U.S. Sen. John McCain meant different things to different people. He’s been called everything from a maverick and a patriot to a “loser,” by President Donald Trump because he was captured by the North Vietnamese during the war.
Retired Navy veteran B.J. Clark called McCain, a former Navy pilot and the son of two admirals, “an American Hero.”
“He was a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Meridian in the mid 1960s,” Clark recalled. “I had the good fortune and the bad fortune as I was beat so badly, to play against him in intramural tennis.”
Clark said he got beat in singles and doubles and “had heat stroke one match.”
McCain, however, “was nice enough to go to sickbay and check on me after that particular match.”
Clark, who lives in Pembroke and is a diehard Republican, said there were a lot of “untruths out there,” surrounding one controversial aspect of the former Navy aviator’s career.
“Lots of untruths about the accident on the USS Forrestal. He was the victim, not the cause, of the missile arming and the resulting fire,” Clark said.
“I lost a very close shipmate, Harold ‘Fuzzy’ Fontenot, in that fire. I know two ex-Vietnam POWs I was stationed with,” he added. “They both knew then-Lt. Commander McCain, and had high praise for his conduct during their Hanoi Hilton days.”
In an emailed statement, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, said the U.S. lost a patriot.
“Whether in combat or in Congress, Senator John Mc-Cain lived each day fiercely defending our freedom and the country he loved. History will remember him as a public servant, statesman, and true American hero.
Carter’s opponent in the November election, Democratic Lisa Ring of Richmond Hill, said McCain was a “leader of integrity.
Senator John McCain served his country, not only as public servant. His commitment to serving people over politics and his willingness to set aside partisanship for humanity, will be deeply missed.”
Richmond Hill Mayor Russ Carpenter, a government teacher who describes himself as a lifelong Republican and heads up Richmond Hill High School’s Young Republicans Club, said McCain was a hero, pure and simple.
“People often say that the WWII generation is The Greatest Generation, and for good reasons. Yet I believe each generation has its heroes, and John McCain was a hero to his generation,” Carpenter said. “You may have questioned his political decisions, but you cannot question his commitment to our country through this military service and years in the United States Senate.”
Others, including Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue from Georgia, shared similar thoughts.
Isakson said McCain “has left an example for all of us of what it takes to be an American patriot. His willingness to reach out to all to do what is right inspires us to work to find common ground.”
But retired Navy veteran Ernest Mitchell of Pembroke recalled his Vietnam service.
“I was on a Destroyer patrolling and doing gunfire support along the northern coast of Vietnam,” Mitchell said. “We were there the day the war ended. We continued patrols for a while. It was my end of service date. Along with some shipmates we reported to Clark Air Base in the Phillipines.”
There, the sailors waited for their flight back to the U.S.
“Every day we reported to the air terminal, for the flight back to the states,” Mitchell said. “But for at least four days we were told all flights home were reserved for the POWs. I was honored to wait my turn for them, considering all they had gone through, including Sen. McCain."