By Lana Turnbull
The word of Senator John McCain’s death was not unexpected but came entirely too soon after the McCain family had shared his decision to discontinue medical treatment. We thought there would be more time to say goodbye, more time for a nation to thank him for his remarkable and distinguished service. I guess no matter how long we might have had, it never would have been enough.
When John McCain’s A-4E Skyhawk was shot down in 1968 on his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam, I had just turned sixteen. A sophomore at Cleveland High School, my biggest challenges were passing Spanish class and wondering if I would be asked to the Christmas cotillion. What a different time!
While Senator McCain was suffering along with his comrades in the Hanoi Hilton, my classmates and I would graduate high school and I would finish college with a degree in Social Work ready to save the world. I would never get a job in my chosen field, but would begin a journey that thankfully led me to where I am today, doing something I love. John McCain would return to a hero’s welcome after five and a half years as a prisoner of war having endured unthinkable cruelty with courage and resolve bearing injuries that would plague him for the rest of his life. Then, after already having given so much he would choose a path of public service that would last a lifetime and will surely leave a lasting legacy.
In the hours and days after the announcement of Senator McCain’s death, various journalists, commentators, friends and colleagues shared their memories of the man and the Senator they had the privilege to know. One of my favorite observations came from veteran journalist Chris Matthews. He spoke of the romance surrounding true heroes and how we all look for that uncommon person whose honor inspires us, whose actions are worth emulating, and who stands for ideals worth standing for. Heroes like that don’t come along every day. John McCain was not a perfect person (according to those who knew him, he would be the first to admit that). He was a person motivated not for his own aggrandizement, but by something greater than himself – an unwavering love of his country and a fierce drive to protect it from enemies without and within. That he did until the very end with the courage rarely seen today to speak truth to power.
Through the years I often disagreed with Senator McCain’s policies. But, there was never any doubt in my mind that he had earned the honor of being called a true American hero – not just in war, but also for years of fighting as a warrior of the Senate, reaching across the aisles, and doing the hard work to make the country he loved a better place. He understood that the greatness of America doesn’t come from its wealth or military power, but from its ideals – of freedom, respect, generosity and service that his own life so perfectly exemplified.