To many veterans, John McCain was one of the first faces of survival and hope during a hopeless time: the Vietnam War.
“We’ve lost a lot of heroes that we probably didn’t know their story, but Senator McCain, we knew his story,” said Bruce Foster, a Vietnam veteran and a department service officer for the American Legion.
For five-and-a-half years, McCain was held as a prisoner of war. His father and grandfather were admirals. He was offered early release but refused.
“He believed in the concept that the first one in was the first one out, and he would wait his turn,” said Foster.
Before being captured, McCain survived explosions on the U.S.S. Forrestal that killed 134 people. Middletown resident and Vietnam veteran Lou Braasch, who many know as Dan Steele on local radio, also survived.
“In all, we had seven 1,000-pound bombs go off. In fact, more ordnance detonated on the ship that day than on any ship since World War II,” Braasch said.
Steele says everyone knew and respected McCain and his lineage and admired how he sailed through life despite hardship.
“As veterans, you can never unsee what you’ve seen, you can never undo what you’ve done. We just try to move forward and live a good life, and I think that’s what Senator McCain did,” said Braasch.
As fate would have it, the pair’s paths would cross again a few decades later when McCain campaigned in York.
“I’m sure he didn’t recognize me from 45 years later, but he did recognize the hat and knew because I was on the West Pac crew — that stood for Western Pacific — he knew I was there when he was there, and we survived the same fire together,” said Braasch,
His political career was impressive, but for these men, his stripes were earned years earlier.
“I can say he will always remain a hero in my life,” said Foster.
“At the end of the day, we’ll write American hero after his name,” said Braasch.