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McCain gets short-lived tribute at Pentagon thanks to Trump

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McCain is escorted by Lt. Cmdr. Jay Coupe Jr. to the Hanoi airport after McCain was released from captivity in 1973.
McCain
is escorted by Lt. Cmdr. Jay Coupe Jr. to the Hanoi airport after
McCain was released from captivity in 1973.

Horst Faas/AP

  • The Pentagon on Monday said it will not return the flag
    to half-staff to honor Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War hero,
    unless the White House issues a proclamation. 
  • A Pentagon spokesperson on Monday told Business Insider
    via phone that the flag will remain at full-staff unless
    President Donald Trump takes action. 
  • Trump has repeatedly made it clear he is no fan of the
    fellow Republican and many feel the lack of honors stems from
    his disdain for the late senator. 
  • McCain spent over five years as a POW in Vietnam and
    was subjected to brutal torture in the process.
  • He remained a tireless advocate for the military to the
    end of his days. 

The Pentagon on Monday said it will not return the flag to
half-staff to honor Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War hero, unless
the White House issues a proclamation. 

The Department of Defense flew the flag at half-staff on the day
of McCain’s death and the following day,
per US Flag Code
. But a Pentagon spokesperson on Monday told
Business Insider via phone that the flag will remain at
full-staff unless President Donald Trump takes action. 

The White House also returned the flag to full-staff on
Monday. 

Accordingly, despite his war record and lifelong leadership with
and advocacy for the US military, McCain has received short-lived
honors at the Pentagon and the White House. 

Trump is breaking with tradition

In the past when prominent public officials died, presidents
often issued proclamations for flags at government and military
buildings to be flown at half-staff through the day of the
person’s interment. Former President Barack Obama
issued such a proclamation
for the late Supreme Court Justice
Antonin Scalia in 2016, for example.

Hence, while it’s not required for presidents to call for the
flag to remain at half-staff after the deaths of public officials
beyond what is dictated by US Flag Code, it has become
custom. 

But the White House has shown no signs it plans to follow
tradition in honor of McCain and many feel this is directly
linked to Trump’s disdain for the Arizona Republican, who was
one
of the president’s harshest critics

Trump’s grudge against McCain

Trump has repeatedly made it clear he is no fan of McCain.

During the 2016 presidential election, for example, Trump
controversially suggested did not believe the senator was a war
hero because he’d been captured and spent time as a prisoner of
war in Vietnam. 

“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was
captured. I like people that weren’t captured,” Trump, who
received five draft deferments during the Vietnam War, said of
McCain. 

Trump also reportedly
rejected plans to release a statement praising McCain

following his passing.

The president has repeatedly painted himself as an undying
champion of service members and veterans, but that often ends if
they publicly criticize him.  

McCain is widely respected for his military service.

McCain was born on a naval base in Panama and came from a
military family with a long record of service. He was the son and
grandson of Navy admirals, and studied at the US Naval Academy in
Annapolis. 

After graduating, McCain entered flight school in 1958. He
was deployed to Vietnam nine years later.

McCain’s Skyhawk dive bomber was shot down in Hanoi in
1967, breaking both of his arms and shattering his leg in the
process. He was promptly captured and thrown in the infamous
“Hanoi Hilton” prison. 

Roughly a year into McCain’s imprisonment, his captors
offered to set him free after discovering his father had just
been made commander of US forces in the Pacific. They thought
releasing McCain would be a propaganda victory.

But
McCain refused this opportunity at freedom
over loyalty to
his fellow American POWs, some of whom had been held in captivity
longer than him. Consequently, McCain was brutally
tortured. 

McCain was a POW from October 1967 to March 1973, spending
roughly two of those years in solitary confinement in a
windowless 10-by-10-foot cell.

He never fully recovered from the wounds he sustained in
Vietnam, and couldn’t raise his arms above his head for the rest
of his life.

By the end of his military service in 1981,
McCain’s decorations included
 the Silver Star Medal, the
Legion of Merit with Combat ‘V’ and one gold star, the
Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal with
Combat ‘V’ and two gold stars, and the Purple Heart Medal with
one gold star. 

There are bipartisan calls for the flag to be lowered

Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Mitch McConnell are calling on the
Department of Defense to “provide necessary support so that
US flags on all government buildings remain at half mast through
sunset on the day of Senator McCain’s interment,” according to
a
tweet
from Schumer’s communications director. 

Other members of Congress, including
Air Force veteran Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu
, have also called
on the Pentagon and Defense Secretary James Mattis to take action
in this regard. 

Lieu in a tweet said lowering the flag until McCain’s
interment would be the “honorable thing to do” based on his
military service.  

The non-partisan organization American Veterans (AMVETS)
also ripped into the White House for its decision regarding the
flag and McCain. 

“By lowering flags for not one second more than the bare
minimum required by law, despite a long-standing tradition
of lowering flags until the funeral, the White House is
openly showcasing its blatant disrespect
for Senator McCain’s many decades of service and
sacrifice to our country as well as the service of all his
fellow veterans,”
AMVETS said in a statement

McCain worked to bring peace between Vietnam and the
US

Years after the war as a US Senator, McCain worked closely
with former Sen. John Kerry to normalize relations with
Vietnam.

Following his death, McCain was widely mourned in Vietnam
and applauded for everything he did to reestablish ties between
the US and Vietnamese governments.

Even McCain’s former jailer – the man who oversaw the Hanoi
Hilton – paid his respects the former Navy pilot and said he’d
admired him for his “toughness.”

There’s a Navy destroyer named after McCain, but the flag
still apparently won’t be flown at half-staff for him

The USS John S. McCain, a guided-missile destroyer
currently in the service on the Navy, was originally named for
the late senator’s father and grandfather.

But on July 12, 2018, McCain was inducted by the secretary
of the Navy into the official namesake of the
vessel. 

“As a warrior and a statesman who has always put country
first, Sen. John McCain never asked for this honor, and he would
never seek it,” Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer said at
the time
. “But we would be remiss if we did not etch his name
alongside his illustrious forebears, because this country would
not be the same were it not for the courageous service of all
three of these great men.”

McCain will be laid to rest in Annapolis

McCain died on Saturday in his home state of Arizona from
brain cancer.

The former Navy pilot, US Senator, and two-time
presidential contender, will be laid to rest at the US Naval
Academy in Annapolis on Sunday.

McCain is set to be buried in a plot next to his Naval
Academy classmate and lifelong friend, Adm. Chuck Larson.

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