Troop Push Is Personal For McCain

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 26, 2006

As the Iraq Study Group issued its long-awaited report on the war, declaring that the United States should not dispatch more troops, Sen. John McCain reacted with his long-held and contrary view: It will take more boots on the ground, or the nation faces "sooner or later, our defeat in Iraq."

Then the Arizona Republican discreetly flew to San Diego, where the next day, Dec. 8, he sat under a hot sun to watch a skinny 18-year-old in military-issue glasses graduate from boot camp and become a Marine. His son Jimmy.

John McCain's public certainty about Iraq masks a more private and potentially wrenching connection. If more troops go there, as McCain hopes they will, his youngest son could be one of them, taking his place in a line of family warriors that is one of the longest in U.S. history.

Sen.-elect James Webb (D-Va.) also has a son in the Marine Corps named Jimmy. On the campaign trail, Webb declined to talk about his son, who is in Iraq, but he wore Jimmy's boots as he called for American forces to come home.

McCain has not drawn any attention to his son and declined to be interviewed for this article.

A leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination, McCain has been one of the few and among the most vocal politicians pressing for more troops in Iraq. "We left Vietnam, it was over, we just had to heal the wounds of war. We leave this place . . . and they'll follow us home," he said on a news show recently. "So there's a great deal more at stake."

McCain's own father faced the anguish of sending a son to war. Adm. John McCain Jr., who commanded Pacific forces during the Vietnam War, ordered airstrikes on Hanoi even while his son, a Navy pilot, was imprisoned there after being shot down.

McCain was held captive for more than five years, repeatedly beaten and tortured. On more than one occasion, the North Vietnamese offered to release him as a propaganda move to shame his father. McCain, citing a prisoners' code of conduct requiring that POWs be released in order of capture, refused.

During McCain's imprisonment, his father, while privately collecting every scrap of information about his son that he could, "made an ironclad rule that no one would talk about his son around him," said Torie Clark, who was a staffer for the younger McCain and a Pentagon spokeswoman. "He wanted to make sure he made decisions based on what was right for U.S. forces . . . not what would be good or bad for his son.

"I'm not surprised that the current John McCain separates the private from the public."

In "Faith of My Fathers," the family memoir McCain wrote in 1999 with Mark Salter, his chief of staff, he recalls the prisoners' jubilation at the 1972 bombing of Hanoi, ordered by his father, that helped end the war. His thoughts foreshadowed his position on Iraq:

"The misery we had endured . . . was made all the worse by our fear that the United States was unprepared to do what was necessary to bring the war to a reasonably swift conclusion," the authors wrote.

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