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5 facts about John McCain

Arizona Senator John McCain died on Saturday, August 25, at the age of 81. Here are five facts you should know about the long-serving American statesman:

1. John Sidney McCain III was born in 1936 at a U.S. naval air station in the Panama Canal Zone, an area that was then controlled by the United States. As the son and grandson of the first father-son pair to achieve four-star admiral rank in the U.S. Navy (John S. McCain Sr. and John S. McCain Jr.), McCain knew he was destined to follow his family’s lead by attending the U.S. Naval Academy—even if it was not his choice. While in high school, he attempted to sabotage his chances for admission, and while at the academy, he was a rebel who barely graduated (his class ranking was fifth from the bottom of 899 students). Yet despite his lack of effort, McCain’s fellow students recognized him as a charismatic, natural-born leader.

2. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1958, McCain became a naval aviator. Still cocky and a bit reckless, he crashed a T-2 trainer jet in Virginia, an AD-6 Skyraider in Texas, and another Skyraider while “clowning” around in southern Spain (where he flew into electrical wires, causing a blackout). After McCain was sent to Vietnam in 1967, another of his planes was destroyed in an explosion on the deck of an aircraft carrier. A missile from another aircraft on the ship’s deck accidentally fired, slamming into the fuel tank of McCain's plane. He escaped the burning wreckage and helped another pilot escape the fire that killed 134 of his fellow sailors. Three months later, he was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi and taken prisoner. He was not faulted in either of those latter cases. During his career as a pilot in Vietnam, McCain earned several commendations, including a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Bronze Star Medal with a combat “V” and two gold stars.

3. On October 26, 1967, while flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam, McCain’s plan was struck by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. The ejection from the plane broke McCain’s right leg around the knee, his left arm, and his right arm in three places. When the North Vietnamese captured him, they shattered his right shoulder with a blow from a rifle and bayoneted him in the foot and groin. These injuries led to a six-week stay in a Vietnamese hospital, after which he was taken to a prison camp known as The Plantation. In 1968, the North Vietnamese offered McCain early release because his father was an important U.S. military figure. When he refused, they tortured him until he offered a false confession. The torture sessions would continue, often several times a week, for the next year. In 1969, he was moved to the Hỏa Lò Prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton.” He was moved back to the Plantation just months before his final release as a prisoner of war on March 14, 1973.

4. McCain retired from the Navy on April 1, 1981, with the rank of captain. A year later he began his political career by running for an open seat in Arizona's 1st congressional district. He would serve two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate in 1986, taking the seat formerly held by Barry Goldwater. McCain served six terms in the Senate, during which he twice ran for president. In the 2000 race, McCain lost the Republican nomination to George W. Bush. In 2008, McCain beat out several candidates—including Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani—to win the nomination, though he would go on to lose the general election to Barack Obama.

5. Although he was raised an Episcopalian, McCain spent the last 25 years of his life attending North Phoenix Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church. McCain was never baptized in the church, though his wife and two of their children were. In an interview in 2007, he said, “I didn't find it necessary to do so for my spiritual needs.” At the time he also told reporters, “I'm not Episcopalian. I'm Baptist.” On Thursday, thousands of people attended the memorial service held for McCain at North Phoenix Baptist Church. A viewing is also being held at the U.S. Capitol today, and on Saturday his casket will be moved by members of the Armed Forces to a motorcade, which takes him to the Washington National Cathedral for a final private funeral.

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