Is John McCain a War Hero?

The senator's five years as a prisoner of war have been widely viewed as heroic. But as he prepares a White House bid, a small group of detractors is determined to expose him as a wartime traitor

Today, the United States spends $55 million each year in an effort to resolve questions of unaccounted-for soldiers. The unspoken reality is that the government is looking for bodies, not captives; no one wants to say they know there is no one left alive. To date, remains of about 500 of the 2,587 POW/MIAs unaccounted for after the Vietnam War have been recovered.

U.S. officials are trying to convince Hopper that they've found his son's remains. Costly expeditions into the jungle have yielded an engine plate with the serial number from Earl Jr.'s plane, some bone fragments and teeth.

Even if DNA tests show the remains to be Earl Jr.'s, it's unlikely that Earl Sr. will believe it. After all, the movement to rescue POW/MIAs has become his life. He met Patty through the movement, and they run a nonprofit POW/MIA research organization called Task Force Omega Incorporated out of their Glendale home.

"There are not many people out there that are that active in the POW issue anymore," Earl Hopper Sr. acknowledges. "Nor that many involved in anti-McCain. I know that people we talk to across the country, to include Washington, D.C., we seldom, seldom hear of anyone that likes McCain. We have had people who question what we would say or do about McCain, but after we showed them the documents that we have, then they would see why we feel that way."

On a recent afternoon, Earl and Patty Hopper sat in matching rockers in the den of their Glendale home, and enumerated John McCain's wartime sins:

* McCain's broken arms and leg were his own fault.
The Hoppers have no documentation of this--they have deduced it.
"When he bailed out of his jet, he was not in the right attitude, and that's how his arms and leg got broken, because he screwed up when he ejected," Earl says.
Adds Patty, "He didn't have his arms tucked in and his legs tucked together and back."

* McCain accepted special favors.
For proof, the Hoppers offer the U.S. News article and interviews McCain granted the French, Spanish and Vietnamese.
"The other POWs did not get the medical treatment that McCain got," Earl says. "Shortly after he was shot down, as you know, he was in a military hospital that was reserved for North Vietnamese officers. Clean sheets, nice soft bed, cast on his arm.
"Other POWs who came into the system like that had to endure broken bones sitting or lying in a cell. Many of them had broken backs, had no treatment whatsoever. If they gave them any treatment, it would be an aspirin."

* McCain was never tortured.
Patty: "There are a lot of little nuances, dealing with John McCain. He claims that he was tortured . . . or he implies it. That's a lie."
The Hoppers have located two former POWs who claim they were senior ranking officers at the time McCain says he was tortured in solitary confinement. Ted Guy and Gordon "Swede" Larson both tell New Times that while they could not guarantee that McCain was not physically harmed, they doubted it.
"Between the two of us, it's our belief, and to the best of our knowledge, that no prisoner was beaten or harmed physically in that camp [known as "The Plantation"]," Larson says. ". . . My only contention with the McCain deal is that while he was at The Plantation, to the best of my knowledge and Ted's knowledge, he was not physically abused in any way. No one was in that camp. It was the camp that people were released from."

* McCain was not singled out and offered early release.
Patty: "Whether he was actually sat down by the Vietnamese and singled out and said would you like to go home early and having him say no--"
Earl: "No proof of that."
Patty: "No. Only John's mouth."

* John McCain is no hero.
"I don't consider John McCain a hero," Earl says. "No. No way. That's propaganda that's put out by his people. And to prove that John's a fraud and a liar, is that he's done nothing to stop that propaganda from coming out. If he was really the man that he should be, he would come out and say, 'Look, that didn't happen to me. I wasn't that ill. I got special treatment.'"
Patty: "'--and I accepted special treatment, because I was afraid not to.'"

Orson Swindle, who slept next to John McCain for more than a year in the Hanoi Hilton, happened upon Craig Willbanks' handiwork on the Web recently. He was horrified. He disagrees with just about everything that comes out of the Hoppers' mouths.

As to the suggestion that McCain was responsible for his own broken bones, Swindle says, "The man's airplane . . . was turning ass over teakettle. Getting in the right position is sometimes damn difficult. In his case, he was missing the wing of an airplane and the airplane was tumbling. For anybody to make that statement, they display their ignorance, and I don't care who they are."

The date was October 26, 1967. I was on my 23rd mission, flying right over the heart of Hanoi in a dive at about 4,500 feet, when a Russian missile the size of a telephone pole came up--the sky was full of them--and blew the right wing off my Skyhawk dive bomber. It went into an introverted, almost straight-down spin.

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