An Appreciation

Author: Gary Hart

Many thanks to quite a number of you who have sent personal condolences.  A reprise of a post four months ago.  GH


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 “An Appreciation”


    My thoughts and that of my American origin wife are with the wonderful family of this remarkable man, and those of his friends, like our terrific host, Senator Hart.

    Here you praise a great man who rose above petty and silly party aspects of politics, even as he took part in the arena of them.

    Disraeli alluded to the need for parties. Senator McCain, like that maverick and progressive or moderate Conservative, was a one off.

    Those of us who would have voted for Obama, and those who did, surely did not vote that way to vote against Senator McCain.

    Unlike what the present occupier of the White House said of him, this extraordinarily pugnacious man, was a hero, a fact known across the Atlantic by some of us, even if not from the ivory towers of the current president.

    The relationships he had, as Senator McCain called, it, across the isle, one with for example the late lamented Senator Edward Kennedy, were the hallmark of the man exemplified in the feelings expressed by Senator Gary Hart.

    We salute you, not worthy to literally for our lack of military service, but in our admiration and affection.

  2. Paul Wattles Says:

    Wonderful eulogy to a wonderful man from my home state. Thanks Gary.

  3. Paul G Says:


    “(We may be patriots) who love our country & have devoted our professional life to its service & defense. However, (if we) refuse to acknowledge that torture is immoral (we) disqualify ourselves (from being patriots).

    – US Senator John McCain, R-AZ, on confirmation of recent CIA Director.

    Writing a few months ago about his former senate colleague and lifelong friend, John McCain, our honorable host wrote: “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.”

    Most sensible people would agree that our greatest heroes had very human faults. Yet, imagine the gross exaggeration our modern media would make of a biblical deity “caught” in a desert 40 days seeking to save our republic? As a matter of principle, the dignity of such an individual would not matter to our humanity-challenged crisis-addicted media referees.

    And so it was for our noble hero, John McCain. Long before today’s Exaggerator-in-Chief took our constitution’s highest office, another bully potus lost NH by 19 points. But as media referees stayed silent two weeks later, he knocked-out John with gross exaggerations of a family photo. Lost in the fast-breaking primary dust, the real scandal was buried and a promising maverick presidency evaporated.

    Strong or weak, young or old, rich or poor, we all fail and we all return to dust. But in the mean-time, as our honorable host says to well of his former senate colleague and lifelong friend, “The rest of us left here have no choice but to try to cure the political chaos (that Senator McCain so valiantly fought, overseas and closer to home).

    Truly, as his closest friends attest, John was both in joy and sorrow, “an extraordinary human being,” and a genuine patriot.

  4. 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 Senator 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.

    It’s sadly become a thing that it’s hard to recognize goodness in the opposing party’s leaders and elected officials. The country has become so polarized. Sen. McCain was for me the worthy opponent, the man who thinks differently than you do but whom you still respect because you know he gave … GAVE a huge part of himself up in support of those Americans safely at home and those who were likewise in uniform. I think the highest compliment I can give him is to say that though I usually disagreed with him, I always felt myself better informed for having listened to what he had to say.




    Your remarks are most appreciated and appropriate at a time like this. I was also very pleased to have read the comments of others who had something to say. I echo each of them. There was a time in our wonderful country when one could disagree with another, but still have respect for that person and even friendship. I grew up in a Colorado community of Republicans. We would kid each other, have serious discussions, love one another, laugh together. That has been replaced by bitterness, sarcasm, hatred and Nazis in the streets, all approved by a president who was properly elected, but out-voted by 3 million voters. It is sad. Maybe Senator McCain can send us some good graces from the great open minded skies of navigators.

  6. Gary Hart Says:

    I remember you, Frank. A welcome voice from the past. GH

  7. Elizabeth Robinove Says:

    Your amazing article brought tears to my eyes, as well as bitter regret for where our country is now. I am a “cradle Democrat”, & have only strayed from those deep roots a few times in my many years of voting. I am proud of my two votes for Barack Obama, but, until John McCain named Sarah Palin as his running mate, I had a hard choice to make. The thought of such an ill-informed and crass person being a heartbeat away from the presidency was truly terrifying; little did I know then of the horror show I’d be awakening to every day 8 years later.
    McCain was truly a prince of a man. Oh, how we need more McCains today, but I fear he was almost the last of a breed of gentlemanly senior statesmen, who cared for all Americans, regardless of their circumstances. May his memory be for a blessing. Rest in peace, sir.

  8. JD Kinnick Says:

    Well said!

    Rest In Peace Sen. McCain.

    John 3:16

  9. Bill Pruden Says:

    None of us can begin to truly understand how you must feel at the loss of John McCain. But while offering my condolences to you and to our country, I find myself hoping, however naively, that perhaps the Senator’s death and the many poignant recollections of his life and his service–not to mention his approach to politics–can somehow inspire a return to those values among those entrusted with the leadership of our country. We need a return to the days when people like you and Senator McCain could be members of different parties but could still reach across the aisle on behalf of the American people. My heart goes out to you and the others who have lost a true and personal friend, but I hope, however naively, that his final service can be in reminding us–all of us–of our better selves–and that we can in turn honor him by acting upon it.

  10. John Dedie Says:

    Sadly no one in either party in the Senate is the next McCain.

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