Saturday, March 22, 2008

John McCain's Forgotten Helping Hand

By Cernig

The UK's ultra-conservative Mail On Sunday picks up on the strange ommission of the guy who saved McCain's life after he crashed in Vietnam from McCain's autobiography.
On October 26, 1967, Mai Van On ran from the safety of a bomb shelter at the height of an air raid and swam out into the lake where Lieutenant Commander McCain was drowning, tangled in his parachute cord after ejecting when his Skyhawk bomber was hit by a missile.

In an extraordinary act of compassion at a time when Vietnamese citizens were being killed by US aerial bombardments, he pulled a barely conscious McCain to the lake surface and, with the help of a neighbour, dragged him towards the shore.

...Nearly three decades later, a Vietnamese government commission confirmed he was indeed the rescuer and, in a 1996 meeting in Hanoi, McCain embraced and thanked Mr On and presented him with a Senate memento.

From that brief encounter to his death at the age of 88 two years ago, Mr On never heard from the senator again, and three years after their meeting, McCain published an autobiography that makes no mention of his apparent debt to Mr On.

...In his 1999 autobiography, Faith Of My Fathers, which laid the ground for his first, unsuccessful run for president in 2000, McCain wrote a Boy's Own-style narrative of his rescue: “When I came to, I was being hauled ashore on two bamboo poles.

“A crowd of several hundred Vietnamese gathered around me as I lay dazed before them, shouting wildly at me, stripping my clothes off, spitting on me, kicking and striking me repeatedly.”

What followed, according to McCain, was five-and-a-half years of torture and brutal beatings as a prisoner of war - an account that has given a steely edge to his candidacy by establishing him as a true American war hero.

But the story is at odds with the version uncovered by Vietnam veteran Chuck Searcy, who lives in Hanoi and is in charge of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund.
Searcy first became aware of Mai On when the Vietnamese hero wrote a letter to him. Searcy passed it to McCain's office and received a response from a McCain assistant saying, 'Mr McCain isn't interested in these fanciful stories.' It was only later that Searchy managed to convince McCain, who met On and gave him a souvenir copy of the Congressional Seal as thanks.
“It was the kind of thing you buy in the souvenir shop in the Senate basement.

“But Mr On, to the day he died, treated it as if it were a Congressional Medal of Honour.”

But although McCain appeared to believe the story, it was one he would later seem to ignore in his autobiography and there was no more contact between the two men.

When Mr On died in 2006, an email was apparently sent to McCain's office requesting a message of condolence for the family. There was no response.

Whether or not McCain believed Mr On is unclear.
The punchline?

But [McCain's] refusal to acknowledge [On's] heroism is likely to fuel other, more damaging allegations that McCain exaggerated elements of his PoW ordeal in Hoa Lo prison.

Phung Van Chung, 70, who was a Communist Party official at the time, claims McCain was quickly singled out for softer treatment, adding: “I found out he was the son of an American admiral, so the top people wanted to keep him as a live witness so they could use him for negotiations.”

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