McCain found the right stuff in stay at Hanoi Hilton |

McCain found the right stuff in stay at Hanoi Hilton

Jeff Ackerman

The difference between George W. Bush and John McCain is something that cannot be seen by a television camera, nor measured by a political poll.

You can’t buy it. Not even with the $37 million or so that G.W. has spent thus far to sleep in the White House bed his father once occupied. Two-hundred-million people to choose from and we’re breeding presidents?

Some of us might have the stuff I’m talking about and never know it. McCain didn’t know he had it before that October day in 1967. He was just another fun-loving Navy pilot who got his kicks flying off the deck of an aircraft carrier, swooping down to attack his unsuspecting prey. Like some falcon bloated by testosterone.

Then suddenly his wings were blown off and McCain the Predator became McCain the Prey.

Then suddenly all McCain had and would have for the next five-plus years is the kind of stuff I want my next president to have.

Carson City resident Ray Alcorn knows what’s inside McCain. Alcorn was there when McCain found it. Alcorn had already been a prisoner nearly two years by the time McCain arrived at the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Later, when they were free, Alcorn and McCain would serve in the same fighter squadron in Jacksonville, Florida.

McCain shouldn’t have been anywhere near Hanoi in 1967. His father was one of the highest ranking officers in the Navy and he could have easily pulled enough strings to ensure his son’s safety throughout the war.

But there John McCain III was, smack in the middle of what some warriors refer to as the abbreviated term for “Deep Do-Do.”

McCain was attacking some power plant inside Hanoi when he took a rocket to the pocket. When that happens you don’t have lots of time to wonder about your political future. You pull a lever and the explosives beneath your seat blow you out of the aircraft.

They don’t make rides like that at Disneyland.

By the time McCain hit the water he had broken both arms and a leg. The man-who-would-be-president was drowning when the VC pulled him out. Then they quickly broke his shoulder with a rifle butt and stuck him in the groin with a bayonet.

Not one of McCain’s better days.

When they finally got the young “Air Pirate” to the Hoa Lo Prison – nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by the American “guests” there -the captors told McCain he was probably going to die.

In order for you to really appreciate McCain’s predicament, you need only to stand inside the Hanoi Hilton for a few minutes. I was there with Alcorn a couple of years ago and it was unbearable, even in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Even knowing I could walk out the front door anytime I chose.

It’s a museum today and inside one of the cells is a dummy of a prisoner shackled to his bed. The French built the place to house Vietnamese prisoners and the shackles weren’t designed to hold the larger ankles that belonged to the Americans.

When the Vietnamese discovered that McCain’s father had some clout they got a little worried. It’s one thing to shoot down an Air Pirate, but quite another to kill an Air Pirate whose father controlled every aircraft carrier in the Pacific.

So they sent the younger McCain to a hospital to get repaired and they told him he would be set free soon. But McCain would have none of it. The Code of Conduct dictates that prisoners be released in order of capture, and McCain said he wasn’t leaving until the guys captured before him were released.

His captors didn’t want to hear that, so they decided to have a chat with their stubborn guest.

“They were pretty rough on him,” said Alcorn, who by that time was very familiar with the methods used by his captors when they were angry. “I think they may have used the ropes.”

The Vietnamese interrogators could use ropes better than Muhammed Ali. They pretty much hog-tied the prisoner’s body into shapes the body was not intended to make. Shoulders would pop from sockets and knees would pop from joints.

And McCain endured all of it to avoid being set free.

Wow. What kind of stuff would make a man do that?

I can’t answer that one. I don’t think I have it.

Courage comes to mind. Extraordinary courage.

Faith also comes to mind. The kind of faith that can reach beyond the walls of a stifling hell that was inside the Hanoi Hilton.

If my next president can bring that kind of courage and that kind of faith to the White House, the rest will be gravy.

The issues? Oh, yeah. McCain’s got those down, too. Youth violence, budget surplus, defense spending and the rest.

Only his views aren’t scripted.

Nothing about McCain is scripted.

And that would also be a refreshing thing to see in my next president.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher and editor of the Nevada Appeal.