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Fellow POW Remembers His Time In Captivity With Sen. McCain

John S. McCain III is escorted by Lt. Cmdr. Jay Coupe Jr., public relations o...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: John S. McCain III is escorted by Lt. Cmdr. Jay Coupe Jr., public relations officer, to Hanoi's Gia Lam Airport after the POW was released, March 14, 1973

One San Diego resident has a personal connection to the late Sen. John McCain.

Jim Bedinger met McCain on Christmas Eve in 1969, after Bedinger’s Navy Phantom jet went down over Laos.

After he was captured, Bedinger was brought to what the other POWs dubbed the Hanoi Hilton. McCain had already been a POW for two years.

“John was never short of courage to stick up for someone who was being put upon,” he said.

Bedinger remembers McCain once spent days in chains, locked in solitary confinement, after tipping off the other prisoners that the guards were coming. The rest of the group needed time to get rid of messages that they passed one another, by slipping small notes in the drawstring holes of their pants.

McCain also yelled profane jokes through the walls to boost their spirits, Bedinger said.

McCain famously refused an offer to be released early because his father, also John McCain, was an admiral.

Reported by Katie Schoolov

“How many people are offered to get in the line and get the hell out of hell and say no?” Bedinger said.

McCain was tortured and eventually forced to sign a statement for the North Vietnamese.

“I know John had to give more information at certain points, than name rank and serial number. And I know most of the other prisoners did, too,” he said.

The two would only meet a couple times after they were released, including when McCain came to San Diego for an event. Bedinger said he wasn’t surprised that McCain gravitated toward politics.

“He had that feisty and go against the grain kind of attitude and always a propensity to speak up for people who weren’t getting represented, or spoken for, and I think that’s what gave him that reputation as a maverick,” he said.

McCain appeared in San Diego periodically over the years. He accepted an award aboard the USS Midway in 2011. And he called out a protester while stumping for Mitt Romney’s campaign here in 2012.

Bedinger said McCain remained unchanged from the brash, dedicated Naval officer who helped his comrades survive imprisonment in North Vietnam.

“He inspired many and not just me, but many others. I think the only thing we leave behind us is our reputation and how we helped others. And he certainly did that in large quantities and quality,” he said.

One San Diego resident has a personal connection to the late Sen. John McCain. Jim Bedinger said McCain's brash humor and fighting spirit were on display during their time at a North Vietnam prison camp.

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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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