­pe­ri­ence of ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing your free­dom taken away from you molded his think­ing,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, DAm­s­ter­dam, dur­ing cer­e­monies at Adiron­dack Amer­i­can Le­gion Post 70 in Saratoga Springs.

McCain, al­ready suf­fer­ing from brain cancer that would claim his life, is re­mem­bered for break­ing ranks with GOP lead­ers and mak­ing a dra­matic “thumbs-down” vote against re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Tonko said he be­lieves McCain’s de­ci­sion was shaped by mem­o­ries of his POW cell­mate, Mike Chris­tian, who came from a fam­ily of mod­est means near Selma Ala.

“It made him (McCain) sen­si­tive to op­por­tu­ni­ties to help peo­ple,” he said. “His char­ac­ter came through ev­ery time you were in his com­pany. His ex­pe­ri­ence in serv­ing this coun­try gave a cer­tain aura to his ser­vice.”

In a 2002 Vet­er­ans Day speech, McCain told how Chris­tian was se­verely beaten for fash­ion­ing an Amer­i­can flag out of scraps of cloth.

“He sewed the Amer­i­can flag on the in­side of his shirt,” McCain said. “Ev­ery af­ter­noon, be­fore we had a bowl of soup, we would hang Mike’s shirt on the wall of our cell and say the Pledge of Al­le­giance.

“I can as­sure you that for those men in that stark pri­son cell, it was, in­deed, the most im­por­tant and mean­ing­ful event of our day.”

An­thony Cafritz, of Salem, read the en­tirety of McCain’s speech on Satur­day.

Navy vet­eran Bill Sch­meel­cke, of Saratoga Springs, said McCain’s North Viet­namese cap­tors of­fered to re­lease him at one point, as a form of pro­pa­ganda to show their sup­posed good will.

“He re­fused to leave his com­rades be­hind un­less they were all able to come home to­gether,” Sch­meel­cke said.

U.S. Army Col. (ret.) James Coyne said he met McCain when sta­tioned at an army base in Ari­zona.

“My im­pres­sion was that he was a very warm man,” he said.

At the urg­ing of Saratoga Springs res­i­dent Ron Rucker, the City Coun­cil re­cently de­clared Satur­day, Nov. 10 as The Honor­able John S. McCain Day.

Rucker, a navy vet­eran, served aboard the air­craft car­rier USS In­trepid, one of the ships McCain flew mis­sions from when pi­lot­ing an A-4B Sky­hawk jet bomber dur­ing the Viet­nam War.

The City Coun­cil’s procla­ma­tion de­scribed him as “a man of un­sur­passed courage and char­ac­ter who never failed to stand up and speak out for what he be­lieved was right.”

“He was an inspiration to a lot of peo­ple,” said An­thony “Skip” Scirocco, city Pub­lic Works com­mis­sioner.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand, D-NY, and U.S. Rep. Elise Ste­fanik, R-Wills­boro, also read let­ters cit­ing McCain’s hero­ism and ded­i­cated pub­lic ser­vice as a true Amer­i­can pa­triot.

PAUL POST PHOTO

Cer­e­monies were held Satur­day at Adiron­dack Amer­i­can Le­gion Post 70 in ob­ser­vance of The Honor­able John S. McCain Day. From left to right are Mayor Meg Kelly, Pub­lic Works Com­mis­sioner An­thony “Skip” Scirocco, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Am­s­ter­dam, army Col. (ret.) James Coyne, Post 70 Com­man­der Ed O’Rourke and navy vet­eran Ron Rucker, who spear­headed McCain Day ef­forts.

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