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GUEST COLUMN: Senator John McCain: An American hero

Willie Mae Samuel

Willie Mae Samuel, founder and director of the African American Connection for the Performing Arts in Rome

To: Democrats, Independents, Republicans, or people with no party affiliation — All Americans should respect and give honor to Senator John McCain. No one can say that McCain is not a hero after hearing his speech to all Americans on Monday when he was given the Liberty Award by former Vice President Joe Biden. His plea to America was one that will go down in history as one of the greatest statements of modern times. He said, “Let’s leave the history of who shot first to the historians. I suspect they’ll find we all conspired in our decline — either by deliberate actions or neglect. We’ve all played some role in it. Certainly I have. Sometimes, I’ve let my passion rule my reason. Sometimes, I made it harder to find common ground because of something harsh I said to a colleague. Sometimes, I wanted to win more for the sake of winning than to achieve a contested policy.”‘

 Nothing that he has done or said can cause me to lose respect for him. When Trump was in Alabama, spewing hate and encouraging his followers to boo and say hateful things about McCain, it was a good time for the straw-filled man to show his humanity for a man who has gotten a negative diagnosis about his brain cancer. This is why I say, and will not stop saying, that the man is filled with straw.

This country’s leader should show respect, not just because McCain is an American hero, but because we saw first-hand how nothing will keep him from standing for honor, dignity and integrity. On the campaign trail when he was running for president against Barak Obama, a town hall meeting was being held, and everything was going in his favor. The audience was chanting victory sayings. People were rooting for him and Sarah. After his opening speech, he began to take questions from the audience. One older Caucasian lady took the microphone and began to repeat some of the ugly things that were being said about then Senator Obama. McCain allowed her to speak most of what she had on her mind with all of the audience cheering her on. She was being motivated by the cheers. She then decided to repeat one of Donald Trump’s generated lies. She said, “You know, Senator Obama is a Muslim, and he was not…” It was at that point McCain reached out and gently took the microphone, and he began to speak by saying, “No, that is not true. Senator Barak Obama is a great man, and he is an American. No, he is not a Muslim.” How can we not respect a man for standing on truth and honesty even when there is a chance that he will lose the battle?

McCain is a man with principles, and he will let nothing cause him to stoop to a level where there is no standard. He stood up on principles long before this test was put before him. He was the son of a very high ranking Officer. He was on his 23rd mission flying over Hanoi in 1967 and was shot down. After McCain and his troops’ Skyhawk dive bomber was shot down, they were captured and held hostage as war prisoners. Through some means the captors found out that they had an important man in their midst whose name was John McCain. John Sidney "Jack" McCain Jr., a U.S. Navy admiral, was Senator McCain’s father. The leader approached him and said to him, “We are going to let you go. You are free. McCain’s question to the leader was, “Will my men go as well”? The answer was, “No only you. The others must stay”. John McCain said, “No I cannot… I mean I will not leave my men behind”. Up to that point he had been beaten particular the entire time under captivity. He had had broken arms, legs and other serious injuries not just from the crashing of the Skyhawk but from the beatings that were inflicted on him in the camp. When he was approached many times after that, his answer was still the same. “I am staying with my men”. He remained in captivity for 5 and a half years in solitary confinement much of the time. His men were there as well.

So when you see McCain, and he looks a little worn and walks a little funny and moves his arms a little funny, just remember that he is a true American hero, who even now, will not let his party draw a line for where his humanity begins or stops.

I doubt that the Alabama crew last week knew his story. For the young people across the nation to laugh when Trump called him names is because they do not know McCain’s story. The adults who laughed and agreed with the president should cover their faces and be ashamed that they did not tell the children the story of the American hero life’s story. Did you not tell the children the story because McCain does not think the way you do? Can we have principles in this country anymore? Are we going to be controlled by a dictator who tells us when to stand and when to speak? And where to walk and how loud to laugh and what side of the road to walk on and which water fountain to drink from and what stores we can shop in and which doors to use and who we can marry? As I continue to go down the list my mind leads to a time when America was not so great, and these were the very things that dominated our culture. Is it taking McCain to show us the way to a life of quality?

Someone had the audacity to say, ”Oh, he is just doing this because he is sick, and thinks that he might die.” I said, “Well, we all need to get prepared for that day because we, too, will take that journey. It matters not what time one seeks forgiveness as long as he reaches a point of seeing the error of his ways. Yes, Senator McCain has received devastating news about his battle with brain cancer. The surgery did not help, but it is so wonderful that he has reached this point, and I quote him, “I had a lot of time to think over there, and came to the conclusion that one of the most important things in life — along with a man's family — is to make some contribution to his country.”

John McCain, thank you for standing up and making your voice heard for people who have no voice. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat or Independent, what a wonderful gesture of kindness it would be to find a way to say “thank you to Senator John McCain for the courage shown back in 1967 and the courage to stand up for freedom in 2017.

Willie Mae Samuel is the founder and director of the African American Connection for the Performing Arts in Rome.