Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir

Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir
By John McCain with Mark Salter

I have been wanting to read McCain's book about his experiences as a POW in the Vietnam War for years. This past week, I also needed some stories about torture while writing a sermon on what Jesus went through in his own torment. So, I decided to read the book to glean some helpful information for the message. What I found was a very honest book about one man's experiences as a POW in light of his grandfather's and father's own military success. I also came to a better understanding of why McCain has been referred to as a maverick senator.

The first part of the book covers the life and career of McCain's grandfather, John Sidney McCain Sr. At a few points the historical details and tales of battles were a bit wearying, but the authors paint a picture of a man who was every bit the maverick yet well respected by every military person under his command. McCain Sr. was certainly a driven man with plenty of energy and pluck (think of Popeye to get a fairly accurate idea of what McCain's grandfather was like). 

The second part of the book follows John Sidney McCain Jr in his quest to do just as well as his own father in the military. Certainly, these two men went into the record books as the only father/son Admirals to serve at the same time. McCain Jr. was a man driven to succeed even though he did not have the personality of his father. What McCain Jr. had was the ability to work hard. McCain recalls that his father went into the office every day of the year. On Christmas morning he remembers that the family would open presents first thing in the morning, then his father would head into the office for the remainder of the day. I found the details of McCain Jr.'s exploits on submarines to be fascinating. 

The last part of the book follows McCain's life from childhood to boarding school to Annapolis where McCain barely made it to graduation due to his persistently bad behavior. He was always trying to bend the rules as far as possible which made him popular with some of the other midshipmen but not the officers and administration.  But McCain did finally graduate and began serving his country, eventually as a navy flyer. While honing his skills, he continued to be a partying good-time guy who also just barely kept to the regulations. Eventually, after age 30, McCain settled down, got married and soon found himself serving in Vietnam, which he had been anxious to do. While on a mission to bomb Hanoi, McCain was shot down, ejected but landing in a shallow lake. He was injured by his fall and further hurt by the citizens who pulled him from the lake. When the North Vietnamese found him, he was taken to what was known as "The Hanoi Hilton" and his torture began.

McCain often points out that although he suffered and endured much pain and torture, his was less than the other soldiers around him because of the position of his own father, Admiral McCain. He gives excruciating details of the pain inflicted on him and others. He seems to honestly portray his own weaknesses, failures (including breaking down and giving into the enemy's desires) and fears. I won't cover all the details of his story here but I admire anyone who can survive such torture for so many years, including the worst for McCain: solitary confinement which he suffered for over two years.

With a title that has the word faith in it, it is no surprise that I would find connections with my own faith. McCain himself learned that faith in yourself was no match for those who could be so cruel to other human beings. It takes faith in God or at least something larger than yourself to resist and survive. Many of the men believed in God but also in the country they served and in one another. For me, my faith in God is what keeps me grounded even when others are hurtful or life seems to be falling around me.

In addition, hearing McCain's stories of torture in the POW camps reminds me of the torture that Christ went through on my behalf. Whether just physical or mental, Christ went through excruciating pain and death so that you and I may have eternal life. It is a sobering thought that leads me to again give thanks.

May your reading be faithful!


Copyright 2011 Amelia G. Sims

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