WHEN ‘HELL WAS IN SESSION’

Captain McCain, Colonel Webb, Admiral Denton

By Harry M. Covert

Far be it from this bureau to make any disparaging remarks at this time about the life and times of Captain John Sidney McCain III, USN retired.

John McCain: This file picture taken in 1967 shows him as POW.

Since the 81-year-old succumbed Saturday past from deadly brain cancer, tributes have poured in from all quarters almost to the point of “deification.”

Included in these plaudits one comes from a jailer in the horrible “Hanoi Hilton.” The guard said he now respected Senator McCain.We all know he was the U.S. senior senator from his adopted state of Arizona. He was born in Coco Solo, Panama, 1936, known then as the Canal Zone, an unincorporated U.S. territory before Jimmy Carter gave it up in 1977.

Captain McCain was a five-year Prisoner of War in Vietnam after his fighter plane crashed. He was treated cruelly by his captors like other Americans.

Col. Ronald J. Webb

For years in the troubled 1970s I wore one of silver bracelets honoring the POWs. The one I still have and treasure is inscribed “Maj. Ronald Webb, USAF.” He was an F4 jet pilot ejected over North Vietnam after being shot down June 11, 1967. He was released March 4, 1973, after spending 2,094 days as a POW. He is 81 and retired as a colonel in 1982.

Like Captain McCain, Colonel Webb is also a “graduate” of the Hanoi Hilton. After his distinguished career, he and his wife moved to Florida where they reside today.

Vietnam POW                  Bracelet

Colonel Webb is a hero. A few years ago we lunched in Alexandria, VA. I wanted to give him my bracelet. Instead he asked that I keep it.

He also was subjected to solitary confinement, malnourishment and mistreatment – as was Captain McCain.

“I learned a lot about Communism and what a dedicatedly evil menace it is in our world today,” Colonel Webb said. An important lesson for the world today.

My paths also crossed with the late Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton, who served as a U.S. a senator from Alabama. It can be recalled how he sent Morse code messages of T-O-R-T-U-R-E by blinking his eyes at film cameras.

I invited him to appear on a television program in 1975. He agreed on conditions he could speak his mind without interruption. He did no other media interviews. He was commandant of the then Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, VA. We did two shows. Soon after, his book, “When Hell was in Session”, written with Ed Brandt, was published and became a movie.

While Captain McCain is being recognized so widely, he shares his service with many others. I particular remember these great Americans Colonel Webb and Admiral-Senator Denton.

A move is afoot to rename the Russell Senate Office Building the McCain S.O.B. Chances are good his wife Cindy will take his Arizona senate seat.


This column has appeared in The Tentacle.