Senator John McCain Addresses Brigade of Midshipmen October 30, 2017

Senator John McCain returned to his alma mater to address the Brigade of Midshipmen, October 30, in Alumni Hall at the United States Naval Academy (USNA).

McCain spoke to an audience of more than 4,500 midshipmen, faculty and staff about the events in his life and lessons he learned from them.

“Yes, I was once one of you. Six decades ago – in the age of sail – I was an undistinguished member of the Class of 1958,” said McCain. “My superiors didn’t hold me in very high esteem in those days. Their disapproval was measured in the hundreds of miles of extra duty I marched in my time.”

Light-heartedly reflecting on his time as a midshipman, he also recognized that the lessons he learned at USNA were a source of inspiration that guided him during some of his greatest challenges.

“But the Academy taught other lessons, which I would find later when I needed them most, had somehow managed to stick,” said McCain. “Lessons about sacrificing for something more important than yourself. Lessons about courage and humility. About friendship. About the meaning and responsibilities of honor.”

After graduating from USNA in 1958, he was commissioned as a Navy Ensign and eventually became a naval aviator were he flew ground-attack aircraft from aircraft carriers. McCain was on a bombing mission over Hanoi in October 1967 where he was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese.

McCain eventually spent five and a half years in various prison camps; three and a half of those in solitary confinement, and was repeatedly beaten and tortured before he was finally released in March 1973. McCain earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.

McCain became emotional during the speech as he spoke about the sacrifices midshipmen will be asked to make for their country.

“You will protect the international order that American politics, with all its inefficiencies and human frailties, has done so much to create,” McCain said. “Many of you will risk everything for your country. You will make sacrifices for your fellow Americans, who won’t be asked to make sacrifices for you.”

Coming from four generations of USNA graduates and naval officers, McCain is part of a long legacy of military families. Both his grandfather and his father reached the rank of Admiral, while his son, Jack, is currently serving.

“My father was here, and his father before him. Like me, their standing was closer to the bottom than the top of their class, said McCain. “My son, Jack, is the non-conformist in the family. He managed to reach the upper half of his class, even to be a midshipman officer. But his forbears, though less accomplished midshipmen, nevertheless left here to devote the rest of their lives to our country, in war and peace, good times and bad. And each of us considered himself to be the luckiest man on earth.”

McCain was first elected to political office in 1982, easily winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He later went on to become a senator for Arizona. Throughout his military and political career, McCain has stood witness to immense changes in our nation.

“I grew up in eventful times and I’ve served in eventful times,” said McCain. “I’ve seen America become a more just and prosperous country, coming ever closer to the ideals set down by our Founders. I’ve seen America organize and lead an international order based on liberty, mutual security, free markets, and the rule of law that liberated millions upon millions from tyranny and poverty. But we need only look back upon my own lifetime to understand how hard-fought those victories were.”

In his closing remarks, he said America is still the best and strongest nation in the world.

“Never bet against the United States of America,” he said. “Do not do so.”

Before departing, Midshipman 1st Class Austin Harmel, brigade commander, presented McCain with a custom blue and gold bath robe on behalf of the brigade, complete with the rank he retired at, a Navy Captain, embroidered on the sleeve.

“I come back, again and again, to the place where I learned to dread dishonor and from where I embarked on an eventful life, in good company, in the service of my country and its great cause,” said McCain. “May your lives be as lucky as mine. Godspeed. Semper Fidelis. Fair winds and following seas.”
Created By
MC2 Brianna Jones


U.S. Navy story and photos by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brianna Jones

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