Rancorous, thanks to Trump


What is the difference between Donald Trump and Bozo the Clown? Well, not much besides makeup or long floppy shoes.

But, just because Trump is an entertaining world-class gasbag doesn’t mean he is wrong. He is absolutely right in pointing out the failure of our federal government to stop illegal immigration. On the other hand, Trump was dead wrong to belittle John McCain’s war record. On both issues Trump appealed to our inner voyeur, buying him some pan-flashing popularity in a media far more hungry for controversy than for perspective.

That means, I think, Trump’s surge in the polls is both artificial and temporary, attracting voter attention like looky-loos unable to help themselves gazing at blood-pools while passing a wreck.

That is too bad in a way because a Trump presidency would be a bit like enjoying “The Pink Panther’s” Inspector Jacques Clouseau, wondering every time we turn on TV news what disaster his oblivious screw-ups will bring us next. Such unfortunate entertainment would be a welcome relief from watching our current president intentionally dismantle everything American he touches.

Trump’s comments about John McCain were beyond stupid. When he said McCain is no hero because he was captured, he goofed in ways he will probably never understand. You don’t have to serve in the military to be an honorable person, but you should be smart enough to be silent when it comes to criticizing the service of others, especially service in combat.

I daresay every combat vet I know doesn’t like being called a hero anyway, because we know the real heroes are the ones who never came home alive. That said, I will give you a brief glimpse of John McCain’s war service, which I revere even though I have often had occasion to think him a jerk in his more recent role as U.S. Senator.

McCain was a Navy lieutenant commander with a mixed record, including some low performance and screw-ups, when he volunteered for combat duty. He was assigned to the carrier USS Forrestal, off the coast of Vietnam, as an A-4E Skyhawk bomber pilot.

Being launched off a carrier deck like a slingshot in a jet overloaded with ordinance, then trying to land on a pitching deck that looks as big as a postage stamp from the air is bad enough even if you forget about heavy weather or night landings.

But every mission McCain and his fellow pilots flew took them through the toughest air defenses the world had ever known, a fierce network of Soviet-built anti-aircraft guns, artillery and SAM missiles plus Soviet-trained MIG jet pilots, all doing their best to shoot our pilots down.

On July 29, 1967, McCain was in the cockpit to the rear of the launch deck, waiting his turn to launch when an electrical malfunction on another aircraft across the deck accidentally fired a Zunni rocket into McCain’s jet, setting it ablaze. McCain had to scramble out on the nose of his jet and jump down to the deck to avoid the blaze, then was trying to help another pilot escape when a bomb detonated, blowing him back and striking him in the legs and chest with fragments. The fire and explosions that ensued killed 134 and nearly sunk the Forrestal that day.

The USS Forrestal was out of commission and McCain transferred to the carrier USS Oriskany where he continued his combat missions. On his 23rd mission, McCain was pulling up from a bombing run when enemy fire took off his right wing, inverted him into a spin, and he ejected downward from his flaming jet at high speed that shattered both arms and one leg.

His parachute landed him in Truc Bach Lake where he nearly drowned before North Vietnamese dragged him out, crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt and stabbed him with a bayonet.

The North Vietnamese took him to Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi, known to POWs as the “Hanoi Hilton.” There the guards, cockroaches by my measure, treated McCain’s wounds by beating them, twisting them, even re-breaking them. His severe injuries were treated only weeks later when the North Vietnamese learned McCain’s father was a senior admiral, and then became worried their mistreatment of him might become known and publicized.

One of the criticisms leveled at McCain periodically is that he signed an anti-American “confession” while imprisoned. He has admitted that and himself regrets it as dishonorable, but my friend Jim Warner was with McCain and was his cellmate for a while, and Jim helped put it in perspective. Here’s what he told me.

Before Ho Chi Minh died in the fall of 1969, torture was regularly administered to POWs to coerce written confessions of war crimes. There were many methods. POWs were kept those early years in solitary, in small cells with a concrete bed. They all continually lost weight on a starvation diet of thin soup with aquatic plant stems that smelled and tasted of sewage, moldy bread and rice with bugs mixed in, along with small rocks that broke their teeth, weakened like the rest of their body by their diet. The food was lousy but there was never enough of it.

Their thumbs were tied with parachute cord to hoist their body off the floor for hours at a time. Their feet were sometimes in stocks for days. Tourniquets were twisted deep into their flesh to cut off circulation for extended periods. They were made to stand still, or balance on a stool with wrists tied to ankles, for days at a time, not allowed to sleep. Their arms were forced up behind their back and hands up to their neck while they screamed. Whether sitting, standing or contorted in a torture position, they were beaten with bamboo rods.

One common torture method they called “The Ropes.” The cockroaches would tie a POW’s arms behind him, throw the rope up over a high beam, then hoist him up off the floor, trying to pull his shoulders out of socket. Hanging for hours, they would beat and interrogate him while the excruciating pain built to a blinding level and he screamed a lot.

They locked Jim in a small tin shed out in the 110-degree sun, with not enough room to sit, not enough room to stand, tin walls too hot to touch, where he had to squat with his feet bound together in irons and his garb and feet fouled by his own dysentery.

Jim spent a month crouching in that tin shed, though they did take him out every day to interrogate and beat him and treat him to The Ropes. By the end of that month, when he was being returned to his cell, the cockroaches had to dig into the flesh at his ankles, swollen to the size of footballs, to pry out the irons.

Jim said every man broke, like McCain did, but they all understood their job was to hold out as long as they could, every time.

Just like John McCain, Jim Warner was a POW for 5 and a half years. He said McCain did his job as a POW, including refusing to accept the early release pushed by the North Vietnamese in an attempt to create positive propaganda since his father was a big shot. They all knew the orders of their senior officer, Jim Stockdale, that no man goes home early out of sequence of those imprisoned longer, or until they all were released together.

The Donald doesn’t have enough money to buy the honor earned by men like these, including the many who died by the hands of their torturers.

Maybe by comparison of these torturers you can understand why I thought McCain was a jerk in 2008 while running for president when he lent his POW creds to the argument that waterboarding at Gitmo was torture. Waterboarding is child’s play compared to real torture. It is used as a training device in our own military, was used on us in flight school. It is unpleasant but it isn’t torture, and if anyone should know that it should be McCain, but I suspect he was playing politics.

As a Cobra gunship pilot in Vietnam, I was shot down and severely injured with a broken back in December of 1969. I was very lucky not to be captured, as the enemy was close and trying hard to get to us when the medevac lifted off to take us to a hospital. So I was never tortured, and thank my lucky stars I never had to be measured by the standard of courage set by our POWs in the Hanoi Hilton.

Frankly, I thought John McCain was a lousy candidate for president in 2008. During that campaign he said he had forgiven the guards in the Hanoi Hilton, either to score political points with the bleeding heart crowd, or to extend unusual grace that those cretins did not at all deserve. But I will continue the grudge they deserve for him since, as we all know, I have a deficit in the grace department.

When it comes to service and sacrifice, Donald Trump is not qualified to tie John McCain’s shoes, so on those matters he would be wise to just shut the hell up.

Meanwhile, I am pleased he has focused attention on illegal immigration, even though it is accidental from a juvenile media desperate for a Republican food fight while they continue to ignore substantive issues.

[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is terry@garlock1.com.]