On the final Sunday afternoon of February, the Bridgeville Area Historical Society welcomed back Dr. John Aupperle for his annual visit and was rewarded with another informative and entertaining presentation.
Aupperle was profoundly impressed by the significance of Sen. John McCain’s remarkable life when it was celebrated by his funeral and memorial service last summer.
He reported that this got him wondering what influences combine to produce “difference-makers” and especially this specific, unique individual. An avid reader of history and of human nature, he wisely decided to read “Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir,” the 1999 book McCain and Mark Salter wrote about the Senator’s life and heritage.
His presentation was a thoughtful review of this book and the conclusions he had reached when he extrapolated McCain’s experiences to the much broader question.
The McCain family has a long history of military service. During World War II, four-star admiral John S. McCain, the senator’s grandfather, served as chief of staff of the Third Fleet and as “Bull” Halsey’s right-hand-man.
In 1968, John S. McCain Jr., the senator’s father, was named commander in chief of Pacific Command, in charge of all U.S. forces in Vietnam.
Five months earlier, his son, the future Sen. John S. McCain III, had been shot down in Vietnam and imprisoned in Hanoi. Lt. Cmdr. McCain spent five-and-a-half years as a POW, many of them in solitary confinement. When his captors offered to release him as a propaganda move, he declined, citing the Military Code of Conduct.
Following his repatriation in 1973, McCain resumed his career in the Navy. In 1977, he was appointed to the Navy’s Senate Liaison Office, an assignment he described as “my real entry into the world of politics and the beginning of my second career as a public servant.”
Four years later, he retired from the Navy and began a political career as a congressman from Arizona, a career that included six terms as an extremely effective U.S. senator and an unsuccessful attempt to run for president.
Aupperle reported that, after considerable reflection, he had concluded that John McCain’s greatness came primarily from his family heritage, a synergism of heredity and environment. He chose a career in the Navy and went to Annapolis because that was what was expected of him. He adhered to his principles when he was a POW because that was what was expected of him. He strove to do what he believed was right when he was a public servant because that is what was expected of him.
He concluded his presentation by reiterating what he believes were the cornerstones of John McCain’s vision —Integrity, Honor and Respect. The contradiction between these concepts and today’s political environment is particularly striking.
It is easy to agree with Aupperle’s interpretation of what John McCain believed was the source of his greatness; converting it into a generality is a little more difficult.
Next month, the Historical Society will return to its “Last Tuesday Night” schedule with a presentation on Benjamin Franklin by another old friend, Jack Puglisi. It is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. March 26, in the Chartiers Room at the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department.