Mr. President: Now is the time to apologize to John McCain
© Greg Nash

It was sad to hear last week that Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBill Maher delivers mock eulogy for Trump Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column CNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' MORE (R-Ariz.) had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

The thought was, “After all that he went through as a POW in North Vietnam, and now this.” And it was hard not to recall President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally MORE’s terrible slur on McCain’s military record during the last presidential campaign.

"He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured."

This should be the occasion for Trump to apologize to McCain for those remarks. But this president doesn’t do magnanimity, reconciliation or apology; he only does insults.


It’s not clear whether, when Trump leaves office, his presidential library will be a museum or the “National Insult Hall of Fame.”

What did Trump think McCain was doing when he was captured, hanging around a bar in Hanoi?

On Oct. 26, 1967, Lt. Cmdr. McCain was flying a Navy jet over Hanoi when anti-aircraft fire blew off one wing and he had to eject, breaking both legs and an arm in the process.

McCain landed in a lake and nearly drowned; his captors bayoneted him in the abdomen. He endured beatings, torture and solitary confinement. Knowing that McCain’s father was the commander-in-chief of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, the North Vietnamese, to score propaganda points, offered to release him.

McCain refused because it would dishonor his father and demoralize the other American POWs. McCain was released in 1973, along with his fellow POWs.

The American people may really have changed.

In the decades after World War II, when more than 120,000 Americans had been POWs, insulting a former POW the way Trump did would have ended any politician’s career. But memories are fading and evidently their stories, such as those of the eight Doolittle Raiders who became Japanese POWs, need to be retold.

The Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, followed by the surrender of American forces in the Philippines, left the country demoralized and frightened. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered his military commanders to find a way to bomb Japan.

They came up with a plan that more resembled a one way suicide mission than a military operation.

An aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, and escort vessels were sent steaming toward Japan. The rear deck of the Hornet was crammed with 16 land-based B-25 bombers.

On April 18, 1942, hundreds of miles from the planned launch point, a Japanese patrol vessel spotted the Hornet. Unwilling to risk an attack by the Japanese Navy, B-25 squadron leader, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, ordered an immediate launch. At that distance, the B-25s, which could not land on the Hornet, hardly had enough fuel to get to their safe landing zones in China.

The 16 crews, 80 aviators in all, unhesitatingly climbed into their planes and, with Doolittle piloting the lead B-25, managed to get airborne even though none had flown a B-25 from a carrier deck.

They bombed military and industrial targets in Tokyo and other Japanese cities. Most of the planes ran out of fuel before reaching the landing sites, and the crews bailed out, parachuting into China or landing in the ocean, some in Japanese-held areas. Eight men from two planes were captured by the Japanese.

Headlines blazed in the United States and American morale shot up. The Japanese decided to forestall more raids by sending a huge fleet to capture Midway Atoll, just 1400 miles west of Hawaii.

The Americans won the Battle of Midway, a turning point in the war.

Of the eight Doolittle prisoners, three were executed; one starved to death; and the four survivors endured horrific conditions until the end of the war. One Doolittle aviator who escaped capture by the Japanese later flew missions in North Africa. He was shot down and ended up in a POW camp in Germany, where he helped dig a tunnel for the prison break that became the basis for the movie, “The Great Escape.”

American servicemen and women become POWs because they are serving their country in harm’s way.

Trump isn’t going to apologize to McCain and the other POWs, but the rest of us can use this moment to salute their heroism and sacrifice.

Gregory J. Wallance is a writer, lawyer, former federal prosecutor, and the author of the forthcoming: “The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter @gregorywallance

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.