JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Being the son of a highranking Navy officer may have saved his life when he was shot down over North Vietnam, Lt. Cmdr. John S. McCain III said Wednesday.
But McCain told a news conference at Jacksonville Naval Hospital that when his father, Adm. John S. McCain Jr., became commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, his North Vietnamese captors seemed to make him the target of special abuse.
The 32-year-old McCain told newsmen he was "severely injured" when he was shot down in October of 1967.
"I realized I was dying," the Navy flyer said. He said a North Vietnamese doctor first refused to treat him and his captors told him "it's too late."
On the fourth day of his captivity, McCain said, an interrogator returned to his cell with a doctor.
"You father is a big admiral ... now we'll take you to the hospital," McCain said the interrogator told him.
"My father's position possibly saved my life. It was probably why they took me to the hospital," he said.
Adm. McCain, now retired, became commander of the U.S. Pacific forces in 1968.
The younger McCain said the prominence of his father became "detrimental." He said the North Vietnamese wanted to show him off to visitors and tried to get him to accept an early release as a propaganda gesture.
McCain said he was beaten, tortured and held in solitary confinement for three years after refusing to meet the "foreign visitors or accept freedom denied to his fellow prisoners.
During "interrogation" sessions, McCain said the North Vietnamese broke one of his arms and a leg, cracked several of his ribs and knocked out some of his teeth.
Appearing with McCain were three other recently freed POWs about to be released from the hospital along with McCain. They were Cmdr. Peter V. Schoeffel of Naples, Fla., Cmdr. William M. Hardman of Longwood, Fla., and Lt. Cmdr. Giles R. Norrington of Sanford, Fla.
All four expressed strong criticism of recent statements by actress Jane Fonda and her husband, Tom Hayden an antiwar activist.
Both Hayden and Miss Fonda have charged that descriptions by POWs of torture in North Vietnamese prisons were propaganda fabrications arranged by the Pentagon.
"These people, Hayden and Fonda, were on the side of the North Vietnamese," McCain said. "I think she saw eight prisoners when there were 500 of us and she visited only a few of the camps."