MCCAIN REMEMBERED AS TRUE AMERICAN HERO
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.
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.