JOHN MCCAIN'S LAST JOB IN THE NAVY WAS HIS FIRST IN POLITICS.
In 1977, he was assigned to head the Navy's Senate liaison office, a sleepy post on Capitol Hill staffed by three officers who focused on constituent services and escorted senators on trips abroad.
But McCain was a celebrity. He was still stiff and banged up from the war; even then, he had to be helped into a suit jacket. But he was handsome and gregarious, and nearly everybody knew his story and wanted to be seen with him. One Republican senator, William S. Cohen of Maine, was so taken with the ex-POW that he crafted McCain-like heroes in adventure novels he would later write.
Mentored by Senate titans such as the late John Tower, Capt. McCain quickly realized that Congress might be as exciting, and challenging, as the Navy.
It was at this time, too, that his first marriage was ending. He had wed his first wife, Carol Shepp, in 1965. He adopted her two children from a previous marriage, and they had a child together. They had been married only two years when his plane was shot down over Vietnam.
But McCain has blamed himself -- "my own selfishness and immaturity" -- for the split. His biographer, Robert Timberg, quotes his ex-wife as attributing the divorce "more to John
turning 40 and wanting to be 25 again than I do to anything else."
McCain met his second wife, Cindy Hensley, in Hawaii in 1979. He was escorting a Senate delegation. She was vacationing with her mother and father, a wealthy Phoenix beer distributor He was 42. She was 24. They were married in 1980 and would raise four children.
McCain left the Navy the next year, moved to Arizona and began a frenetic new life in politics. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1982 and to the Senate four years later. He immediately won a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he is now the ranking Republican.
In 2000, he waged a fierce battle against George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. But after a stunning win in the New Hampshire primary, McCain's campaign foundered, and he withdrew from the race. Afterward, he says, "I spent three days . . . feeling sorry for myself, just really wallowing in self-pity.
"Then one night I woke up and I said, 'Come on, what are you going to do? Go back to work? Be grateful that a guy that stood fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy gets to be in the United States Senate? Or moan and groan about something that you can't do anything about?' "
-- Michael E. Ruane