Without getting into either right-wing or left-wing political nonsense, I want to state clearly and without mental stuttering – the world is not as good a place this week as it was last week. We, veterans and everyone else, have lost a great human being, a great leader and a great American with the death of Senator John McCain.
I am proud that I have shared this planet with John McCain. I was in Vietnam part of the time that he was held prisoner and I know that all Vietnam veterans can look with pride on this, their fellow combatant. I was privileged to know and spend time with another prisoner of war, another downed airman, another outstanding American, former Alabama Senator, the late Jeremiah Denton. I was with him in Washington and actually received the news of President Reagan’s being shot directly from him. (Talk about an earth-shaking conversation!)
Denton and McCain were among the best this country has had to offer. Denton, blinking out the word “torture” in a filmed interview while he was a POW and John McCain refusing to answer his captor’s questions and refusing to let his prominent military family name get him an early release from the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He wouldn’t go home until all other POWs did! These men were examples of the timber with which the United States of America was constructed and how our great land has lasted these several centuries.
McCain was tough and while he didn’t always triumph, he was a true winner in my book! Some decades ago now, I was asked in an interview for Jacksonville State University (my Alma Mater and the Harvard of the South) who I would name as my female hero and my male hero. My choices then are my choices now – Helen Keller and John McCain.
I don’t care what draft-dodgers or political hacks may say. John McCain embodied much of what we should admire and adopt as an American prototype. I don’t want to say that I was in political lock-step with him on all issues. I do want to say that his humanness and his quest for leadership in a greatly divided country says more about him than his supporters and critics have said and will say now. Somehow, I have always thought that men like Denton and McCain and women like Keller would always “have my back” when things got really bad.
I am honored to have served in the United States Armed Forces at the same time as John McCain. I am honored to have been in the same war as he was in. I am honored that I can use this little column to express my great respect for this man. It is my fervent hope that more young Americans will be fashioned out of this same rough, tough and sometime knotty and splintery wood that Our Creator used to build human beings like John McCain. It is also my personal hope that I will live up to the virtues and example set by men like John McCain, Jeremiah Denton and over 58,000 fighters who gave their lives in service to this Country battling in the Vietnam War.
May God Bless the memory of Senator John McCain, all veterans and their families, and may God Bless YOU!
Gerald “Joe” Stahlkuppe is a combat Army veteran of the Vietnam War. An ordained clergyman, public speaker and author of several books, he lives with his wife in Gardendale.
Questions or veterans issues you would like to see addressed in the column can be directed to Stahlkuppe at P.O. Box 849, Gardendale, AL 35071 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.