During my 2016 trip to Vietnam, our cabdriver said, “Look, that is the John McCain Memorial.” A monument near the Truch Bach Lake in Hanoi shows where McCain’s plane was shot down by enemy forces during a U.S. bombing mission during the Vietnam War on Oct. 27, 1967.
“Why do you have a memorial to him?” I asked.
“Everyone wants to know where he was shot down. He’s an American senator!”
After U.S. Senator John McCain’s death on Aug. 25, widespread mourning in Vietnam was reported. Respectful remembrance poured forth from a communist-led country that the U.S. bitterly fought from 1955-1975. A country where McCain, as a POW, was tortured and incarcerated at the infamous Hoa Loa Prison (“Hanoi Hilton”) for 5 1/2 years, two of which were spent in solitary confinement. He never sold out his country even when offered early release, adhering to “first in, first out.”
Modern-day Vietnam revers McCain because he was a dynamic force for normalizing relations with the U.S. in 1995. Today, Vietnam is a powerful security partner within Asia for the U.S.
The people of this socialist republic have normal lives and can worship freely. I was in Ho Chi Minh City and in Hanoi when I saw loudspeakers placed outside of Catholic churches to accommodate overflow attendance. The Vietnamese are grateful to the U.S. as an influential force for lifting them out of post-war poverty and misery.
John McCain played a big part. Their praise and ours in the U.S. recognizes a man whose accomplishments spoke to the greater good and to future vision.
Our country is in a sorry state of partisan paralysis. Self-interests and party politics trump national unity. McCain’s life role modeled how to forgive enemies, reach across the aisle and to work toward a better future. Trauma he personally suffered in Vietnam did not stop the Republican senator from Arizona from doing the right thing.
I visited the dreaded Hoa Loa Prison in Hanoi, originally built by the French in 1886 to imprison Vietnamese dissidents under horrific conditions. An original guillotine and photos of Vietnamese prisoners held in long rows by leg shackles are displayed. Hoa Loa translates to “fiery furnace.” Today, an original portion of the prison exists as a museum. The demolished section holding American POW’s is now a luxury condo.
In the museum are photos of American POWs. McCain’s red and white striped prison clothes are framed. The original cells are dungeon-like, impenetrable, with stained, decaying walls and rusty iron bars. Close a cell door and be entombed in darkness. This may have been McCain’s nightmare for over five years.
Yet, he did what modern-day leaders cannot seem to do, and that is, to reach beyond himself and work toward a just society, here and abroad, that offers peace and security to the common person. Rare is his selflessness and wisdom. Position and power are temporary. John McCain’s legacy of action toward higher ideals is everlasting.
— Email Suzette Martinez Standring at firstname.lastname@example.org.