On Saturday afternoon, like many other Americans, I heard that Senator John McCain had passed away at the age of 81. The maverick U.S. Senator from Arizona was a giant in American politics. Some commentators have said since his passing that McCain is the last of a past era in the Senate. That he embodied an age of senatorial greats. They are not wrong.
As a conservative, I did not always agree with Senator McCain’s political positions. I did not ever question his motives or genuineness taking those positions. McCain was a warrior politician, who stood, even if alone, by his convictions.
Too often we water down the word hero by throwing it around to individuals who did very little bravely. We talk about heroes like they are sports stars or in fairy tales. That is not the case with McCain. He was a hero in every sense of the word. Every part of his service to the county illuminated that term. McCain was an anomaly to our self-serving society. He always put others first. He did so with a wink of the eye, never complaining. And what he could have complained about.
McCain, whose father and grandfather were four-star admirals, was captured in October of 1967. After being shot down in Vietnam and taken as a prisoner of war, McCain refused earlier release or a real safe space. This was after crashing and having his right leg fractured. When the North Vietnamese found him, one captor hit him with a rifle butt, shattering his right shoulder. He was then bayoneted in the abdomen and foot. He also survived solitary confinement and torture – which meant he was beaten every two or three hours – over multiple days. This happened on and off for multiple years until, finally, McCain was released in March of 1973.
“I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s,” McCain at his 2008 RNC acceptance’s speech. “I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again; I wasn’t my own man anymore; I was my country’s.”
McCain, of course, is right, America is an idea, a cause worth fighting for. With his passing, the question that now remains is who will fight for those ideals that America represents? Who will put country first?
Who will be the next to have “straight talk” knowing they lived in imperfect service to a country, whose success is the hope of the world?
Who will have the courage and character to do what they know is right? Who will put long-term success over short-term victories?
As McCain said in his book, Character Is Destiny: Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember “nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.”
That is not only great advice in politics, but in all areas of life.
There was only one John McCain. Just like there is only one of you. When our bell finally tolls to take each us home, what will history say about our lives and how we lived? Did we pick up the mantle and act on our convictions with courage? As McCain said about his self, he was not always right, made a lot of mistakes, made a lot of errors, but served. May each of us serve as McCain did, honorably.
Photo credit: 2008 file photo, AP