- John Sidney McCain III entered the United States Naval
Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1954. Young McCain wanted to become an
admiral. He planned to be the "first son and grandson of four star
admirals" to achieve such a distinction. But that was not to be. McCain
III possessed none of the innate character and discipline traits that helped
mold his father and grandfather into great military leaders.
- His father, John S. "Junior" McCain, and grandfather,
John S. McCain, Sr., were famous four-star Admirals in the U.S. Navy. His
father commanded U.S. forces in Europe before becoming commander of American
forces fighting in Vietnam. His grandfather commanded naval aviation at
the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Both men became highly influential in U.S.
- At the Academy, aside being known as a "rowdy, raunchy,
underachiever" who resented authority, Cadet McCain became infamous
as a leader among his fellow midshipmen for organizing "off-Yard activities"
and hard drinking parties. Robert Timberg wrote in his book, The Nightingale's
Song, that "being on liberty with John McCain was like being in a
- McCain's grades were "marginal." He drew so
many demerits for breaking curfew and other discipline issues that he graduated
fifth from the bottom of the class of 1958. Despite his low "class
standing," and 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.
- Good Party Animal - Bad Pilot:
- He spent the next two and a half years as a "naval
aviator in training" at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida and
Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, flying A-1 Skyraiders.
- While a pilot trainee, McCain continued to party hard.
He drove a Corvette and dated an exotic dancer named "Marie the Flame
of Florida." Timberg wrote that McCain "learned to fly at Pensacola,
though his performance was below par, at best good enough to get by. He
liked flying, but didn't love it."
- McCain Lost Five Military Aircraft
- McCain, the "below par" pilot, eventually lost
5 military aircraft, the first during a training flight in 1958 when he
plunged into Corpus Christi Bay while trying to land. The Navy ignored
the crash and graduated McCain in 1960.
- While deployed in the Mediterranean, the hard partying
McCain lost a second aircraft. Timberg described the crash: "Flying
too low over the Iberian Peninsula, he took out some power lines which
led to a spate of newspaper stories in which he was predictably identified
as the son of an admiral."
- Unscathed, McCain returned to Pensacola Station where
he was promoted to flight instructor for Naval Air Station Meridian in
Mississippi. The airfield at Meridian, McCain Field, was named in honor
of McCain's grandfather.
- In 1964 McCain became involved with Carol Shepp, a model
from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he had met at Annapolis. They were married
in Philadelphia on July 3, 1965.
- Flight instructor McCain lost a third aircraft while
flying a Navy trainer solo to Philadelphia for an Army-Navy football game.
Timberg wrote that McCain radioed, "I've got a flameout" before
ejecting at one thousand feet. McCain parachuted onto a beach moments before
his plane slammed into a clump of trees.
- The Navy dismissed the crash as "unavoidable"
and assigned McCain to the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal in December 1966,
which was patrolling the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. In Spring
1967, the Forrestal was assigned to join the Operation Rolling Thunder
bombing campaign against North Vietnam.
- McCain lost his fourth plane on board the Forrestal on
July 29, 1967 when a rocket inadvertently slammed into his bomb laden jet.
McCain escaped, but the explosions that followed killed 134 sailors. McCain
was transferred from the badly damaged Forrestal to the USS Oriskany. Shortly
afterwards, on Oct. 26, 1967, he was shot down and captured by the Vietnamese.
- Post-POW Years: Political Ambition and a New, Young,
- Upon his release from North Vietnam and return to the
United States in 1973, McCain reunited with his wife, Carol, who had been
permanently crippled in a car accident while he was a POW.
- Still yearning to become an admiral, McCain enrolled
in the National War College at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. and underwent
physical therapy in order to fly again. The Navy excused his permanent
disabilities and reinstated him to flight status, effectively positioning
him for promotion.
- Timberg described McCain's advancement: "in the
fall of 1974, McCain was transferred to Jacksonville as the executive officer
of Replacement Air Group 174, the long-sought flying billet at last a reality.
A few months later, he assumed command of the RAG, which trained pilots
and crews for carrier deployments. The assignment was controversial, some
calling it favoritism, a sop to the famous son of a famous father and grandfather,
since he had not first commanded a squadron, the usual career path."
- While Executive Officer and later as Squadron Commander
McCain used his authority to arrange frequent flights that allowed him
to carouse with subordinates and "engage in extra-marital affairs."
- This was a violation of the Uniform Code of Military
Justice rules against adultery and fraternization with subordinates. But,
as with all his other past behaviors, McCain was never penalized; instead
he always got away with his transgressions.
- Timberg wrote, "Off duty, usually on routine cross-country
flights to Yuma and El Centro, John started carousing and running around
with women. To make matters worse, some of the women with whom he was linked
by rumor were subordinates . . . At the time the rumors were so widespread
that, true or not, they became part of McCain's persona, impossible not
to take note of."
- In early 1977, Admiral Jim Holloway, Chief of Naval Operations
promoted McCain to captain and transferred him from his command position
"to Washington as the number-two man in the Navy's Senate liaison
office. McCain was promptly given total control of the office. It wasn't
long before the "fun loving and irreverent" McCain had turned
the liaison office into a "late-afternoon gathering spot where senators
and staffers, usually from the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees,
would drop in for a drink and the chance to unwind."
- In 1979, while attending a military reception in Hawaii,
McCain met and fell in love with Cindy Lou Hensley, 17 years his junior,
who was the daughter of James W. Hensley, a wealthy Anheuser-Busch distributor
from Phoenix, Arizona. McCain filed for and obtained an uncontested divorce
from his wife in Florida on April 2, 1980 and promptly married Cindy on
May 17, 1980.
- He resigned from the Navy in 1981 and went to work for
his father-in-law in Phoenix; where he used the opportunity to make powerful
and wealthy friends in Arizona including banker Charles Keating and Duke
Tully, the editor-in-chief of the Arizona Republic. Keating was later convicted
of fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy and Tully was disgraced for concocting
a phony military record of combat in Korea and Vietnam including medals
- McCain ran for Arizona's First Congressional District
in 1982. McCain won the congressional seat. In 1987 McCain was elected
to the US Senate.