Why I Cannot Support Senator John McCain for President
29 August 1999
I wish I could support John McCain and as a fellow returned POW. I have found I am expected to support him, but I cannot. If I cannot support him, then the next best thing I find is that I am expected to remain mute and say nothing. As I have proven in a terrible jungle prison, I have the ability to remain mute in the face of those who wished to trade me my very life for just a few words. My remaining mute then, is the driving factor behind my feeling compelled to speak out now.
When John was blown from the sky over that lake in Hanoi, did the enemy already know whose son he was? No, they did not until John told them. He was seriously hurt in his ejection and he needed medical attention. In exchange for what the rest of us would call "First Class" care, he talked. He not only told them who his father, the Admiral was, but he expounded in detail on the Chain of Command and then built himself up by describing himself as one of the "very best pilots". You will not find this form of "resistance" in the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) or in the Code of Conduct. As a matter of fact, it is expressly forbidden. Now, if the US Navy wants to give John a pass on this, it is all right with me, but that free pass negated John's pointing fingers at others, or at least it should have. Just ask Robert Garwood, or anyone else who crosses him, if he is a finger pointer. He is the worst.
After McCain was recovered from his wounds, did he cease and desist from making propaganda? The answer is an emphatic "NO". So we go back to the same question again: Should John get a free pass on this from the Navy? Well, the Navy and some of the Air Force got together and supported the "Return with Honor" scenario. I darn sure did, even from my hole-in-the-ground in Cambodia. But I do not now support, nor would I ever have, if I had known, "Return with Honor" would be some kind of "amnesty" program. The main reason was simple. No one, not Stockdale or the real Senior POW Colonel John Peter Flynn, USAF, had the authority to grant "amnesty" for collaboration in the prisons of Vietnam. The recommendations of these Senior, honored POWs must be given weight in the consideration of charges or amnesty. They could fail to file charges, but they could not grant amnesty or "absolution". The problem is that they did so. Of course, one rarely hears of John Peter Flynn these days, as he somehow ceased to be the Senior POW, and Admiral Stockdale is described by nearly everyone as having filled that role. That it is not true seems to have no import on the media, historians nor my fellow POW's. Most of all, McCain has never made the correction.
One must realize, it's as if we are some self-promoting, social club rather than a band of honorable men , welded together by common suffering. Our group says a lot of things which are not true. I have seen them stand Ev Alvarez up time and again in front of the nation and proclaim him as "America's longest-held Vietnam POW". It is not true, but this line has gone on for so long, it has entered the history books. Not one time has the man John S. McCain, not the Senator, the sailor, the pilot, the Ex-POW, but the man ever stood up and said; "Now hold it right there, Floyd James Thompson, Major, US Army Special Forces, was captured before all of us". Don't trash Ev Alvarez. Just say he was the longest-held pilot. After all, Jim Thompson had to walk a long way just to get to Hanoi and survive years of deprivation never known in the prisons of Hanoi. Major Thompson does not have the deserved recognition of being the longest-held POW merely because he joined the Army and not the Navy. John Peter Flynn retired as the Inspector General of the US Air Force, but he was not Navy, so Stockdale becomes the "Pope" and Flynn becomes just another "Bishop" in the terrible prisons of Hanoi.
The worst myth of all is the one now very popular: "Only the Army and Marine enlisted men let us down." We then go on to explain that this was because they were not "highly educated pilots and not motivated like the pilot officers." There were Army and Marine NCO's that did not join the "Peace Committee" and there are a couple, like Harvey Brande and Dennis Thompson, who I am confident, could have whipped any two pilots in North Vietnam. The problem is that John McCain allows these myths to persist. He makes no mention of Captain, Wilbur, USN, our Senior Ranking Collaborator, or Lieutenant Colonel, Edison Miller, our Senior Marine Collaborator. No, only Private Garwood and "some Marine and Army enlisted men" come in for John's ire. I cannot accept this childish attitude in a Commander In Chief. It is self-serving and has no place in the moral and ethical arsenal of a man who is a pretender to the highest leadership position in the land. If he is elected, I am sure another famous Navy man will be there to bask in the glory also. He is the famous "Bob" from the infamous "Bob and Ed" show, with Edison Miller, over propaganda radio in Hanoi. This was another of those "highly trained, motivated and disciplined pilots" out of the Hanoi Hilton. He got absolution to "Return with Honor" because he crossed back to our side at the last minute. He was even given "command" of other POWs.
The reason I cannot support John McCain is simple. His life in prison, his supposed expertise on Asia and MIAs, his knowledge of even who the longest-held POW of the Vietnam war is, are all based on myth. The nation cannot tolerate in its highest office, another myth. What this nation needs is a real man. A leader of men, whose past accomplishments are based on pure, unadulterated fact. I am sad to report, as the above details, Senator John S. McCain does not fit the bill.
I feel terrible to place myself in opposition to many of my fellow returned POWs and that includes John McCain. Each of those that did the best they could remain in my heart, on my mind and in my prayers always. How professional Soldiers, Sailors, Marines Airman and draftees will deal with falling into the hands of the enemy in the future must be based on historical facts and not carefully constructed myths. The leadership in Hanoi, in those terrible prisons, might have felt compelled to forgive. That was their right to do.
It was not in their purview to forget and allow people who had stumbled ethically and morally in the prisons, to assume the pristine cloak of honorable warrior. Some, like John, have become so falsely frocked they feel they have the right, if not the duty, to sit in judgment of other POWs. No person of such moral attitudes can be allowed to serve as President and Commander In Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
The above is not written to damn pilots. Without them, I for one, would not be alive today. The courage and determination of most in the face of the most brutal anti-aircraft threat environment in history is the stuff of legend. Heroism in the prisons of Southeast Asia knew no single branch of service or position upon capture, as it's home. As on the battlefield itself, a man's own personality will be a far greater determinant of his performance than any school he ever attended or whether he drove or walked to the war. The prisons were full of heroes of all branches and if that is to be a prerequisite for President, John McCain must stand in line behind many people, more qualified than he was or will ever be.
Recently, Lieutenant Colonel, Orson Swindle, United States Marine Corps. (Retired), has come forward to champion Senator McCain and condemn Larry Stark, Mike Benge and myself for not supporting John McCain for President. One of his comments was that we were not there and did not know John McCain in prison.
I can read and if you give an interview in prison to a Communist publication, detailing the accident aboard your ship, the state of morale, a description of the Chain of Command and other details, you have not given a "propaganda statement", but you have given military intelligence.
As far as my not knowing Senator McCain in prison, what Orsen Swindle says is absolutely true. I was in Cambodia, but I had to read the statements of McCain and listen to the daily statements over "The Voice of Vietnam" of "highly trained pilots" who were not being tortured in 1972 to "make them talk". They did not hear me and they did not hear the voice of Robert Garwood. But, McCain and the others have no problem attacking him and continuing to accuse him of things a court of law acquitted him of doing. So much for knowing those of which we speak.
Every year Swindle and McCain spent in Hanoi, I spent on the battlefields of Southeast Asia fighting. Not sorting socks but fighting. Then I spent ten months in a hole, chained after being wounded thirty-eight (38) times. I detested the winning damnation of my President and my Country, by men, most of whom had not been tortured since 1969.
I, like Orsen Swindle, detest people who pontificate on things they know nothing about. That is why I cannot support John McCain. He knows nothing about MIAs or the battlefields of Southeast Asia in general. Yet, he set himself up as the "expert." He never knew Garwood, but, he set himself up to be his persecutor. "Honor?" I will support no member of the "Keating Five" for President of the United States. Please don't tell me he gave the dirty money back. The question of character is based on if he took it to begin with.
Lastly, if what is being put on the INTERNET about John twice attempting suicide in Hanoi and he has detailed that in his upcoming book, I sadly would have another reason not to support him. I hope and pray he has not said this in his book. The pressure of the Presidency outstrip any Senator McCain endured in Hanoi. If we returned-POWs are so full of ourselves, we don't realize this, we are in bad shape.
I suppose it all boils down to simple truth. Unlike some others, the most important things that I am most proud of did not take place in a prison camp in Cambodia. My high points were on battlefields across all of Southeast Asia. I was there when most of my fellow POWs arrived on the scene and the last thing I would wish to be remembered for is that I was captured by my hated enemy. Once that happened, I treated them with the same disdain I did on the battlefield. I would not give them the satisfaction of breaking my spirit nor would I attempt to end my life and allow them to know they had killed me.
Frankly, if I hear another Pilot/POW expound on his expertise on Southeast Asia, I may become ill. We learned one thing in the prisons of Southeast Asia and that was how to endure. Of that we can be proud. However, if I had to endure your propaganda and winning after 1969 I will not support you for any office. If you arrogantly stand up and damn another POW, of whatever rank, you better not have ever stumbled yourself. I had to listen to too many but, they never heard me. That allows me to take the stand I have taken.
Copyright 1999, by Mark A. Smith, Major, USA, Retired
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