News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hands on the tiller when they should have been on the throttle and the stick

John McCain was called an ace by some of his Navy peers. For some, it was a matter of sarcasm. He was at the controls of five aircraft that crashed or were damaged, including the fighter he was flying when shot down over Hanoi. Two of the incidents were not under his control.



The first was when he was sitting in his aircraft on a carrier deck waiting to take off. A missile from another fighter somehow was launched and hit McCain's aircraft. He exited the craft and was not injured.



The second was when he was hit by a missile over Hanoi and his craft's wing was shot off. He recalls in his autobiography that his instruments indicated a missile had locked onto his aircraft and he probably should have taken evasive action. But he was a know risk-taker and kept on course for the target he was assigned to hit.



When his craft was struck, he ejected and landed in a lake and broke a leg. He was taken prisoner and was a POW for 5 1/2 years. Americans respect and honor his service to his country and the years of torture and confinement he experienced. As one who approved of America's invasion of South Viet Nam initially, I am among those who grew dismayed and disappointed in the U.S. when it became apparent what deceptions and contrivances got us into that war, and more as the killing and ruining of the Vietnamese people mounted. However, as a veteran, I still respected and honored our troops, many of whom were draftees, because, for the most part, they did what they were ordered even at the cost of 50,000 American lives. As the fragging incidents in Viet Nam among the American troops took on the aspect of mutiny, I also understood. People lost respect for commanders who issued gratuitous orders for troops to go into battle of dubious merit and unplanned result. All the troops who served in Viet Nam were heroes, and John McCain was certainly included.



Gen. Wesley Clark was soundly castigated when, after acknowledging McCains service and record, he stated that McCain "hasn't held executive responsibility. … I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."

Slate magazine suggested Clark's remarks were a matter of the resentments that grunts--infantry riflemen--felt toward flyboys. Clark was wounded while commanding an infantry company in Viet Nam. There is much more to the skepticism regarding flyboys as leaders and commanders. As many of McCain's peers and commanders pointed out, he was a risk-taker, often wildly heedless.

The three airplanes he crashed or damaged in non-combat situations demonstrate that point.

In 1960, McCain crash a plane into Corpus Christi Bay. The investigation into the crash said the plane crash was pilot error. McCain was flying with too little power to sustain flight for the maneuver he was making.

In 1961, McCain managed to bring a damaged aircraft in, but he left a good portion of Spain without power. He was "hot-dogging" over Spain in low maneuvers when he flew into some electrical transmission cables. The report said he landed with ten feet of cables dangling from his plane. By his own admission, it was a heedless moment.

In 1965, he used a Navy jet to fly to a Navy football game. As he returned, he said he heard an explosion and the craft lost power. McCain ejected. However, the investigators found no evidence in the wreckage to support the contention of an explosion or a loss of power.

As it does with Gen. Clark, McCain's history of sitting in planes and enduring 5 1/2 years in the Hanoi Hilton comprise honorable service, but hardly demonstrate leaderships. One can only wonder what he would do with the tiller if he were to steer the ship of state.

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