The life of Sen. John S. McCain, who died Saturday, should serve as an example for service members today, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said Tuesday. McCain died a few hours after Mattis addressed the 140th General Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans.
Mattis spoke to reporters about McCain just before welcoming Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu to the Pentagon.
The secretary focused on McCain’s career as a Navy aviator. He was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and held in captivity for more than five years.
Mattis noted that McCain refused to be repatriated out of order. The North Vietnamese sought to make propaganda hay by releasing McCain, the son of Adm. John S. McCain, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command. McCain refused the offer of release and endured torture, solitary confinement and lackadaisical medical care.
McCain’s faith in the country saw him through the ordeal, Mattis said. He wants service members today to learn from that.
“It’s primarily that they understand if you cherish the country it can carry you through the toughest of times,” the secretary said. “There’s no battle that can be thrown at you, there’s no POW status that can take that away from you. And it can sustain you all the way through.”
McCain’s belief and strength of character saw him through, Mattis said. And that, he added, is “what we are looking for in the character of the military—peacetime, wartime, routine, crisis.”
Mattis will be one of the pallbearers at the senator’s funeral. “It’s an honor,” he said simply.