McCain Comes from Long Line of Military Service Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee comes from a decorated Navy family. Liane Hansen speaks to McCain biographer Robert Timberg about the McCain family's military legacy. Timberg's biography is called, John McCain: An American Odyssey. Timberg himself graduated from the Naval Academy in 1964 and served as a Marine in Vietnam. We caught up with him on the grounds of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, on a bench overlooking the Naval Academy Cemetery.
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McCain Comes from Long Line of Military Service

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McCain Comes from Long Line of Military Service

McCain Comes from Long Line of Military Service

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Former President George H.W. Bush is expected to endorse Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, at an event in Houston, Texas tomorrow.

(Soundbite of chanting John McCain, John McCain…)

HANSEN: Last week John McCain celebrated a victory in the Potomac Primary with wins in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Candidate): We've come a long way in this campaign and we've had our ups and we've had our downs. But as luck, that product of opportunity and industry would have it, we're approaching the end of the first half of the election on quiet and upswing.

HANSEN: Before the Potomac Primaries, the senator was in Annapolis, Maryland campaigning for votes. Annapolis is a very familiar place to him. In the 1950s he was a midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy there. In fact, the place is familiar to four generations of McCains. His grandfather and father went there and served in the United States Navy. One of the senator's sons is at the academy now.

In this part of the program, we're going to focus on the McCain family legacy in the military. Robert Timberg has written a biography of the senator called "John McCain: An American Odyssey." Timberg himself graduated from the Naval Academy in 1964 and served as a Marine in Vietnam.

We caught up with him on the grounds of the Naval Academy in Annapolis on a bench overlooking the Naval Academy's cemetery.

Mr. ROBERT TIMBERG (Author "John McCain: An American Odyssey"): Just within a stone's throw I can see the gravesite of Vice Admiral Jim Stockdale who was a prisoner of war with Senator McCain, and one of the only two men to win a medal of honor as a P.O.W.

Over to my left is the Severn River gliding by, looking lovely. And Bancroft Hall, which is the largest dormitory in the world, where the fourth generation of McCains now resides, Jack McCain. Senator McCain's oldest son is a junior here.

HANSEN: Senator McCain's grandfather, Admiral John S. McCain, Sr., commanded forces in the Pacific during World War II. His planes once sank 49 Japanese ships in a single day. He was aboard the USS Missouri to witness the Japanese surrender in 1945, and died just a few days after he arrived back in the United States.

Admiral John McCain, Jr. was a decorated submarine commander. Both men were the first father/son four-star admirals in the history of the United States Navy. But in spite of all their accomplishments, biographer Robert Timberg says the McCains weren't known for their academics at the Naval Academy.

Mr. TIMBERG: Senator McCain's grandfather, who was known as Slew McCain, graduated deep in the class and was known in the yearbook for that class, the skeleton in the closet of the Class of 1906. However he went on to be one of the most famous admirals of World War II.

HANSEN: Tell us a little bit about the senator's father, Jack, who was also a four-star admiral in the Navy.

Mr. TIMBERG: Senator McCain's father was the commander-in-chief of all U.S. military forces in the Pacific when Senator McCain was a prisoner of war. And, I mean, he actually had to OK bombing runs on Hanoi when his son was in prison there.


Mr. TIMBERG: And I think there's a kind of steel that kind of runs through the McCain family. And it's not frankly confined to the men. I think it's important to look at Senator McCain's father and grandfather to sort of understand who he is and how he became what he is. But it would be a mistake not to look at his mother.

Mrs. McCain, Roberta McCain, who is 96 and going strong, has the kind of unsinkable personality that kind of, you know, never say die; you know, don't back down personality that I think Senator McCain has. And I think he inherited it from her and not necessarily from his father or grandfather.

HANSEN: Senator McCain's son, Jimmy, is now in the Marines and...

Mr. TIMBERG: Right.

HANSEN: ...serving in Iraq. And another son, Jack, is now a midshipman, second class, at the Naval Academy.

Mr. TIMBERG: Right. Jack is a junior here.

HANSEN: Is he following in his father's footsteps?

Mr. TIMBERG: Jack is the black sheep of the family. Jack is the one who has, in fact, defied the family legacy and is doing quite well here both in academics and in conduct.

HANSEN: Really?

Mr. TIMBERG: Yes. So as Senator McCain says, he has betrayed the family legacy.

HANSEN: What do you think in Senator McCain's naval experience will serve him well should he become president?

Mr. TIMBERG: You know, it's hard to see silver linings in really, really horrible things. And there's no question that Senator McCain's time, five and a half years in prison, could hardly have been worse short of him dying. And yet I think he came out of that, you know, the sort of playboy, madcap young Naval officer, came out no less unsinkable, no less sunny, ultimately. That's going to carry you a long way in a lot of situations.

I mean, who knows if he's president, is that going to make him a great president? I don't know. But it seems to me that it's the kind of thing that I'd like to have in my hip pocket if I was ever, you know, told to sit in the Oval Office.

HANSEN: Robert Timberg is editor-in-chief of the U.S. Naval Institute's magazine "Proceedings." He's also the author of "John McCain: An American Odyssey," a biography of Senator John McCain. He joined us from the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Thank you so much.

Mr. TIMBERG: Thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: And before Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, Senator John McCain has picked up an endorsement from Wisconsin's largest newspaper. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has endorsed him as the Republican presidential nominee. And the paper has thrown its support behind Barack Obama on the Democratic side.

(Soundbite of music)

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