John McCain was born in 1936 at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, Panama, to naval officer John S. McCain, Jr. and Roberta McCain. In 1951, the family settled in Northern Virginia, and McCain attended Episcopal High School, a private preparatory boarding school in Alexandria. He excelled at wrestling and graduated in 1954. He went to U.S Navy Academy in Annapolis, and graduated in 1958.
McCain began his military career when he was commissioned an ensign and started two and a half years of training at Pensacola to become a naval aviator. He completed flight school in 1960, and became a naval pilot of ground-attack aircraft, assigned to A-1 Skyraider squadrons aboard the aircraft carriers USS Intrepid and USS Enterprise in the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas. McCain requested a combat assignment, and was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal flying A-4 Skyhawks. His combat duty began when he was 30 years old, in summer 1967, when Forrestal was assigned to a bombing campaign, Operation Rolling Thunder, during the Vietnam War. By then a lieutenant commander, McCain was almost killed on July 29, 1967, when he was near the center of the Forrestal fire. He escaped from his burning jet and was trying to help another pilot escape when a bomb exploded; McCain was struck in the legs and chest by fragments. The ensuing fire killed 134 sailors and took 24 hours to control. With the Forrestal out of commission, McCain volunteered for assignment with the USS Oriskany, another aircraft carrier employed in Operation Rolling Thunder. Once there, he would be awarded the Navy Commendation Medal and the Bronze Star for missions flown over North Vietnam.
John McCain's capture and subsequent imprisonment began on October 26, 1967. He was flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam when his A-4E Skyhawk was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. McCain fractured both arms and a leg ejecting from the aircraft, and nearly drowned...