Letters from the issue of April 8, 1999

John, We Hardly Knew Ye
Your feature articles are reliably engrossing enough to grab your copy hot off the press. With about average-citizen knowledge of our reputed hero senator, I was captivated by the excellence of your expose, "Is John McCain a War Hero?" (Amy Silverman, March 25). I knew tidbits from both sides, and was pleased to find this an impartial and comprehensive coverage, a truly fine piece of journalism.

While I am often moved by, and sometimes dubious about, your many revealing articles, this one struck a chord that has inspired me to respond. I am a Vietnam-era enlistee, not a hero, but like John had volunteered to serve not knowing if I would return. This was a basic call to duty, while heroes go above and beyond the call. Starting with the claims of his detractors, it first appeared in your report that the senator's character was in question. But reading on, I found myself pitying both sides.

The grief of losing a loved one, without knowing if or how they died, is one of the saddest commentaries in or out of war. It is a paradox that such grief, resulting from sincere love, can in turn produce absolute hate. Unfortunately for the senator, he's in the limelight, so he became the focus of those seeking to spotlight their dilemma. So he becomes the target, the scapegoat for the myriad emotions and frustrations suffered by those loving relatives. As sensitive as I am to the fate of my fellow servicemen, I was amazed with how perverse and vile the activists have become. It seems like most of the little nuances they talk about are more recent, postwar criticisms of McCain. The question of him being a hero is ancillary to their greater frustration, but it gives them something to vent on, since they can't just "hit a pillow" and be satisfied. It is really a sad, unresolvable situation for them.

On the other side is John McCain, unquestionably a POW, which in itself is a heroic calling above and beyond the call of duty, dead or alive. Cruel war imprisonment is perhaps the worst ongoing experience a person can suffer. It is a disgusting topic that has been exposed in such cinema portrayals as Schindler's List and Life Is Beautiful on the civilian side. But military solitary confinement in a closed space no bigger than a closet, interrogations and beatings leave nothing to question as far as being heroic or torturous. So many Vietnam vets, who were not POWs, have mental and emotional problems to this day from the strain of combat. I find it humanely magnificent that any POWs can function at all in society today, as well as continue to serve their nation.

Surely it would have been better if McCain and his aides had a better acumen for relating with the POW/MIA activists, but McCain unfortunately is caught in the middle of a difficult situation. At the time he supported normalization with Vietnam, I had my doubts about him, but through your article it is clear between the lines that without renewing diplomacy, he could not get further information from the only possible source, the captors. The true fate of all MIAs certainly is not on a list somewhere, and in some cases it might be better not to know. As cold as that may sound, atrocities of war can be vile to ponder, and any defectors who were pledged anonymity may not want to be found.

I hope and I pray that your article will improve the understanding on both sides of this pitifully dismal issue.

David Gironda

It is disheartening to live in a world where entire societies clamor for revenge for injuries and wrongs that are centuries old. About the time we start to see a glimmer of hope and cultural maturity between the ever-feuding Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, we have our collective faces pushed into the stew of hatreds and recriminations in the Balkans that originated a thousand years ago.

Now, I don't think John McCain is perfect. I'm not even sure that he is a "hero." But it is darned refreshing to know that someone out there has actually followed the 2,000-year-old Christian precept of forgiving those who have harmed them. Those who deduce that John McCain must be a traitor, or that he must not have really been tortured because he does not harbor hatred toward his former captors, just don't get it.

David Durfee

I just finished your article on Senator John McCain. I must confess: I had never heard any of the traitor stories that you brought to light.

I started reading your article as a strong McCain supporter. I finished as a strong McCain supporter. There seems to be a big difference in what these people say John McCain claims and what the senator actually claims. It's almost like they put words in his mouth so they can claim that he lies by saying those words.

To even claim that he in some way caused his broken bones because of what he did during his ejection from the aircraft . . . those folks are crazy. They lose any credibility instantly after that argument.

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