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 John S. McCain Vietnam War POW Documents

John S. McCain Vietnam War POW Documents

350 pages of documents related to John S. McCain III and his time as a POW during the Vietnam War. Composed of CIA and Department of Defense files, a manuscript written by John McCain, audio of an oral history interview given by McCain, and other histories and photographs.


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On October 26, 1967, John McCain was flying an A-4E Skyhawk on his twenty-third mission over North Vietnam. McCain was participating in an air raid on the Hanoi thermal power plant. This mission was his first encounter with the heavy air defenses deployed by the North Vietnamese in and around Hanoi. His plane was hit by a Russian made surface to air missile. McCain ejected and landed badly injured in Truc Bach Lake. He was dragged from the lake and beaten by civilians along the shore. Thus, began John McCain's 5 1/2 years of captivity in North Vietnam.

He was taken to Hoa Lo Prison, also known as "Hanoi Hilton," where his captors refused to give him medical treatment. He was interrogated and handled roughly. He was denied medical treatment because his captors determined his wounds were fatal. After his captors learned his father was Admiral McCain and he could be used for propaganda, he was given medical treatment. Early on, this son and grandson of high-ranking naval officers was accorded relatively privileged status. But this still meant bad conditions, hostile abusive guards, poor food, and frequent boats of dysentery

McCain perceived that he was not being treated as harshly as his fellow captives. This allowed McCain to be insolent to the guards because he knew other American POWs did not have the freedom to do so. Then he refused early release, which he says he saw as a public relations stunt by his captors, insisting that POWs held longer than him should be granted their freedom first. Thereafter, McCain was treated much more severely.

In March 1968, McCain was put into solitary confinement, where he would remain for two years. In August 1968, a program of severe torture began on McCain. He was subjected to rope bindings and repeated beatings every two hours for four days. In his book Faith of my Fathers (2000) McCain wrote that he attempted to commit suicide twice but was caught by guards. He was then put under suicide watch. His injuries left him permanently incapable of raising his arms above his head. He signed a forced confession during the torture. When he resisted further attempts to be used for North Vietnamese propaganda, a regiment of beatings two or three times a week was established.  According to McCain, after the death of Ho Chi Minh, in the latter half of 1969, the North Vietnamese treatment of American POWs became less inhumane and the express torture ended. McCain was released on March 14, 1973. He returned home on crutches and began years of physical rehabilitation. McCain later regained flight status and commanded a Navy squadron before retiring from the Navy in 1981.

Sections in this collection Include:

John McCain Vietnam War POW CIA & Department of Defense Files

73 pages of CIA and Department of Defense documents and transcriptions of foreign broadcasts, from 1967 to 1973, relating to John McCain's captivity in North Vietnam.

The 36 pages of original documents plus their transcripts in this set are intercept reports from the CIA'S Foreign Broadcast Information Service and the Message Center of the U.S. Department of Defense National Military Command Center. The Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) is an open source intelligence component of the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology that monitors, translates, and disseminates within the US Government openly available news and information from non-US media sources. The FBIS became known as the Open Source Center (OSC) in 2005.

The files date from October 11, 1967 to February 20, 1973.

Highlights in this set include:

The broadcasts translated and/or transcribed include: A Vietnam News Agency international broadcast of an interview with John McCain. Vietnam News Agency broadcasts directed to U.S. personnel in South Vietnam concerning the capture of McCain. Radio Moscow international broadcast concerning the reporting in North Vietnam of the shot down of McCain. A Paris based, AFP - Agence France- Presse, broadcast of an interview with John McCain, conducted by French journalist Bernard-Joseph Cabanes. Radio Moscow domestic Russian report on a Pravda Review article concerning the air defenses in Hanoi, featuring North Vietnamese interview content of McCain. An Article written by French TV reporter Francois Chalais concerning American pilots held in North Vietnam, includes interviews with American pilots, including McCain.

A January 1970 Radio Havana broadcast of an interview of John McCain by Spanish psychiatrist Fernando Barral. This interview received attention because McCain mentions Lyndon Johnson's management of the war as president, and the status of his father, Admiral McCain in the chain of command. Barral concludes the piece with a harsh "psychological" assessment of McCain. Years later John McCain referred to the interview in his book, "Faith of My Fathers." McCain refereed to Barral as "a Cuban propagandist masquerading as a psychiatrist and moonlighting as a journalist."

John McCain Interrelated CIA Treatment of American POWs CIA Files

125 pages of selected CIA files dating from 1966 to 1971. The files concern the treatment of American POWs. The files cover: The exploitation of U.S. POWs for propaganda purposes. Experiences of American pilots captured in Vietnam. Intelligence on Hoa Lo Prison, also known as Hanoi Hilton. Lessons used in the indoctrination of American POWs. North Vietnamese policy toward American POWs. The Viet Cong practices involving the taking of POWs. The air raids that took place in and around Hanoi during the period of time of John McCain's last sortie. The use of POWs for propaganda broadcasts. The Viet Cong prison system for Vietnamese under their detention.

"The Code of Conduct and the Vietnam War," written by John S. McCain, Commander United States Navy

The 44-page report, "The Code of Conduct and the Vietnam War," by John S. McCain, Commander United States Navy, an April 8, 1974, individual research project conducted by John S. McCain, Commander, United States Navy, at the National War College. The purpose of this paper was to review the Code of Conduct in the perspective of the Vietnam prisoner of war experience and to make recommendations for changes to the code itself and to the training and indoctrination of the members of the Armed Forces in the Code of Conduct.

Audio - John S. McCain Veterans History Project Oral History Interview

28 minutes of audio of an oral history interview of John McCain given on January 29, 2003.

Topics covered include:

Choosing to be a Navy pilot
Futility of the air war tactics during the Vietnam War
How he was taken prisoner
Refusing early release according to the Code of Conduct
Staying mentally alert while a prisoner
How his captors used news of the anti-war movement
Returning from captivity, readjustment
Ernest Hemingway, McCain's life compared to "For Whom the Bell Tolls"
His predictions about the upcoming war in Iraq (2003)

John McCain Navy Citations

19 pages of U.S. Navy documents covering the Navy awards, medals and citations bestowed to John McCain.

The Battle Behind Bars Excerpts

10 pages of excerpts taken from the book "The Battle Behind Bars Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War," by Stuart I. Rochester, mentioning John McCain.

Voice of America Article: Former POWs Remember John McCain in Vietnam

September 1, 2018, Voice of America article by Marissa Melton, an interview with Orson Swindle, who was imprisoned with John McCain in Vietnam.



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