Tonight’s cuppa: decaf Irish breakfast tea
It’s rare that a TV critic sits down with a presidential candidate, and I still haven’t. But what I have done is interview someone who had been a presidential candidate five years before we talked, and who currently is the Republican nominee for president.
In 2005, A&E aired a movie based on "Faith of My Fathers," Arizona Sen. John McCain’s autobiographical account of his early military career and years as a POW in North Vietnam. In January of that year, A&E brought Sen. McCain to the biannual Television Critics Association Press Tour to talk to the assembled reporters about the film.
I haven’t yet had the pleasure of talking to McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, nor their Democratic opponents, presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
But since Palin has had a book written about her, and both Obama and Biden have written books about themselves, it’s possible that there could be TV-movies in the future of one or all of them, and I may yet get my chance.
But in the meantime, here’s my story, "A&E Shows How ‘Faith of My Fathers’ Sustained POW McCain," as published the week of May 29, 2005.
The Vietnam War ended three decades ago, but in many ways,
the memories of the conflict — and the war of protest that raged at home —
always lie just under the surface, waiting to burst through.
“Now I believe,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says, “and I
probably shouldn’t say this, the Vietnam War will be with us as long as those
of us who were in the Vietnam War are alive. I’m sorry to say that.”
On Monday, May 30, Memorial Day, A&E Network premieres
“Faith of My Fathers,” a TV movie based on McCain’s autobiography, which
details his service as a U.S. Navy pilot in Vietnam and the 5 1/2 years he
spent as a POW after crashing during a bombing mission over North Vietnam.
McCain says, “The ‘Faith of My Fathers’ is derived from a
belief that we are all here to serve a cause greater than ourselves. There is
nothing more noble than being involved in causes you can believe in.”
Shot in the spring of 2004 in New Orleans, “Faith of My
Fathers” is directed by Peter Markle from a script he co-wrote with William
Bingham. It stars Shawn Hatosy (“Soldier’s Girl”) as McCain from his days as a
17-year-old at the U.S. Naval Academy — the son and grandson of four-star
admirals — to his release in 1973 at the age of 36.
Also starring are Scott Glenn as McCain’s father, Adm. Jack McCain;
Troy Ruptash, Shea Whigham and Joe Chrest as fellow POWs; Erin Cottrell as
McCain’s first wife, Carol; and Chi Moui Lo (“The Relic”) and Cary-Hiroyuki
Tagawa as two of his captors at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”
“Faith of My Fathers” could stir up old arguments about
Vietnam, but McCain would rather it serve another purpose.
“I would rather have it be a story of courage in action than
part of the debate about Vietnam,” he says. “One of the things about the prison
experience is that we were in a vacuum. We didn’t know what was going on (at
home). The Vietnamese told us all this stuff, but we didn’t know what was going
“We thought it was just propaganda. We had no concept that
the anti-war movement had grown the way it did. In 1967, when I was shot down,
the anti-war movement was minuscule. It wasn’t until ’68, and really the Tet
offensive, that was the catalyst for the anti-war movement.”
Rather than dwelling on the pros and cons of the United
States’ involvement in Vietnam, “Faith of My Fathers” focuses instead on how
McCain survived the injuries he suffered in the crash and the subsequent
torture by his captors. He was even broken to the point where he finally agreed
to record a propaganda statement. Yet he survived.
“I’m the luckiest man that you will ever interview,” McCain
says. “I’ve survived plane crashes, I’ve survived the war, and I value every
single day of my life.”
McCain credits his continued existence to the help and
support of his fellow prisoners, especially Bud Day (Ruptash), Norris Overly
(Whigham) and Bob Craner (Chrest).
When he was first captured after his crash, the injured
McCain, rescued from a bayonet-wielding mob by a nurse, was put in with Day and
Overly, who looked after him. Later, put into solitary confinement, McCain is able
to speak to Craner through a wall, the only American voice he heard during the
rest of his imprisonment.
“They definitely helped each other survive,” Hatosy says.
“Part of the reason that McCain was put in with those guys when he first got
there was because the North Vietnamese knew he was in bad shape. They knew he
might die, and they really didn’t want him to die. They needed him to be kept
alive, because they knew his father was an admiral.
“They put him in a cell with Norris Overly and Bud Day. Overly
had helped Day, who had been through a pretty rough time, too. From day one,
Overly said to McCain, ‘I’m not going to let you die.'”
McCain visited the set during shooting, seeing Hatosy
sitting in a set of the Hanoi Hilton, dressed as POW McCain.
“Shawn is a very fine young man,” McCain says. “I’m pleased
that he is playing the role, and from what I’ve seen, I’m very impressed with
his acting ability. The set is very realistic and eerily reminiscent of the
prison in Hanoi.”
While some might think revisiting such a scene would be too
painful, it’s something McCain already did in his mind while writing his book.
“You know, it had been many years since I had come home,” he
says, “and I had been able to put a lot of things into perspective. The book
wasn’t just a story about my prison experience as much as it was a story of my
whole life and the people who have had the greatest influence on me — people
such as my father and grandfather, and of course, the friends who sustained me
under difficult times in prison.
“I thought it was a story that people might like to share.”
As far as reliving it on film, McCain is unruffled at the
“I put all this stuff behind me the day that I left,” he
says, “because, as I mentioned, I observed a thousand acts of courage and
compassion and love. Some of the greatest, most wonderful experiences of my
life were there. I don’t want to forget them.”
Asked what he wanted to make sure got into the film, McCain
says, “That even if we have weaknesses and failings, with the help and courage
and compassion of others, we can rise to heights that we didn’t think we were
“I never thought I would be able to come back from some of
the setbacks that I had in prison, but with the help of my comrades and their
inspiration, I did.”