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  • Tribute to John McCain

    by Senator Mitch McConnell

    Posted on 2013-03-14

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    McCONNELL. Madam President, more than four decades ago, millions of people watched in awe as Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon. I remember that day still, and I am sure many of you do. It remains one of our country's proudest moments. But not every American was able to share in the excitement. As the senior Senator from Arizona put it, when the momentous event occurred, I had no idea it was happening. I and several hundred comrades were otherwise engaged. That is because 2 years earlier, on his 23rd bombing run over Vietnam, a missile hit Lieutenant Commander McCain's plane. He ejected, his body spiraling through the air until it hit water thousands of feet below--a lake right in the center of Hanoi.

    An angry mob set upon him. They ripped off his clothes; they hit, kicked, and spat upon him. They bayoneted his ankle and his groin. The Senator was left with two broken arms and a broken leg, and he passed sort of in and out of consciousness. But he has never forgotten what came next, when Vietnamese forces gathered him up and took him to the so-called Hanoi Hilton. As the massive steel doors locked shut behind him, Senator McCain said he felt ``a deeper dread than [he has] ever felt since.'' He would remain an enemy captive for the next 5\1/2\ years, cut off from family and friends, from even the simplest joys of life, things you and I take for granted: the aromas of Thanksgiving, the far-away thrill of cheering a hometown team on to victory, the sounds that let us know the world around us is alive with action, with movement, with hope. But John McCain never lost hope even when he was locked in solitary confinement and even when he was tortured. His captors poorly cast his broken arms on purpose. They broke an arm again and hung the young captive by his lifeless limbs so they could torture him some more.

    Eventually, Vietnamese officials discovered he was the son of a high- ranking Navy officer and offered him a release. He turned their offers down. It was partly because he knew an early release would be used cynically by the Communist propaganda machine but, more importantly, because he refused to skip the line ahead of his fellow POWs.

    It is one thing to talk about attributes such as courage and bravery in the abstract, it is quite another to demonstrate those qualities in the most trying of circumstances. It reminds me of an old saying: ``The superior man is modest in his speech but exceeds in his actions.'' That kind of man--well, that is just who John McCain is.

    His campaign motto in 2008 was ``Country First.'' For some politicians that might have been just a slogan, but for my colleague from Arizona I know it was authentically and truly him. Senator McCain still wears the scars of his long detention. He cannot raise his arms above shoulder level. One of his legs still has not fully healed. I can only imagine the weight of the memories he still must carry with him. Yet he endures--a man who has always seen his life in service, transformed from a captive of the enemy into a servant of the people.

    For more than 30 years he has represented Arizona with great distinction, in both the House and Senate. He is a valued member of the Senate Republican Conference, especially when it comes to issues he cares about most passionately--defense being at the top of the list. As someone who experienced the horrors of war in the truest sense, he understands what it means to send young Americans into harm's way, and he never takes those decisions lightly.

    Because he knows what it means to be in chains, he also understands what it means to be free. He was able to leave his prison behind, but for millions around the world there is no escape from suffering and despair. That is why Senator McCain has always been so outspoken about his view of the responsibility we, as a free people, have to help others secure their own liberty, whether in Pyongyang, Libya, Damascus, or--a cause close to my own heart as well--Burma.

    He has been absolutely unafraid to take unpopular and sometimes solitary stands on issues when he believes in the cause. He never wavered in his support for the surge in Iraq, for instance, even when others said it would take a ``willing suspension of disbelief'' for the policy to succeed, but it did. That is why when he speaks, others listen--even when they may not agree with him.

    Senator McCain provides a unique and much needed perspective in the Senate, and we are fortunate to have him as our colleague. He certainly knows I am grateful for his contributions. Let's take a moment today to mark the 40th anniversary of Senator McCain's release from captivity and to thank him for his sacrifice on behalf of all of us for enduring the unendurable, for keeping faith with his fellow POWs, and for believing in our country when others had given up hope. We honor him for his service, service that began as a plebe so many years ago, and service that continues today as a Member of the Senate.

    We thank you, Senator McCain.

    The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Arizona.

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