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Former POW states McCain has quality needed to lead U.S.; Also Hoa Loa prisoner

By Staff | Aug 28, 2008


Being a POW doesn’t qualify John McCain to be president. But I can tell you from personal experience that he has the character,” Wayne Smith told the Cape Coral Republican Club on Wednesday.

The personal experience Smith spoke of was the time he and McCain spent in the Hoa Loa Prison — dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton” — camp. Smith flew 90 missions over North Vietnam and Laos before his plane was shot down in January 1968. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, was captured a few months earlier. Both McCain and Smith were released in 1973.

Smith said the POWs used “tap code” and various other forms of communication to send messages to each other, but it was the smaller gestures from McCain that revealed his character.

Some POWs could see into other cells through peep holes, and McCain tried to show his spirit was not broken after being tortured.

“John would always try to give you a thumbs up or a wink to let you know, ‘I’m back,'” Smith said.

Smith also revealed that McCain was offered early release by his captors because his father was in command of all forces in the Vietnamese theater. McCain refused the offer, seeing it as a propaganda ploy for the North Vietnamese.

The POWs had a code that stated the first to be released were the sick and wounded, then in the order of capture.

“They especially went to John McCain and said, ‘We want you out.’ John was so beat up that he actually had the right to go. But he refused to go,” Smith said.

Lisa Musial, boardmember and publicity chair of the Cape Coral Republican Club, said it is important for McCain’s experiences as a POW to be heard.

“Right now the important thing is to bring the limelight on John McCain and his life,” Musial said. “He’s a very humble individual who doesn’t talk a lot about his military background.”

Smith said he was able to keep a positive outlook and get through his five-year ordeal “because of the guys (who were captured) before us.” Communication among the POWs was also crucial, he said.

Prisoners using the tap code — rapping the walls with their knuckles to signify letters — would sign off their messages with GBU, short for “God Bless You.”