By: Anna Wondrasek
Arizona senator, Vietnam veteran and former presidential candidate John McCain died of brain cancer on Aug. 25, 2018, at the age of 81. McCain represented Arizona in the Senate since Jan. 3, 1987, and served as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee since Jan. 3, 2015. He will be laid to rest in the United States Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.
According to a 2007 article from the Associated Press, John McCain grew up as a military brat, attending some 20 schools before attending Episcopal High School, a boarding school in Alexandria, Virginia, graduating in 1954. He then went on to the United States Naval Academy like his father and grandfather, graduating in 1958.
McCain began his combat duty in mid-1967 when he was 30 years old and was stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin. He was captured and subsequently imprisoned on Oct. 26, 1967 when he was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. Although he was given medical care and offered early release mid-1968 due to his father’s status as commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theatre, McCain refused to be released unless all of his fellow captives were released as well.
As a result, he was held and tortured until he was released on March 14, 1973, hailed as a hero in the U.S. and left with injuries that rendered him permanently incapable of raising his arms above his head. He retired from the Navy on April 1, 1981 as a captain and was decorated with numerous awards, including three Bronze Star Medals, two Purple Hearts and a Prisoner of War Medal.
In 1982, McCain ran for the House of Representatives and won a seat in Arizona’s first congressional district, marking the beginning of a long and illustrious political career. He was active on “Indian Affairs” bills, and his politics were mainly in line with President Ronald Reagan.
He ran for Senate in January of 1987, succeeding Barry Goldwater and becoming a member of the Armed Services Committee, the Commerce Committee and the Indian Affairs Committee. As a senator, McCain helped to author the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which placed federal regulations on gambling enterprises on Native American Reservations.
During the 1990s, McCain began to develop his reputation for independence and was labeled by the media as a “maverick Republican.” He fought against big money in politics – from corporations, labor unions, wealthy individuals, and other organizations – and this became his signature issue. He was very vocal about this during his 2000 presidential campaign against George Bush, saying that he was staging “a fight to take our government back from the power brokers and special interests, and return it to the people and the noble cause of freedom it was created to serve.”
Because of his time as a prisoner of war (POW), McCain was recognized throughout his Senate career for his sensitivity toward the detainees during the War on Terror, introducing the McCain Detainee Amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill of 2005. This amendment prohibited inhumane treatment of prisoners, including prisoners at Guantanamo. This stance lead to McCain being named as one of America’s 10 Best Senators by Time Magazine in 2006.
In 2008, McCain once again ran for president, this time against Barack Obama. One of the more famous moments from this campaign is from a rally in Minnesota, when a woman said that she did not trust Obama because “He’s an Arab.” To this, McCain replied, “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” Although he was defeated in this campaign as well, McCain continued to show a willingness to reach across the aisle throughout his Senate career, disagreeing with issues rather than the people supporting those issues.
Although McCain’s career was long and had its ups and downs, he is remembered with deep respect for who he was as a person and as a politician.
“John McCain was a hero, and a role model for all conservatives,” Kollin Crompton of the Drake Republicans said. “McCain’s campaign, for many of our members, is the first that they remember and is the reason we hold the beliefs that we hold today. His grace and class were unmatched.”
This sentiment is echoed by Politics Department Chair Dennis Goldford as well.
“John McCain represented an older, more honorable kind of politician than we have now,” Goldford said. “For McCain, members of the two major parties were not enemies, but opponents who were nevertheless all Americans. Sadly, that is not where we are today.”
Rather than being remembered over specific issues, McCain is remembered as a member of the old guard in politics. The sort of politician who, as Goldford said, viewed their opponents as being Americans first, opponent second. For those he has inspired, McCain’s dedication and love for the United States is unrivaled.
“The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again,” McCain’s daughter Meghan said at his funeral on Sept. 1. “America was always great.”