Op-Ed » Mary O’KEEFE

Remembering Senator John McCain

On Saturday the world heard the sad news of the passing of Senator John McCain. His service to his country has been unwavering. He served in Vietnam, was a prisoner of war, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona in 1982 and elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986.

There have been a lot of tributes to Senator McCain, from both sides of the aisle in Washington, from friends, families and from those who served with him in Vietnam including a man who shared a cell with him when they were prisoners of war in the “Hanoi Hilton” and even a soldier who was his jailer. The one consistency of all of the praise is the admiration for this man who was an American hero not only because of his service to his country but because of his humanity and support of fellow veterans.

I would like to write, however, from a personal point of view. Senator McCain helped my dad when he hit the Veteran’s Administration wall of red tape. Dad served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. While at boot camp in Texas, he was diagnosed with polio. He was sent to the hospital and the Air Force sent a letter to Grandma stating Dad would be sent home due to this diagnosis. As Grandma waited to hear when Dad’s bus would arrive back home, she found instead he was sent to Korea. Apparently he had recovered, which was not uncommon, and the powers-that-be sent him overseas. While he was on base, polio affected him again and he was hospitalized in Japan. Grandma got another letter stating he would be home due to polio.

He recovered and was sent back to base.

When Dad was in his late 60s he began to have symptoms of Polio Syndrome – again not uncommon with those who had polio. He needed the information from his service records for his doctor, but found, according to the Veteran’s Administration, he had never been diagnosed with polio even though we had the letters confirming the diagnosis that had been sent to Grandma.

Dad spent years working with the VA trying to get his records, and each time was told he had been mistaken about the diagnosis. My dad had been a leader in the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled Veterans Administration. He had helped so many veterans stretching from World War II to Vietnam. He did become frustrated with the VA over the years but was the most patriotic person I have ever met and always believed that the government would support veterans. The fact that he was brushed aside by the VA didn’t just ignite his Irish anger but hurt him deeply. This is where Senator McCain stepped in.

My cousin had worked for Senator Barry Goldwater when he got out of law school and had met Mr. McCain then. My cousin called the Senator and within a few days the VA responded to Dad. It was not easy getting the information, even for a U.S. Senator, but Mr. McCain never gave up and kept Dad in the loop of how it was going. Along the way he even found that Dad had been awarded medals he had no idea he had earned. Eventually he got enough information to help my dad with his medical history.

My family is so grateful to the time Senator McCain spent to help my dad, and he thanked my dad for his service, which meant so much to him.

The respect Mr. McCain showed my dad is something I will never forget. Although he was a powerful Senator, to my dad he was a man of integrity and a veteran reaching out to help a brother in arms even though they fought in wars separated by a generation.

His courage and Maverick approach to politics is so needed today. He truly will be missed.

Photo courtesy of Michael MORGAN