John McCain: The United States has lost a true hero

U.S. Sen. John McCain was a statesman, a patriot and a hero. He was a man of honor. No matter whether one agreed with him on matters of politics, there can be no doubt, the American political landscape is poorer with his passing.

Last week, his family announced the Arizona Republican had decided to discontinue treatment for the brain cancer he battled for months. By Saturday, the 81-year-old senator had succumbed.

Many Americans have clear memories of McCain’s heroism during the Vietnam War. A Navy pilot, he was shot down over North Vietnam and imprisoned under brutal conditions at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” POW facility.

He could have gone home much sooner than he did. North Vietnamese officials knew McCain was both the son and grandson of Navy admirals. They offered to release him, in exchange for some propaganda.

McCain said no. He would not betray his fellow POWs or his country. So he endured years of captivity he could have avoided.

In politics, he was a genuine maverick. On the rare occasions when he pursued a political, rather than what he saw as a patriotic, goal, he quickly corrected himself. “I was a coward,” he said of one such situation.

During his presidential campaign of 2008, McCain refused to take the bait offered up by a woman at a rally.

“I can’t trust [Barack] Obama. I have read about him and he’s not, he’s … he’s an Arab,” the woman said. Before she had finished her sentence, it was clear McCain was disturbed by such an assertion. He shook his head in agitation and took the microphone from her.

“No ma’am,” McCain said. “He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not.”

Some attendees of the rally — in theory, supporters — booed him for that. They had hoped he would jump on such rhetoric. Politics was changing, but McCain refused to go along for the ride.

That — a staunch dedication to doing what he felt was the right thing — summed him up. In his passing, Americans have lost — and it is, truly, a loss — someone with whom many may not have agreed always, but whose patriotism and courage could not be questioned. He was, in a word, a true hero.