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The Unseen Enemy
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McCain Not The Disciplined Leader He Claims To Be

By James Donahue

During the Oct. 7 debate with Democratic opponent Barack Obama, Senator John McCain said: “I'm asking the American people to give me another opportunity and I'll rest on my record, but I'll also tell you, when times are tough, we need a steady hand at the tiller and the great honor of my life was to always put my country first.”

With his ratings slipping in the polls, and the appearance of a deluge of attack ads from the McCain camp during these last weeks of the campaign, is should not be a surprise that McCain is resting on his one alleged moment of heroism as a prisoner of war after getting shot down over North Vietnam.

But his claim to offer a “steady hand at the tiller” and to have “always put my country first” may be about as shallow as President George W. Bush’s military record during that same conflict.

Both Bush and McCain are sons of powerful military and political figures who had the ability to protect the reputations of their siblings following various misdeeds, and even cover up police and military records.

McCain, the son and grandson of powerful navy admirals, and whose father, John S. “Junior” McCain was a four-star admiral in command of U.S. forces in Europe and later Vietnam, had the clout to cover a lot of mischief committed by his son, then a loose cannon with a license to fly Navy jets.

An article by Ted Sampley in U.S. Veteran Dispatch said that while at the Annapolis Naval Academy McCain was known as a “rowdy, raunchy, underachiever” who “resented authority” and became infamous as a leader among his fellow midshipmen for organizing hard drinking parties and other 'off-Yard' activities. One former classmate, Robert Timberg, wrote in his book The Nightingale’s Song that “being on liberty with John McCain was like being in a train wreck.”

McCain drew so many demerits for breaking curfew and other discipline issues that he graduated fifth from the bottom of his class in 1958, Sampley wrote. In spite of this, he wrote, “no doubt because of the influence of his family of famous Admirals, McCain was leap-frogged ahead of more qualified applicants and granted a coveted slot to be trained as a navy pilot.”

McCain then trained at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas, flying A-1 Skyraiders. Timberg noted that McCain’s performance as a pilot was “below par, at best good enough to get by.” Also during his training McCain continued to party hard, drove a Corvette and dated an exotic dancer named Marie the Flame of Florida.

A story in the Los Angeles Times noted that McCain wrecked so many aircraft “if today’s standards were applied, his career may have ended in a hard landing. . . In today’s military, a lapse in judgment that causes a crash can end a pilot’s career.”

The story said when McCain was training in Texas in 1960 he slammed his AD-6 Skyraider into Corpus Christi Bay and sheared the skin off the wings of the aircraft. McCain claimed in his autobiography that the engine failed, but a Naval investigation board found it was pilot error. The board ruled that McCain was using “a power setting too low to maintain level flight in a turn.”

The paper reported that in another incident in 1961, “McCain was ‘clowning’ around in a Skyraider over southern Spain and flew into electrical wires, causing a blackout in the area. In his book Timberg said that crash led to a “spate of newspaper stories in which he was predictably identified as the son of an admiral.”

Sampley wrote: “Unscathed, McCain returned to Pensacola Station where he was promoted to flight instructor for Naval Air Station Meridian in Mississippi. Flight instructor McCain lost a third aircraft while flying a Navy trainer solo to Philadelphia for an Army Navy football game. Timberg said McCain radioed “I’ve got a flameout” and then ejected at one thousand feet. The plane crashed into a clump of trees. The Navy declared it an unavoidable accident.

The next mishap that involved McCain was spectacular and there has been a lot of speculation about a possible cover-up of just what happened. McCain was sent in 1966 to Vietnam aboard the Aircraft Carrier Forrestal which was conducting bombing campaigns over North Vietnam. On July 29, 1967, while in a lineup of bomb-laden jets being catapulted off for a bombing raid, a rocket in one of the aircraft accidentally discharged.

The official story was the rocket slammed into McCain’s jet and he barely escaped as his plane was going up in flames. The fire and series of bomb blasts that followed killed 134 sailors and caused extensive damage to the carrier. McCain, who escaped injury, was airlifted that same day to the carrier Oriskany.

There has been a story flying around that McCain was responsible for the Forrestal disaster. There are several different versions of just how it happened. One of them said something caused the plane behind McCain’s to fire a rocket that hit the external center fuel tank in McCain’s jet. In his effort to escape, McCain panicked and dropped two bombs into the fire.

Another story suggests that McCain caused the fire when he “wet started” his jet to shake up the pilot in the F-4 Phantom waiting behind his plane. Wet-starts were known to have been a common practice among the “hot-shot” pilots of that era, and McCain certainly fit in that category. It involved using the starter motor switch to pour a pool of kerosene in the engine which then shot a large flame from the tail. As the story goes, the flame ignited the rocket on the Phantom.

The truth behind the Forrestal fire may not be told until the influence of the McCain family on the U.S. Navy ends and the records hidden in “top secret” files can be made public. By then nobody may care enough to conduct a search.

McCain was shot down over North Vietnam on Oct. 26, 1967, just three months after the Forrestal incident, so his reckless career as a Navy pilot came to an abrupt end. He spent five years as a prisoner of war and thus emerged from the war with somewhat of a hero status.

The Times said an examination of McCain’s military record “reveals a pilot who early in his career was cocky, occasionally cavalier and prone to testing limits.”

Has the man really changed?  He may be balding and sporting white hair, but McCain’s choice of the women around him, his reckless campaign moves and his strange willingness to twist the truth to attack Democratic candidate Barack Obama, suggest that the “hot-shot pilot” in him still lives. Dare we allow someone like this to lead the nation?