Image: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and his wife Cindy
Stephan Savoia  /  AP
Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. introduced to Jacksonville, Fla., supporters by his wife Cindy, Monday, took the occasion to mention his first wife, Carol.
updated 9/15/2008 1:19:39 PM ET 2008-09-15T17:19:39

John McCain thanked Floridians on Monday for looking after his first wife and children when he was in a Hanoi prison, acknowledging a woman rarely mentioned in his Republican presidential campaign.

"I hope you know that in the years I was away in prison, the people of Orange Park, Florida, took care of my wife and family," the Republican presidential candidate told a crowd of several thousand during a rally at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, referring to Carol McCain and their three children.

"The people of Jacksonville opened their hearts to my family," he added. "My children had about 50,000 parents while I was gone and I'm very grateful." His second wife, Cindy, introduced him to the crowd.

Unknown to McCain until his return from Vietnam in 1973, Carol McCain was in a terrible car accident during his captivity and she needed 23 operations. A month after their divorce seven years later, he wed Cindy Hensley. They've been married for 28 years.

McCain wrote in his memoirs that Orange Park neighbors fixed his house, took kids to sports and "helped my family hold together, body and soul," and he's expressed gratitude for their support of Carol and the children in earlier campaign stops in the area. Yet she was ignored in a celebration of his life at the GOP convention this month.

Carol's sons Doug and Andy, whom McCain adopted after they married, and their daughter Sidney joined McCain as he accepted the nomination this month. They stood alongside Cindy McCain as well as that couple's four children, sons Jack and Jimmy, and daughters Meghan and Bridget. All seven appeared on the cover of People magazine.

But there was no mention of Carol during a campaign video. She also was omitted from a children's book Meghan McCain released during the convention. Titled "My Dad, John McCain," it highlights his family history and military service, including his time as a prisoner of war, but skips ahead to his marriage to Cindy McCain and their family life.

McCain blames the collapse of his first marriage on "my own selfishness and immaturity" and has called it "my greatest moral failing." Carol McCain has said the marriage fell apart "because John McCain didn't want to be 40, he wanted to be 25." She has continued to be quietly supportive of her ex-husband's career.

As a Naval Academy graduate, McCain was stationed for a year in Pensacola for pilot training and crashed a plane into Pensacola Bay. His family lived in Jacksonville for several years while he was a prisoner of war. Upon his release, he lived in Jacksonville, where he was a commanding officer of his squadron.

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