McCain, John Sidney Jr.

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McCain, John Sidney Jr.., born 17-01-1911 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. His father, a junior officer on the armored cruiser USS Washington, was away at sea at the time, and his mother, the former Catherine Davey Vaulx, was traveling cross country to visit with her sister. He was called “Jack” by his family, although he would also be called “Junior” by others, which he preferred less. His family’s history of military service extended beyond his father—his paternal uncle was U.S Army Brigade General William Alexander McCain.

  His family tree also had other people engaged in military service, back through many wars. McCain grew up at various naval stations where his father was posted and then in Northwest, Washington D.C., , going to local schools and working as a paperboy. His father was away on duty for much of his childhood, and his mother did much of the parenting. He graduated from Central High School in the district. McCain entered the United States Naval Academy in 1927, at age 16. He disliked the hazing tradition and behavioral restrictions of Annapolis, and accumulated many demerits and earned mediocre grades during his years at the Academy. As one biographer wrote, McCain “was given to taking unauthorized midnight leave and spent much of his four … years in contention with authority and working off massive doses of extra duty.” McCain later stated: “I was known as a ‘ratty’ plebe, and that’s the plebe who does not conform always to the specific rules and regulations of the upperclassmen. Some of these upperclassmen would … require you to do such things which only incited rebellion and mutiny in me, see.” At one point, McCain had so many demerits he was at risk of not graduating; his partying and drinking was especially dangerous as it was taking place during Prohibition. For much of his final year there, he was banished from Bancroft Hall, the normal residence for midshipmen, and forced instead to live on the barracks ship Reina Mercedes. He graduated in 1931, finishing 423rd out of 441 in class rank, eighteenth from the bottom. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, McCain would not see his family for long stretches.

By now a Lieutenant commander, McCain was assigned to command the submarine Gunnel, joining her in May 1942 for trials and seeing the boat commissioned in August 1942. Gunnel was deployed as part of the November 1942 invasion of French North Africa. Operating conditions for the five submarines sent there were not favorable, due to overcrowded waters, poor weather and mixed-up signals, and the deployment had no accomplishments. Like many other U.S. submarines, Gunnel was attacked in error by friendly aircraft. The Hooven-Owens-Rentschler (H.O.R.) diesels, known as “whores”, which powered Gunnel were troublesome; at one point while returning home, drive gears of all four of the main engines were out of commission, and McCain’s crew had to rely on their tiny auxiliary engine for the last 1,000 nautical miles (1.900 km). Gunnel went into the navy yard for an extensive refit and was replaced on patrol station off North Africa by “Pilly’s “Haddo. At the conclusion of the war, McCain sailed Dentuda into Tokyo Bay and had one last meeting with his father, who had been commanding the Fast Carrier Task Force during the latter stages of the war. Slew McCain would die four days after the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay. In addition to his Silver and Bronze Stars, McCain’s actions in the war earned him two letters of commendation. A superior wrote that: “His zeal in the investigation and development of new submarine tactics and weapons has been outstanding.” Admiral McCain retired on 01–1972. There was no ceremony, as it would have been redundant after the one two months earlier in Hawaii; as one associate said, “He just didn’t come to work today.” McCain visited the White House in 1975 and discussed naval preparedness issues with President Gerald Ford. During the late 1970s, McCain sometimes acted as an advisor on military matters to Ronald Reagon, who was ramping up his third presidential candidacy. McCain also participated in a January 1978 traveling “Panama Canal Truth Squad”, led by Senator Paul Laxalt, that sought Senate rejection of the Panama Canal Treaty; McCain felt that the eventual ceding of the canal to Panamanian control would endanger U.S. security and provide an opening to the Soviets in the region. But overall, McCain felt despair over his reluctant retirement from the United States Navy and fell into prolonged poor health.  His son John felt his father’s “long years of binge drinking” had caught up with him, despite a mostly successful later recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Death and burial ground of McCain, John Sidney Jr..

McCain died of a heart attack on a military aircraft en route from Europe on 22-03-1981, age 70, with his wife at his side. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 3.

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