From his five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp to his tenure as the Navy's liaison to the Senate, John McCain's Navy record boils down to a series of unadorned paragraphs that bestow upon him some of the nation's top military honors.
The Navy recently released McCain's military record — most of it citations for medals during his Navy career — after a Freedom of Information Act request by The Associated Press.
McCain was awarded a Silver Star Medal for resisting "extreme mental and physical cruelties" inflicted upon him by his captors from late October to early December 1967, the early months of his captivity, according to the citation. The North Vietnamese, according to the Navy, ignored international agreements and tortured McCain "in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes."
McCain, now the Republican Party's likely presidential nominee, was taken prisoner in October 1967 after he was shot down while on a mission over Hanoi. He wasn't freed until March 1973, after the United States signed peace agreements with the North Vietnamese. His captors tortured him and held him in solitary confinement. Still, he declined an offer of early release until those who had been at the prison longer than him were let go.
That decision earned McCain a Navy Commendation Medal. Although McCain was "crippled from serious and ill-treated injuries," he steadfastly refused offers of freedom from those holding him prisoner. "His selfless action served as an example to others and his forthright refusal, by giving emphasis to the insidious nature of such releases, may have prevented a possibly chaotic deterioration in prisoner discipline," the citation says.
Achievements as a pilot and prisoner
McCain attended the U.S. Naval Academy from 1954 to 1958, and was commissioned as an ensign in June of that year. He retired in April 1981 with the rank of captain. In that time he received 17 awards and decorations. Besides the Silver Star Medal, McCain also received the Legion of Merit with a combat "V" and one gold star, a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Bronze Star Medal with a combat "V" and two gold stars.
Several citations mention his achievements either as a prisoner or as a lieutenant commander flying bombing runs off the deck of the USS Oriskany. Some are signed by then-Secretary of the Navy John Warner, who would become a colleague of McCain's in the Senate.
The citations refer to his "accurate ordnance delivery" and his "aggressive and skillful airmanship." He earned his Bronze Star the day before he was shot down, for participating in a mission over an airfield in Phuc Yen, 11 miles north of Hanoi.
The citation for his Distinguished Flying Cross sums up McCain's misfortune the following day:
"Although his aircraft was severely damaged, he continued his bomb delivery pass and released his bombs on the target. When the aircraft would not recover from the dive, Commander McCain was forced to eject over the target."
Years later, as his Navy career approached its end, McCain received the Legion of Merit Medal. By then, his missions were in the halls of Congress as a liaison to the Senate from the Navy's Office of Legislative Affairs.
He was praised for providing Navy leaders "with sage advice and sound judgment for enacting critical legislation during a period of severe fiscal constraint."
The following year, he ran for Congress from Arizona, and won.