Archive for September, 2018

LA Class Submarines

Submarine classes are simple designations. They are a group of ships built to the same base blueprint with few differences between the ships. Classes are usually named after the first ship in the class. Changes will happen over time to the design, but they are usually modifications of the base model. A new class of submarines occurs when a completely different base blueprint is used to design a submarine rather than a simple modification. But what brings a new submarine design to life? In the case of the Los Angeles class, an event between a surface ship and a Soviet submarine led to a new class of submarine- the 688.
In January 1968, the USS Enterprise was coming out of San Francisco Bay on its way to Vietnam. Just outside of U.S waters, a Soviet trawler was patrolling. Thankfully for the Enterprise, Navy intelligence had warned her of its presence.

Figure 1 USS Enterprise https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/ships/enterprise.html

As the Enterprise inched closer, the Soviet trawler sent out a signal that was intercepted by intelligence. That could only mean one thing – a Soviet nuclear attack submarine was in the area. This encounter, while inexplosive or newsworthy, was a sign of a new type of warfare. When the Washington Post described it, they said, “Unlike the war going on in Vietnam, at sea there was no daily carnage, no body bags, nor even any causal ties. It was a war not covered by the media, blacked out as it was by layers of classification, but it was a war nonetheless, one in which nuclear submarines hunted each other throughout the oceans —stalking, aiming and firing imaginary torpedoes as practice for the day when it all could be real.” But this simple encounter paved the way for a new submarine design, one that could outweigh that of the Soviet Navy. While the Los Angeles Class of submarines proved to have numerous problems, it doesn’t change the fact that Admiral Rickover and his nuclear navy was always striving to make a stronger, more stealth submarine force.
Rickover was one of the first to hear the report of the Soviet submarine off the coast of California that January. Rickover knew that the United States would have to do something about the Soviets. They were building nuclear subs at an unprecedented rate. While their submarines might have been faster, the quick delivery of the fleet was leading to faulty ships and numerous problems. Nonetheless, it was a concern to Rickover and the United States. At this time, speed was the name of the game. In order to do this, development of compact high-energy nuclear reactors would be needed. Since 1964, Rickover had secretly been working on adapting a large surface-ship reactor and propulsion plant for submarine use. The Enterprise encounter gave Rickover his opportunity to show the importance of increasing submarine speeds to his superiors. The Enterprise was given the order to race the Soviet submarine. As she gained speed, the Enterprise believed she would outrun the Soviet sub at top speed in no time. Two days later, the Soviet sub was still in pursuit of the surface ship. At this point, the submarine was breaking all known speed records for its type. This race was confirming some of the U.S. worst fears- the old submarine class in the Soviet Navy was faster than any of the U.S. Navy’s newest ones.
The opposition was quick to Rickover’s high-speed design. It was too large, too noisy and too expensive. A little over a month after the Enterprise incident, seven submarine commanders met in secret with Rickover to come up with America’s next new nuclear submarine. The SSN 688 was developed by this secret group in 90 days. The new design could set speeds of 32 knots. However, to gain this speed, diving depth was sacrificed. This was an issue that the committee thought would eventually be solved – it wasn’t. The idea was approved, and full design conception was awarded to Newport News. Despite depth sacrifice, the Los Angeles class improved the fleet’s acoustic performance and led to a new knowledge of sound and speed. This led to the development of the Seawolf class.

Figure 2 Figure 3 http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-7EH3bXqk2_8/VFfF-qLy5PI/AAAAAAAAFJA/RUCat9WWakM/s1600/Los%2BAngeles-class%2Bsubmarine%2BFlight%2BI.jpg

As of 2018, 40 of the Los Angeles class submarines are still in service. The class has more active nuclear submarine than any other. The boats are all named after American towns and cities except for the USS Hyman G. Rickover. These namings were a departure from the tradition of naming attack submarines for ocean creatures. The actual top speed of the Los Angeles class is classified with official records saying over 25 knots. The maximum operating depth is 650ft but of course, this information is also classified, with the diving depths probably being greater. The class carries about 25 torpedo tube launched weapons. Thirty of the boats are equipped with 12 vertical launch systems tubes for firing Tomahawk cruise misses. Two watertight compartments are used, the forward compartment being where the crew lives and equipped with weapons handling spaces and control spaces. The aft contains the engineering system, power generation turbines, and water-making equipment. In the modified 688 design, the 688i, the forward diving planes were moved from the sail to the bow. The sail was strengthened for ice penetration, a mine laying capability was added, and the combat system was improved. While the Los-Angeles class is the backbone of the submarine force, as they age out, they are being replaced by the Virginia class which is a more affordable platform while retaining the acoustic qualities of the Seawolf class.

General Characteristics, Los Angeles Class

Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding Co.; General Dynamics Electric Boat Division
Date Deployed: Nov. 13, 1976 (USS Los Angeles)
Propulsion: One nuclear reactor, one shaft
Length: 360 feet (109.73 meters)
Beam: 33 feet (10.06 meters)
Displacement: Approximately 6,900 tons (7011 metric tons) submerged
Speed: 25+ knots (28+ miles per hour, 46.3 +kph)
Crew: 16 Officers; 127 Enlisted
Armament: Tomahawk missiles, VLS tubes (SSN 719 and later), MK48 torpedoes, four torpedo tubes
Ships:

USS Bremerton (SSN 698), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Jacksonville (SSN 699), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Dallas (SSN 700), Groton, CT
USS San Francisco (SSN 711), San Diego, CA
USS Buffalo (SSN 715), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Olympia (SSN 717), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Providence (SSN 719), Groton, CT
USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720), Groton, CT
USS Chicago (SSN 721), Guam
USS Key West (SSN 722), Guam
USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723), Guam
USS Louisville (SSN 724), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Helena> (SSN 725), Norfolk, Va.
USS Newport News (SSN 750), Norfolk, VA
USS San Juan (SSN 751), Groton, CT
USS Pasadena (SSN 752), San Diego, CA
USS Albany (SSN 753), Norfolk, VA
USS Topeka (SSN 754), Guam
USS Scranton (SSN 756), Norfolk, VA
USS Alexandria (SSN 757), Portsmouth, NH
USS Asheville (SSN 758), San Diego, CA
USS Jefferson City (SSN 759), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Annapolis (SSN 760), Groton, CT
USS Springfield (SSN 761), Groton, CT
USS Columbus (SSN 762), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Santa Fe (SSN 763), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Boise (SSN 764), Norfolk, VA
USS Montpelier (SSN 765), Norfolk, VA
USS Charlotte (SSN 766), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Hampton (SSN 767), San Diego, CA
USS Hartford (SSN 768), Groton, CT
USS Toledo (SSN 769), Groton, CT
USS Tucson (SSN 770), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Columbia (SSN 771), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Greeneville (SSN 772), Pearl Harbor, HI
USS Cheyenne (SSN 773), Pearl Harbor, HI

List from US Navy website. https://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4100&tid=100&ct=4Last updated April 2017

Washington Post quote from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1986/09/21/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-ssn-688/dc657615-8270-4c71-89c8-e546f596e3ae/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.cd4c2dfa361a

Benitez and the Cochino

September 15th marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. In honor of recognizing the feats of Hispanics in the Navy, we start with the story of CDR Rafael Benitez and his courageous crew on board the USS Cochino in 1949.

On the morning of 25 August 1949, during a training cruise north of the Arctic Circle, the submarine Cochino (SS-345), in company with Tusk (SS-426), attempted to submerge to snorkel depth in the Barents Sea, but the crashing waves played havoc with these efforts. At 1048, a muffled thud rocked Cochino and news of a fire in the after battery compartment quickly passed through the boat. A second explosion soon followed and CDR Rafael Benitez, the commanding officer, ordered all of the crew not on watch or fighting fires topside. During this orderly evacuation, however, Seaman J. E. Morgan fell overboard. The 48° water and the swells created by the 20 to 25 mph winds rapidly exhausted the sailor, so Chief Torpedoman’s Mate Hubert H. Rauch dove into the chilly sea to keep him afloat before Culinary Specialist Clarence Balthrop pulled him to safety.
At 1123, another explosion badly burned LCDR Richard M. Wright, the executive officer, and left him temporarily in a state of shock, as he moved to sever the connection between the after and forward batteries on board Cochino to stem the generation of dangerous hydrogen gas. Thanks in part to a safety line run by LT (j.g.) Charles Cushman, Jr., by 1208, 60 men huddled, cold and wet, on the bridge and deck of the submarine. Almost all of them had not had time to dress properly for the stormy weather. It was no better for those who remained below, as men began to pass out from the gas and toxic smoke. At 1230, Tusk attempted to come alongside, but the swells and wind made this nearly impossible, but she did manage to send needed medical supplies to Cochino by raft.

CDR Benitez decided that he needed get word of the dire conditions on board to Tusk and the Commander, Submarine Development Group Two. Aware of the perils that awaited him, ENS John Shelton agreed to make the attempt as did a civilian engineer on board, Mr. Robert Philo. After receiving confirmation of Philo’s desire to make the journey, CDR Benitez ordered the men lowered into the angry sea, but their raft immediately overturned. Sailors from Tusk pulled Shelton and Philo alongside as they desperately clung to the raft, but the waves that swept across the submarine prevented them being brought on board. Seaman Norman Walker jumped into water to help both men onto Tusk, but not before the waves slammed Philo’s head against the hull. By this time, fifteen men from that submarine stood on the deck handling lines and attempting to resuscitate Philo, when an unusually large wave broke one of the lifelines and swept eleven members of the Tusk crew and the still unconscious Philo overboard. In addition to Philo, the sea claimed the lives of six of Tusk’s crew including Electrician’s Mate John Guttermuth whose inflatable life jacket had burst upon hitting the water which left only his boots inflated as he attempted to save the unconscious Fireman Robert F. Brunner, Jr. He fought desperately to keep his head above water, but eventually drowned in the frigid sea with his boots still visible above the water. A kinder fate awaited LT (j.g.) Philip Pennington when LCDR George Cook dove over the side to pluck him from the unruly waves. Of two life rafts thrown to those who been swept overboard, one was recovered empty, but the other contained Torpedoman’s Mate Raymond Reardon who suffered gravely from exposure to the elements. Engineman Henry McFarland entered the water but could not reach the raft then Seaman Raymond Shugar overcame the raging waters long enough to attach a line to Reardon who was subsequently rescued.
By 1800, Cochino had regained power and signaled Tusk that she could make ten knots but had no steering. It appeared the crippled boat might make it back to Norway. However, at 2306 she suffered a fatal blow in the form of yet another battery explosion. Tusk loosed her ready torpedoes then transferred the 76 officers and men from the stricken submarine. CDR Benitez, the last to leave Cochino, departed only minutes before the boat slipped beneath the waves. These selfless acts of heroism provide an example of the dedication and comradery that animates our submariners. Only their bravery and professionalism kept the tragic toll from being far higher. (Story taken from https://www.navalhistory.org/2010/08/25/the-loss-of-the-uss-cochino-ss-345)

Benitez, just like any captain, made sure the rest of his crew went to safety before saving his own life. According to a New York Times article about his death, Benitez, before jumping to safety, said, ”I’m not abandoning ship.” The plank they were using to escape to the Tusk was about to shatter when he crossed. Two minutes later and 15 hours after the fire had broken out, Cochino would be lost to the ocean. Both crews did everything they could that day. The trip to port after the accident was a somber one as they remembered those that were lost. When finally on land, the crew of the Cochino was asked to fly home or ride cramped, with the crew of the Tusk back home. The crew, submariners through and through, went home with the crew of the Tusk. Benitez, a native of Puerto Rico, would continue to serve in the Navy until 1959. The heroism of both crews will forever be remembered as well as those who lost their lives on that fateful day.

Navy Tattoo Culture

One image that often comes to mind in popular culture about sailors is tattoos. This popular image is rooted in centuries of nautical traditions. Beginning with the British Royal Navy in the 1700’s during their Tahitian voyages, British sailors were intrigued by the body art that the native Tahitians displayed. Eventually, the body art would travel to American sailors, where being tattooed became a permanent part of the maritime culture. During the American Revolution, the British often destroyed American citizenship papers, so sailors would tattoo their identification information to avoid illegal recruiting by the British Navy. By the mid-19th century. Many sailors would become amateur tattoo artists, using India ink to keep busy during down times in long voyages. “Shops” were set up wherever and whenever it was possible. Port towns became havens for tattoo businesses. It is said that Franklin Paul Rogers, known for his development of modern tattooing machinery, learned the trade from August Coleman who made a living in Norfolk, Virginia tattooing sailors.

A sailor getting a tattoo during WWII on the USS New Jersey https://pugetsoundnavymuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/nara-2sailorswwiinewjersey.jpg

Early maritime tattoo designs were usually initials, names, and nautical symbols. Many of these symbols represented unique aspects of life on the high seas. For example, a sailor with a tattoo of a full-rigged sailing ship had completed the journey around Cape Horn. During the Civil War, tattoos of the clash between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia could be found being on sailor’s arms. After WWI, tattooing lost some of its social acceptance in America but remained popular in the military. They came to represent the places sailors had been. Dragons for Asia or Hulu girls for Hawaii. Some got a swallow for every 5,000 miles sailed.

In addition to indicating that a sailor had sailed 5000 miles, swallow tattoos are also associated with the idea of return. This “return” symbolism is rooted in two ideas. The first was the swallow’s famous migration pattern, always returning home to San Juan Capistrano. Second, it was believed that if a sailor dies at sea, birds carry his soul home to heaven. https://sailorjerry.com/en/tattoos/

In addition, it would not be the Navy without some superstition and tradition. Some sailors believed that tattooing a pig and a rooster on each foot would prevent them from drowning. During WWII, popular tattoos were symbols that reminded the sailors of the homes they had left behind. Names of girlfriends and wives or a hometown symbol. It was during this period that the popular pinup girl tattoos and mermaids became common. According to statistics, 65% of WWII sailors had tattoos, the highest of any of the military branches. The connection between the Navy and tattoos became so widely known that a song in the film There’s No Business Like Show Business references it:

Sailor’s Not A Sailor (’till A Sailor’s Been Tattooed) sung by Mitzi Gaynor and Ethel Merman
[Merman] I’m an old salt
[Gaynor] I’m a young salt
[Both] In the Navy we’ve been working very hard
[Merman] I was part of the Flotilla with Dewey in Manila
[Gaynor] I’m a new recruit at the Brooklyn Navy yard
[Both] Tonight we’re on a spree and feeling flow’ry
We’ve got a date with gals and drink and food
[Gaynor] Across the Brooklyn bridge and to the Bow’ry
[Merman] And I’m gonna get the kid tattooed
[Gaynor] Tattooed?
[Merman] Tattooed!
[Both] A sailor’s not a sailor ‘til a sailor’s been tattooed
[Merman] Here’s an anchor from a tanker
That I sailed upon when first I went to sea
Here’s another of my mother
Takes me back to when I sat upon her knee
Here’s a crimson heart with a Cupid’s dart
Here’s a Battle Cruiser and when I sit down
On that, too
There’s a tattoo
Of my hometown
[Gaynor] To the Bow’ry
[Merman] To the Bow’ry
[Gaynor] ‘Cross the Brooklyn Bridge and I’m just in the mood
[Merman] He’ll be filled with diff’rent mixtures
And covered up with pictures
[Gaynor] I can’t wait to be, ‘twill be great to be tattooed
[Merman] Tattooed?
[Gaynor] Tattooed!
[Both] A sailor’s not a sailor ‘till a sailor’s been tattooed

The superstition behind this tattoo has to do with the wooden cages where roosters and pigs were kept in on ships. When ships wrecked, the lightweight wooden frames became personal flotation devices, giving them a surprising survival rate. A sailor hoping for good luck would get a rooster tattoo on top of the right foot and a pig tattoo on top of the left.
https://sailorjerry.com/en/tattoos/

Today’s booming tattoo culture has its maritime roots to thank. The connection of tattoos and sailors is so popular that in 2016, the US navy amended its policy on tattoos, considering 1 in 3 individuals were already sporting ink before joining. The new policy allowed neck tattoos, sleeves, and markings behind the ears. The only place off limits – a sailor’s head. When put in place, this policy was the most lenient of any of the branches. The change made many sailors happy, saying that higher officials were recognizing and accepting its own culture. In 2016, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens said, “We just got to the point where we realized we needed to be honest with ourselves and put something in place that was going to reflect the realities of our country and the needs of our navy. We need to make sure that we’re not missing any opportunities to recruit and retain the best and the brightest because of our policies.” Despite this easing in policy, tattoos that are Obscene, advocate discrimination or sexually explicit are still not allowed. The history of sailors and tattoos was documented in an exhibit at the Puget Sound Museum from 2015-2017 called “Skin Deep: The Nautical Roots of Tattoo Culture.” Tattoos will always be a part of Navy culture. Whether a sailor has ink or not- there is no denying its place in Navy traditions.

At sea, the anchor is the most secure object in a sailor’s life, making it the perfect representation of stability. This is why you’ll often see anchor tattoos emblazoned with “Mom” or the name of a sailor’s sweetheart (the people who keep them grounded). Anchors have become popular within general tattoo culture over the years, but the symbolism is still the same. It’s a reminder of what keeps you steady. https://sailorjerry.com/en/tattoos/

John S. McCain III: A Brief Navy Biography

From the Naval History and Heritage and Command Website:

https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/people/profiles-in-duty/profiles-in-duty-vietnam/john-s–mccain-iii/john-s–mccain-iii–a-brief-navy-biography-.html

John S. McCain III: A Brief Navy Biography

Family Heritage: John Sydney McCain III was born on 29 August 1936 in Coco Solo, near Colón, in the Panama Canal Zone. His father and grandfather were naval officers and graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy. John III’s entire naval career was shaped and influenced by these two great men. Their example helped him survive air combat as well as torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. His autobiography, Faith of My Fathers, is an homage to their memory.

Midshipman John S. McCain Sr., 1906

Midshipman John S. McCain Jr., 1931

Midshipman John S. McCain III, 1958

Grandfather: Admiral John S. “Slew” McCain Sr. was born in 1884 and graduated from USNA in 1906. He served as the engineering officer on San Diego (ACR-6) during World War I until May 1918.[1] Designated a naval aviator in 1936, he went on to command Aircraft, South Pacific, and South Pacific Force, during the 1942 Solomon Islands Campaign. Later in the war, he commanded TF-38 (part of Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet) during the drive into the Philippines, the capture of Okinawa, and the surrender of Japan. For this command, he received the Navy Cross. John S. McCain died four days after VJ Day of war-related stress. He was a vice admiral on death but was posthumously promoted to admiral in 1945 by a joint resolution of Congress.
Father: Admiral John S. “Jack” McCain Jr. was born in 1911 and graduated from USNA in 1931. During World War II, he commanded the submarine Gunnel (SS-253), which performed reconnaissance in North Africa prior to the landings there. He later took the boat to the Pacific where he sank a Japanese destroyer and damaged additional enemy shipping. He also commanded Dentuda (SS-335), which saw action late in the war. During the Cold War, he served in a number of shore and fleet assignments, including command of Albany (CA-123) from 1957–1958; Commander Amphibious Force Atlantic, 1963–1965; and Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces Europe (CINCUSNAVEUR), 1967–1968. In July 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War, he became Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command (CINCPAC), a position he held until he retired in 1972. Jack McCain died in 1981.
Education: John S. McCain III graduated from Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA, in 1954 and then “entered his father’s business.”[2] McCain enjoyed “every minute” of his USNA experience except the academic portions of the academy and the harsh treatment he often received from some of the upperclassmen and officers there. He graduated 894 out of a class of 899. “I got by, just barely at times, but I got by.”[3] Many years later he would draw heavily on his academy experiences to help him survive the rigors of the Hanoi Hilton.[4]
Early Navy Career as a Naval Aviator: McCain entered flight school in 1958. While still in flight training on 12 March 1960, he crashed an AD-6 into Corpus Christi Bay. The engine quit while he was practicing landings. Although he barely managed to exit the plane after ditching it in the bay, he suffered no serious injuries. Following graduation from flight training in 1960, McCain served in VA-65 until 1963. In December 1961, “I knocked down some power lines while flying too low [in an A-1] over southern Spain. My daredevil clowning had cut off electricity to a great many Spanish homes and created a small international incident.”[5] In 1962, his unit deployed to the Caribbean on Enterprise (CVN-65) during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In November 1965, McCain had a third accident in a T-2 jet trainer as an instructor pilot with VT-7. He suffered an engine flame-out and ejected from the aircraft. The Naval Aviation Safety Center was unable to determine the cause of the accident. 1965 was also the year McCain married his first wife, Carol Shepp, a divorced mother with two sons.
Service in Vietnam with VA-46: McCain joined VA-46 in April 1967 and deployed to Southeast Asia in the summer of that year─the apogee of President Lyndon Johnson’s Rolling Thunder bombing campaign against North Vietnam. As an A-4 Skyhawk pilot, McCain flew some of the most dangerous missions of the war in an older aircraft poorly equipped to defend itself against the multilayered air defense system the North Vietnamese developed by the mid-1960s. In 1967, the communist regime fielded over twenty SA-2 missile battalions, more than 1,500 large caliber antiaircraft artillery, and many thousands of medium and small caliber weapons. The United States would not develop effective countermeasures to offset this system until late in the war. A-4s, as a consequence, suffered the highest loss rate of any Navy plane in Vietnam.[6] More than 195 were downed compared to 75 F-4s, the next highest number. McCain’s unit, the Saints, suffered a casualty rate of 30 percent during the year he served— one-third of the pilots were either killed or captured.[7]
Forrestal Fire: McCain not only had to fly into the teeth of some of the most sophisticated air defenses on the planet at the time, he also confronted shipboard hazards. On 29 July 1967, stray voltage from a mobile engine starter triggered a Zuni rocket to launch from an F-4 waiting for takeoff on the deck of Forrestal (CV-59). The rocket struck the belly fuel tank of McCain’s aircraft, killing Airman Thomas D. Ott, McCain’s parachute rigger.[8] McCain managed to jump out of his cockpit ten feet into a fire. He rolled through the fire and then a bomb exploded, blowing him ten feet and killing a large number of Sailors. Eventually, McCain managed to make his way to sickbay to have his burns and shrapnel wounds treated. It took damage control parties 24 hours to fully control the blaze. By that time, the fire and ordnance explosions had killed 134 Sailors, injured 161, and destroyed 21 aircraft. The event occurred just prior to what would have been McCain’s sixth combat mission. Determined to complete a full combat tour, McCain and a few others from his unit volunteered to transfer to VA-163 on Oriskany (CV-34), which had also recently suffered a terrible fire.
Shootdown, 26 October 1967: Of the more than 9,000 SA-2 Guideline missiles fired between 1965 and 1972, fewer than two percent brought down aircraft. McCain belongs to this small club, but his shootdown was not the result of poor airmanship. Rather, it resulted from a willingness of McCain to take a calculated risk to destroy an important target: the Hanoi thermal power plant. The day before, he pleaded with the squadron operations officer to put him on the roster for the large Alpha strike scheduled the next day. Four Navy squadrons participated in the raid. It was McCain’s twenty-third mission and his first attack on Hanoi. The strike force was tracked by North Vietnamese radars as it went feet dry[9], and soon McCain could see smoke plumes from SA-2 launches. The SA-2 was developed to take down slow flying bombers flying between 3,000 and 50,000 feet. With enough warning, an A-4 could outmaneuver these missiles. At the time of his shoot-down, McCain’s aircraft was at 3,500 feet.[10] He had received a good warning tone, indicating that a missile was tracking him, but he felt he had time to drop his bombs on the target next to a small lake and then outmaneuver the missile. He managed to release his bombload just before the missile impact. “If I had started jinking I would have never had time, nor, probably, the nerve to go back in once I had lost the SAM.” [11]
Prisoner of War, 26 October 1967–14 March 1973: The missile shattered one of the wings of McCain’s A-4, forcing him to bailout upside down at high speed. The force of the ejection broke his right leg, his right arm in three places, his left arm, tore his helmet off, and knocked him unconscious. He nearly died when he descended into a lake in the middle of Hanoi. He somehow regained consciousness, kicked himself twice to the surface, and floated back down. Finally, after activating his life preserver, he made it to the surface only to be attacked and bayoneted by an angry mob of civilians. No one reached the Hoa Lo Prison (aka the Hanoi Hilton) in worse condition than McCain. Dumped in an empty cell, he was interrogated for four days before his captors brought him to a hospital after learning that his father was a four-star admiral and CINCUSNAVEUR.[12] By that time he was feverish, unable to hold down food (guards had to feed him by hand because of his injuries), semiconscious, and his right knee had swollen to the size of a football.[13] Although McCain received blood and plasma, he was not washed for six weeks. For two straight hours, a doctor tried to set the bones in his right arm without anesthetics. Finally, the attendant settled for wrapping him a body cast. Eventually the Vietnamese operated on his bad leg and outfitted him with another cast. He was then transported to another jail known as the Plantation and put in a cell with two Air Force majors: George “Bud” Day and Norris Overly.
Plantation, Solitary Confinement, and Torture: At the time of his shoot-down, McCain was 31 years old, but to Day he looked like a “white-haired skeleton.” His head and body were covered in grime. Food particles clung to his face and hair, and he could not wash or relieve himself without assistance. Overly thought he appeared “damn near dead.” The two majors provided nursing home-type care for McCain until early 1968, when Overly and then Day were transferred out of the cell. McCain would spend the next two years in solitary confinement. On top of that, he was tortured regularly beginning in July 1968—the same month his father became CINCPAC. His torturer, known as Cat, singled him out for what was probably the harshest sustained persecution of any prisoner at the Plantation. For over a year, he was trussed with ropes and/or beaten for two to three hour stretches at a time until, like many other POWs from this period, he signed a confession of criminal wrongdoing and apology—permissible under the revised code of conduct.[14] This statement was all the Vietnamese ever got from McCain. He did not meet with delegations for propaganda purposes, did not divulge classified information, and refused to take an early release despite being recommended for one by the POW chain of command due to his severe injuries. McCain had amazing resilience. Time and again, he endured abuse only to bounce back again to focus on cheering up his fellow POWs with cryptic communications using the tap code. He also became a principal officer in POW resistance operations at the Plantation. Despite occasional disagreements over politics, none of the twenty POWs interviewed over the years would disagree with this statement: “McCain kept the faith with his squadron mates in the 4th Allied POW Wing, his father, and the U.S. Navy; his service in Hanoi was nothing short of heroic and exemplary.”[15]
Release and Postwar Naval Career: McCain’s wounds never completely healed in Vietnam, and he could never again raise his arms above his head. Following his release on 14 March 1973, he spent nearly five months recuperating and receiving medical treatment. He then attended the National War College and became the commanding officer of VA-174, which received a meritorious unit commendation under his leadership. Unfortunately, his first marriage did not survive Vietnam, an outcome he blames entirely on himself. He met his current wife, Cindy, a former schoolteacher from Arizona, in 1979 while serving with the Navy’s Office of Legislative Liaison in the Senate. In this legislative affairs role, McCain excelled. He played a key behind-the-scenes role in securing congressional support for a new supercarrier, despite White House opposition. Because of his injuries, his likelihood of promotion to flag officer was low, so he opted instead to retire from the Navy in 1981 at the rank of captain. His decorations include the Silver Star Medal, the Legion of Merit with Combat ‘V’ and one gold star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal with Combat ‘V’ and two gold stars, and the Purple Heart Medal with one gold star.
After retirement, he was elected to the House in 1983 and the Senate in 1987. He ran unsuccessfully for President in 2008. Senator McCain passed away on 25 August 2018.
Prepared by John Sherwood, Ph.D., Naval History & Heritage Command, October 2017
_________________________________

[1] Note: He transferred off the ship prior to its mining on 19 July 1918. NHHC is currently re-examining the cause of its sinking.
[2] John McCain with Mark Salter, Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir (New York: Random House, 1999), 109.
[3] Ibid., 134.
[4] Ibid., 152.
[5] Ibid., 159.
[6] John Darrell Sherwood, Afterburner: Naval Aviators and the Vietnam War (New York: NYU Press, 2004), 29-32.
[7] John McCain with Mark Salter, Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir (New York: Random House, 1999), 182-183.
[8] Note: His body was never recovered.
[9] Note: Aviator slang for flying over land.
[10] Dr. Joseph Arena, OSD Historian; Dr. Glen Asner, OSD Deputy Chief Historian; Dr. Erin Mahan, OSD Chief Historian; Dr. John Sherwood, Historian, Naval History and Heritage Command, “The Origins of Offset, 1945–1979,” Historical Office of the Secretary of Defense, October 2016, 50.
[11] John McCain with Mark Salter, Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir (New York: Random House, 1999), 182-183.
[12] His father received a call from Admiral Thomas Moorer, then CNO, who told him: “Jack, we don’t think he survived.” John’s mother in turn called his wife, telling her to expect the worst. See John McCain with Mark Salter, Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir (New York: Random House, 1999), 192.
[13] Stuart I. Rochester and Frederick Kiley, Honor Bound: The History of American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia (Washington, DC: Historical Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1998), 360.
[14] The Vietnam War-era Code of Conduct arose out of the Korean War experience. In Korea, there had been a breakdown in morale, primarily among enlisted POWs, and widespread collaboration had occurred. The code called for POWs to make every effort to escape, to accept no special favors from the enemy and, when questioned, only to give one’s name, rank, serial number, and date of birth—the big four and nothing more. This code became untenable in Hanoi, where camp authorities ignored the Geneva Convention and subjected POWs to severe torture and depravity. POW leadership developed policies known as Plums to expand (and in some cases substitute for) the code. Plums required a pilot to take physical abuse and torture before acceding to specific demands but did not expect a man to die or seriously jeopardize his health and safety. However, there would be no early releases, no appearances for propaganda, and any flexibility or freelancing would be subordinated to the need for unity and discipline.
[15] Stuart I. Rochester and Frederick Kiley, Honor Bound: The History of American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia (Washington, DC: Historical Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1998), 361–364; John Sherwood, interviews with Vietnam-era POWs, NHHC.

Published:Wed Aug 29 14:19:13 EDT 2018