Many Americans know that the late Republican senator from Arizona was a war hero, a Navy aircraft carrier pilot, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in a Hanoi prison.
His plane was shot down during an attack on Hanoi in 1967 during the Vietnam War.
They also know McCain, was a presidential candidate in 2000, and the GOP nominee in 2008.
They may have been less aware that he and 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had become close friends, even before McCain joined the Senate, where Biden had served since 1973.
After McCain finally got out of prison, where he had been regularly beaten, tortured, and spent a couple years in solitary confinement, he returned to the US and resumed his Navy career.
In 1977, McCain was became the Navy’s liaison to the U.S. Senate. In that role, he drew assignments to travel abroad with Sen. Biden – and they, and their families, had become close friends, who often picnicked together, including in the Bidens’ back yard in Delaware.
After a few years, McCain – a US Naval Academy graduate like his father and grandfather – concluded he was unlikely to become a four-star admiral, as each of them had.
Besides, after being around Congress and the nation’s power center for a few years, he’d gotten quite interested in politics.
So after more than two decades in the Navy, afflicted with lifelong physical disabilities from his treatment in the Hanoi Hilton, as his fellow POWs dubbed their prison, he retired in 1981.
McCain moved to Arizona, his second wife Cindy’s family’s home state. He went to work in public relations at his father-in-law’s beer distributorship, and got very active in politics. He was elected to the House the next year.
When he reached the Senate four years later, in 1987, McCain built on his maverick reputation. Though mostly in tune with the Republicans’ conservative views, he joined the Democrats on some issues – supporting LGBT rights, gun regulations, campaign finance reform.
By the late 1990s, in his third term, he ran for his party’s 2000 presidential nomination – traveling in some states in a bus named “The Straight-Talk Express.”
He was unable to overcome the lead established by presidential son George W. Bush. But he continued to be re-elected to the Senate.
By the 2008 election, following Bush’s two terms, McCain managed to win the GOP nomination.
However, his new Senate colleague, Democrat Barack Obama of Illinois – who had nosed out another Senate colleague, former First Lady and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination – turned out to be a formidable adversary.
And, Obama had chosen for his running mate yet another senator – McCain’s friend, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.
McCain, though often direct and outspoken, also proved himself to be honest.
In one campaign town hall a woman in the audience questioned the half-Black Obama’s racial and ethnic origins. McCain, holding up his hand, described Obama as “a decent family man and citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”
McCain’s Hail-Mary choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a running mate also turned out to be a disaster. Obama and Biden won.
In 2015, when Donald Trump descended on an escalator in his New York Trump Tower to announce his presidential candidacy, he was asked about captured war hero McCain.
“I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump retorted.
McCain died of brain cancer Aug. 25, 2018, four days before his 82nd birthday. Donald Trump was distinctly not invited to his funeral, though at McCain’s request, George W. Bush and Barack Obama delivered eulogies.
Cindy McCain has joined the growing crowd of lifelong Republicans, including many former office-holders, backing Biden.
Here’s her ad for Biden, that began playing in Texas and elsewhere earlier this month:
“My husband knew Joe Biden a long time. They traveled thousands of miles together, visiting troops overseas. And they developed the kind of friendship you don’t see too often.
“In the Senate, they disagreed on almost everything. They’d fight like hell on the floor, and then they’d go eat lunch together. Because they always put their friendship, and their country, first.
“Now, more than ever, we need a president who will put service before self. A president who will lead with courage, and compassion, not ego.
“A president who will recognize the sacrifices made by our service members, and their families. A person who will honor our fallen heroes, and a president who will bring out the best in us – not the worst.
“Joe Biden has dedicated his life to this country – and working across the aisle to get things done. Joe will always fight for the American people – just like John did.”
Though tough to evaluate, her ad may swing some votes.
Contact Dave McNeely at email@example.com