John McCain had many ties to Hawaii

Joe Vasey and John McCain, 2004. Photos by Bob McDermott and U.S. National Archives Records Administration

“From the Naval Academy to flight school and throughout his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain displayed unfailing honor and duty to country. If that was the end of his service, he would still be renowned as a hero, but McCain’s desire to serve didn’t stop when his uniform came off. He continued to serve as a representative and senator from Arizona. Throughout his life, McCain never ceased serving our nation or fighting for what he believed.” Richard V. Spencer, Secretary of the Navy

“The nation has lost a great patriot and warrior. Whenever we were in a tough spot, we knew Sen. McCain would be on our side with his characteristic toughness and integrity. The U.S. Navy mourns the loss of a true shipmate. Our prayers go with him and to his family, that they find consolation. May Sen. John McCain, who never flinched from a worthy fight, rest in a well-deserved peace.” — Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations

“On behalf of the crew of USS John S. McCain, I offer our support and prayers to the McCain family, our gratitude to the senator for his years of service to our nation, and a heartfelt traditional Navy sendoff: ‘Fair winds and following seas.’ It is an honor to have our mighty warship carry on your name and continue your legacy.” — Cmdr. Micah Murphy, USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) commanding officer

State Rep. Bob McDermott

Former Executive Director,
Honolulu Council, Navy League

As we learned of the passing of this great American hero, I wanted to share the many ties that Sen. John Sidney McCain III had with Hawaii.

First, as a young boy, he spent several years growing up in Navy base housing in the Makalapa area on Pearl Harbor. His grandfather was aboard the Mighty Mo’ when the Japanese signed the surrender instruments of World War II.

McCain waiting for the rest of the group to leave the bus at airport after being released as a former prisoner of war. Photos by Bob McDermott and U.S. National Archives Records Administration

When he was captured and a prisoner of war, his father was the Pacific commander in chief stationed at Camp H.M. Smith, here on Oahu. McCain’s father’s very best friend was Adm. Joe Vasey, then-chief of staff for Commander, 7th Fleet, who, upon retiring, remained in Hawaii until his recent passing.

When McCain was released from Vietnam, the first state he stepped foot in was Hawaii, then-Hickam Air Force Base. In 1979, McCain met his future wife Cindy at a cocktail party in Honolulu; he said it was love at first sight.

Several of McCain’s close friends and former POW comrades made Hawaii their home: Jim and Carole Hickerson; Jerry and Susan Coffee; and former Hawaii resident Orson Swindle. They would all help McCain to varying degrees during his presidential runs.

In 2004, the Honolulu Navy League decided to honor Vasey, who was in his early 90s and living at retirement community Arcadia. The Navy League asked McCain if he would fly out to Hawaii and speak at an event honoring Vasey.

McCain agreed to fly out and honor this family friend and World War II submarine veteran.

This event was a week after the 2004 general election, during which McCain crisscrossed the country campaigning for his former rival George W. Bush. Despite being exhausted, he flew out to Hawaii for 36 hours on Oahu. He did this simply to honor Vasey.

I was honored to watch as Vasey was totally surprised by McCain’s presence; Vasey asked McCain, “What are you doing here, John?” to which McCain replied,” I am here to honor you, sir!”

While at the event, McCain did not hang out with the well-heeled donors who paid to come to the gala, rather he spent time with the young wounded warriors who had just come back from Iraq. McCain’s willingness to fly from Washington D.C. to Hawaii for a brief moment to honor Vasey and his conduct at the event, shining the light on our young wounded servicemen and women, illustrates how he lived his life in selfless service to others. Fair winds and following seas, Sen. McCain, you served your country well.

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