“Old soldiers never die” is an English-language catchphrase taken from a stanza of the soldiers’ folklore “Old Soldiers Never Die”:
Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die
They simply fade away.
The phrase gained popularity after Gen. Douglas MacArthur uttered it in his April 1951 farewell address to Congress. Today, the nation mourns the passing of another giant, Sen. John McCain. McCain died nine years to the day when America lost another icon, Sen. Ted Kennedy, to the same form of brain cancer. Both men were considered “Lions of the Senate” and deservedly so.
McCain was an unabashed conservative who relished the opportunity to battle his more liberal Democratic colleagues. He was also a skillful legislator, unafraid to buck his party in order to achieve a legislative victory. As Kennedy’s widow, Vicki Reggie Kennedy, stated, he was “an uncompromising patriot and man of immeasurable courage.” Despite being of opposite political parties, McCain and Kennedy were the best of friends.
I am a lifelong Democrat and, therefore, had numerous differences with McCain. For example, then-Congressman McCain voted against making Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. However, to his credit, on the 40th anniversary of King’s assassination, McCain said his vote was wrong:
“We can be slow as well to give greatness its due, a mistake I made long ago when I voted against a federal holiday in memory of Dr. King. I was wrong, and eventually realized it in time to give full support for a state holiday in my home state of Arizona. I’d remind you that we can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing and Dr. King realized this about his fellow Americans.”
In addition, McCain was one of the deciding votes in helping then-President George H.W. Bush sustain a veto against the Civil Rights Act of 1990. His vote helped Bush to become the first president ever to successfully veto a civil rights measure: Andrew Johnson and Ronald Reagan both had vetoes overridden, in 1866 and 1988, respectively. To my knowledge, he never expressed any regret for that vote.
Yet, despite political differences on these two votes, in addition to naming unqualified former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, in a misguided attempt to secure the votes of women, I still admired John McCain. The man, the Maverick.
Who can deny that he was a real-life, true and genuine American war hero? On Oct. 26, 1967, McCain’s Skyhawk jet was shot down over North Vietnam by a barrage of surface-to-air missiles. He ejected from the plane, but suffered serious injuries, breaking both arms and his right leg.
He spent the next five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war, tortured almost every day while in captivity. The fact that he was shot down and captured only diminished him in the eyes of one individual, the current commander in chief, who successfully avoided military service during Vietnam with a mysterious heel spur. To the rest of Americans, though, he was and will always remain an American hero. McCain went on to become chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
However, what will always stand out to me was his 2008 defense of Barack Obama from a racist supporter. At the time, in addition to being a fellow American, Obama was also a Senate colleague and political opponent for the White House.
“I cannot trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, um, he’s an Arab,” a woman said during a town hall meeting in Lakeville, Minnesota. The senator grabbed the microphone and cut the woman off, saying, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what the campaign’s all about. He’s not Arab.”
McCain’s response was met with boos from the audience and no doubt, he lost votes that evening. But that did not matter to him. Indeed, it is a true testament of his character that he asked George W. Bush and Barack Obama to eulogize him, the two very men who denied him the presidency.
McCain’s passing leaves a vacuum of honor, valor and integrity on, frankly, both sides of the political spectrum and especially in the White House. Who among our elected officials will fill his shoes? He only asked to be remembered as “this guy, who served his country. I hope we could add, honorably.”
You will be, Senator McCain.
“Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away.”
Cooper is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.