Wednesday, October 17, 2007

John McCain Still Rocks.

I've read quite a bit on John McCain. I have a folder in my favorites that has at least a two dozen or more articles on him. But I haven't read this:

In captivity, covert 'church'

Being taken captive matured him fast, he has said, and over time, he discovered that having faith gave him a common bond with his fellow prisoners.

Orson Swindle, an ex-POW who spent the last 20 months of his captivity at McCain's side, recalls how important "church" was when he and the others were being held individually in separate rooms. Every Sunday, after the midday meal was finished, the dishes were washed, and the guards had departed, the senior officer in the area would signal that it was time to pray together, by coughing in a way that signaled the letter "c" for church – one cough and then three coughs.

"It was time for a solid stream of thought among those of us there," says Mr. Swindle, now a policy adviser in Washington. "We all silently said the Pledge of Allegiance, we repeated the 23rd Psalm and the Lord's Prayer, and anything else you'd want to [say] in there that would get us some help – but not out loud. If we were heard talking, they would come in and start torturing us."

Toward the end of the war, when the North Vietnamese lightened up a bit and put the POWs together in a room, the prisoners organized Sunday church services. McCain was the room chaplain, "not because the senior ranking officer thought I was imbued with any particular extra brand of religion, but because I knew all of the words of the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed," the senator says.

McCain conducted services and gave sermons, of sorts. "It was a topic, a talk," he says. "We had a choir that was marvelous…. The guy who directed it happened to have been previously the director of the Air Force Academy choir."

McCain will always remember the first Christmas they were allowed to have a service together. They had never been able to have a Bible before, but shortly before this particular Christmas, the Vietnamese handed McCain a King James Bible, a piece of paper, and a pencil. He jotted down bits of the nativity story from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

"On Christmas Eve, the first time we had been together – some guys had been there as long as seven years – we had our service," he says. "We got to the point where we talked about the birth of Christ, and then sang 'Silent Night,' and I still remember looking at the faces of those guys – skinny, worn out – but most of them, a lot of them, had tears down their faces. And they weren't sorrow, they were happiness that for the first time in so many years we were able to worship together."

For McCain, there were other moments of grace in prison. While in solitary confinement, he would be left for the night with his arms tied back in a painful position. One night, a guard walked in and loosened the ropes, then came back five hours later and tightened up the ropes again, without saying a word. Two months later, on Christmas Day, McCain was allowed to stand outside for 10 minutes in a courtyard, and that same guard came up to him. The guard stood beside him for a minute, then drew a cross in the dirt with his sandal and stood there for a minute, looking at McCain silently. A few minutes later he rubbed it out and walked away.

"My friends, I will never forget that man," McCain recounts during a town-hall meeting with voters, his voice choked with emotion. "
I will never forget that moment. And I will never forget the fact that no matter where you are, no matter how difficult things are, there's always going to be someone of your faith and your belief and your devotion to your fellow man who will pick you up and help you out and bring you through."

In McCain, you won't find a Bible thumper. That isn't him. I think he looks at life and faith through the eyes of a survivor. Most of us wouldn't understand that. I won't speak for him, but when someone survives something so horrific, they usually feel a need to make a difference. They are still here, there must be a reason. McCain seems to feel that in a big way. He doesn't preach. He just does what he feels is right.

What I have tried to make people understand about McCain is that what he has been through, his sacrifice for his country, his public service, and his leadership makes him UNIQUELY qualified to be President. His experience is such that all of us should be able to forgive him for when he has let us down politically.

Because a hero deserves this.

And is there any doubt at all that he is a hero?