This week, the nation lost a man who will likely be remembered as one of the greatest Americans – Sen. John McCain. A Navy veteran, a former prisoner of war, a family man and a public servant, Sen. McCain passed away after a battle with brain cancer.
In the modern era, we’ve known few heroes like McCain. That doesn’t speak to a lack of courageous Americans, but rather to how truly unique McCain was. He dedicated his entire life to serving the country with honor and distinction.
McCain followed the examples of his father and grandfather when he joined the United States Navy in the 1950s, where he trained as a naval aviator. In 1967, his plane was shot down over Hanoi. He was captured, held and tortured by the North Vietnamese for more than five years, two of which he spent in solitary confinement.
He had an opportunity to leave his wartime prison early because of his family’s prominence, but in classic John McCain fashion, he refused to use that privilege. He carried that strength and servant leadership with him for the rest of his life.
Many would have been satisfied with a job well done after five years in captivity, but not McCain. He went on to serve Arizona for more than 35 years as a United States representative and senator.
Before his death, McCain penned a statement of patriotism and servanthood unique to him. He encouraged the America he left behind to remember what we have in common rather than what we disagree on. He recalled the words he’d spoken in 2008 when conceding the race for president:
Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.
Sen. McCain lived out those words – never hiding from history but making it. He spoke up for the voiceless, he watched the backs of his fellow veterans and he defended freedom. We can only hope that, as a nation, we’ll know another man like him.
Fair winds and following seas, Senator.