Let Us Now Praise a Famous Man

Author: Gary Hart

Captain John McCain was the U.S. Navy liaison officer to the United States Senate when we first met in 1977.  Thereafter, he was escort officer on a number of Senate delegation trips and my escort on board two aircraft carriers underway in the Indian Ocean.  The most notable delegation included Senators John Glenn, Sam Nunn, William Cohen, and myself on a tour of Asian nations ending in South Korea.  Our report urged President Jimmy Carter not to carry out his proposed withdrawal of U.S. troops in South Korea and the President reluctantly conceded.

The solo aircraft carrier visits, thanks to John McCain’s arrangements, enabled me to fly off the decks in the radar operators back seat in high performance combat aircraft.  For anyone who has shared that experience, it is one that is never forgotten.

Thereafter, in 1980, John persuaded the Navy to commission me as an officer (Lt. j.g.) in the U.S. Naval Reserves.  My purpose was to gain insights on naval operations not otherwise available to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on which I served.  I never put the commission on my bio and never referred to it for political gain.

Along with Bill Cohen, I was invited to be one of John’s groomsmen in his wedding to Cindy Hensley in 1980 in Arizona.  Following his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, we served in Congress together until my departure in 1987.

Over the subsequent years I tried to maintain contact with John and Cindy and once was invited to speak to a weekend retreat they maintained for friends and supporters at their home in Sedona, Arizona.

The story of John’s bravery as a prisoner in North Vietnam for five and a half years is well known.  He refused early release if he would endorse a statement that he believed the war to be wrong and received special punishment when his captors discovered his father, Admiral John McCain, was commander of fleet forces off Vietnam.

When John referred to his experiences in jail it was with an amazing degree of candor and lack of bitterness.  Some stories he would tell were in fact humorous and humane.

The world knows that John is ill.  The outcome is apparently not in doubt.  With Cindy’s help, I managed to speak with him yesterday and did so through my tears.

John is a hero to me and millions of others.  He ran for and could have been President.  He has lived an abundant and remarkable life.  With no provocation he was pilloried by a man who did become President, a man without an ounce of his courage, bravery, and service.  It was one of the ugliest moments in our current ugly times.  It is a mark of these times that it should have disqualified that man from holding any public office, but it did not.  That is how far down we have descended.

It is the mark of a coward that he seeks to bring anyone above him down to his level.  He cannot stand to see anyone respected when he himself is not respected and does not respect the high office that he holds.  One has only to look at those around that man to know why he could not acknowledge John McCain’s patriotism, service, and honors.

Those of us who know John McCain pray for him and his family.  Like most of us, John is not a man without faults.  He is very human and the first to admit it.  Despite those faults, though, he is an extraordinary human being.

He emerged from prison with broken bones badly set, walked with a limp, and saluted awkwardly.  Those were marks of distinction and honor.  Despite his afflictions, he laughed often and saw humor in the ridiculousness of the human folly we call politics.

Like many, many others, I am a better man for knowing John.  I consider it a privilege to have had the honor.

When John enters the next life, his flight will be straight and level…and very fast.  His laugh will be light, but he will mourn for the political chaos that is not his fault but that he could not cure.  The rest of us left here have no choice but to try.

Anchors aweigh, John.  Set your course for the horizon and your friends will join you soon.



10 Responses to “Let Us Now Praise a Famous Man”

  1. JD Kinnick Says:

    Well put! I have a lot of respect for Sen. McCain and his fellow POWers who were detained at the “Hanoi Hilton.”

    Politically, I’m a “former Democrat”(Sen. Hart was only Democrat I ever supported for POTUS). As for McCain’s politics at times I was very frustrated with the”gang of eight” and his self-serving views/obstructionism.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to Sen. McCain and his family.
    John 3:16

  2. Paul G Says:


    “John is a hero to me and millions of others. He ran for and could have been President. He has lived an abundant and remarkable life. With no provocation he was pilloried by a man who did become President, a man without an ounce of his courage, bravery, and service. It was one of the ugliest moments in our current ugly times. It is a mark of these times that it should have disqualified that man from holding any public office, but it did not. That is how far down we have descended.”

    Gary Hart, hero of our republic & 9/11, pays tribute to his hero, John McCain


    “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears.”

    “I discovered in prison that faith in myself alone, separate from other, more important allegiances , was ultimately no match for the cruelty that human beings could devise when they were entirely unencumbered by respect for the God given dignity of man.”

    “Our families’ packages often contained handkerchiefs or scarves. Mike Christian took scraps of red and white cloth, and with a bamboo needle he laboriously sewed an American flag onto the inside of his blue prisoner’s shirt. Every afternoon we would hang Mike’s flag on the cell wall and together recite the Pledge of Allegiance. No other event of the day had as much meaning to us. But the guards discovered Mike’s flag during an inspection. They confiscated it and took Mike outside our cell and beat him severely , puncturing his eardrum and breaking several of his ribs. Later, after we all lay down to sleep I happened to look toward a corner of the room, where one of the four naked light-bulbs that were always on in our cell cast a dim light on Mike. With his eyes nearly swollen shut from the beating, he had quietly picked up his needle and begun sewing a new flag.”

    “In prison, I fell in love with my country … It wasn’t until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her.”

    “I discovered in prison that faith in myself alone, separate from other, more important allegiances , was ultimately no match for the cruelty that human beings could devise when they were entirely unencumbered by respect for the God given dignity of man.”

    “Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

  3. Edward Goldstick Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    My first instinct was to refrain from any comment after reading your elegant words for a third time and given the unusual and discomforting nature of the circumstance involved…

    … but then I realized that I must because except for the justified attribution of fame, John McCain reminds me of my own late father in one particular sense: that he is a “real” person, warts and all, with a core set of honor and patriotism that has transcended all the rest. He is one of those public figures with whom I disagreed more than 50% of the time, and some of his political choices were not what I had hoped would be his course of action, but his sincerity never waned. I never crossed paths with him but did send him a letter later in life to encourage him to vote against the 2nd Bush “43” tax cut – of all things – and I received a personalized response that was at least the reflection of his opinion if not the product of his hand directly.

    All I can add is to wish him and his family well and to thank you for your eloquent reflection on a life well-lived.


  4. Chris R. Says:

    I agree with Senator Hart that the Bush family’s smear campaign against John McCain was one of the ugliest moments in our modern American politics. There are many things that should have disqualified the Bushes from holding national office, but the American MSM can never seem to connect the dots for all of the strange coincidences that worked to their benefit. Funny that.

  5. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    The Senate has lost many great members over the years but, the absence of Senator McCain at this time under this presidency as he bravely battles to overcome his illness is an extraordinary loss for this once deliberative body.

    As a Canadian who has followed the Senate for many years, I send my very best wishes to Senator McCain and I hope his book will be well read.

    P.S. I remain hopeful that Senator McCain can convince Senator Biden (also known as VP but always a senate man) to run in 2020 …

  6. Gary Hart Says:

    Trump must have a school to train distractors. Chris R. is too clever by half. He and all who read the original post essay know full well that the reference was not to the Bush family, though their minions trained by the late Lee Atwater did their best in 2000 to defame John McCain, but rather the reference was of course to Trump himself whose unprovoked, gratuitous, and cowardly attack on Senator McCain marked a new low in American politics and demonstrated what a little man Trump is. Trump apparently paid off a doctor (is there a pattern here?) to find an injury to his toe and thus avoid service in Vietnam while John McCain was tortured in a jail there for six years. Trump simply can’t stand true heroes. His cowardice speaks for itself. GH

  7. Bill Pruden Says:

    Thanks you for this fine tribute to Senator McCain, a man who, like yourself, reminds us of the kind of people who once populated the Senate but are now derided for a desire to govern in the best interests of the people, rather than pursuing a rigid ideological or ego based agenda. John McCain is an American hero–on many levels–one whose actions represented the best we can ask for among those who serve us. At the same time, he was also human so that while he made his mistakes, he also owned them, setting yet another example for all who have followed. Thank you for celebrating his kind and reminding us of what leaders and public servants can be.

  8. Gary Hart Says:

    For the record: This forum is the wrong place to debate whether the Bushes or Trump was the most odious where John McCain is concerned. Anyone wishing to defend Trump’s calculated brutishness to an American hero is welcome to do so, but not here. The question is, why would anyone want to do that. Gary Hart

  9. Brian McCarthy Says:

    Why WOULD anyone want to do that? The answer is that all the rules of respect, decency, and character have gone out the window. We live in an age in which it’s ok to disparage a man Ike Sen. McCain. Because he got captured … and the President who wouldn’t know one end of a rifle from the other, disparages him and that makes it ok. To his league of followers. I find the fact that you were one of his groomsmen inspiring. It is hard to imagine, now, that a Democratic senator would be groomsman to a Republican senator. The times have certainly changed. Not for the better.

  10. Brian McCarthy Says:

    There was a time, not too long ago, or so it seems to me, when you could admire, respect, and generally think well of politicians of the opposing party. I didn’t vote for John McCain when he ran for president, but I could never, ever have been ashamed of him if he had won the presidency. He was a MAN, a HERO, and a PATRIOT, and I’m glad to say so despite my disagreements with him over policy. He doesn’t need to be defended against a mental midget who couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag but yet had the gumption, or chutzpah if you prefer, to ridicule Sen. McCain’s time spent as a POW. Sen. McCain cut his teeth, he paid his dues, and he earned his place in this country’s history.

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