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Video: Meghan McCain on her book, dad

TODAY books
updated 9/9/2008 8:46:30 AM ET 2008-09-09T12:46:30

Meghan McCain, the oldest daughter of Republican presidential nominee John McCain and his wife Cindy, has written an illustrated children's book about her father, focusing on his service in the armed forces and his run for president. An excerpt from “My Dad, John McCain.”

There are a few things you need to know about my dad, and one of them is that if he is elected, he would make a great president. But to know what makes him great, you have to hear his story first.

My dad was born in Panama, on a navy base. For him and his family, the Navy was home. My dad’s father and his grandfather were both navy admirals. In fact, our ancestors have fought for their country in every American war since the Revolution.

Everyone thought he would join the navy too, but for a long time, my dad wasn’t so sure.

My father’s family moved from naval base to naval base, which meant he switched schools all the time. Finally, when he was fifteen, he went to a boarding school in Virginia. He wasn’t a very good student there. He broke a lot of rules, but he liked football, and wrestling. He wasn’t the biggest or the strongest guy on the football team — but he was one of the toughest. He just wouldn’t give up.

My grandparents knew my dad would go to the Naval Academy after high school. But at the Academy, you have to follow a lot of rules — and back then my dad wasn’t so good at that! He didn’t always keep his shoes shined or his room neat, and sometimes he even snuck out of school.

But when he went to sea on a practice training cruise, he liked it so much and did so well, his teachers were amazed. On a ship, following the rules kept things running smoothly — and he could see that was important for everyone.

The more my dad learned about life in the military, the more he knew he wanted to fly planes. After he graduated from the Academy, it was time for flight training. Learning to fly can be dangerous. Once, the engine of my dad’s plane quit working and he crashed into a bay. He had to swim for his life.

But he still had his heart set on flying missions in the Vietnam War. He wanted to fight for his country, just like his father and grandfather. He wanted to do great things, just like them.

In Vietnam, my dad flew planes that took off from an aircraft carrier called the Forrestal. One day while he was waiting to take off, a bomb fell off another pilot’s plane and smashed a fuel tank on my dad’s plane. Fuel went everywhere, and pretty soon the whole ship was in flames.

My dad crawled out onto his plane’s nose. He leaped through the flames and scrambled onto the deck. It’s amazing he made it out alive. Bombs were exploding everywhere, and the fire burned all day and all night. It looked for sure like the Forrestal would sink, but the whole crew worked to save her — and they did.

Even after the Forrestal fire, my father kept flying. One October day my father had to fly a very complicated mission. He had flown a lot of dangerous missions before, so he was sure he’d be okay on this one too.

But he wasn’t. He’d just dropped his bombs on the target when a missile blew the right wing off of his plane. The plane flew out of control, and crashed. Luckily, my dad had parachuted out and landed in a lake.

He was alive. But both his arms and one leg were broken, and he’d been captured. He was now a prisoner of war.

My dad and the other prisoners were treated badly. He didn’t get the right kind of medical care for his broken bones, and the food was really bad — once he found a chicken foot in his lunch. But the prisoners did things to make themselves feel better. One guy sewed the American flag inside his pajamas. Every day they recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

But then my dad got a chance most prisoners didn’t. Since he was an admiral’s son, the Vietnamese who had captured him said they would let him go home. My dad was hurt, sick, and scared. But he knew there were some things more important than himself — like his faith in God, his country, and the men he served with. My dad wouldn’t go home and leave his friends. I think only a great man would have made that choice.

So he said he’d only go home if everyone who’d been captured before him was set free too.  And his captors said no. So my dad stayed in prison for five and a half years.

Finally, the war ended and my dad was set free. He hardly knew anything about what had been happening in the world, although he did find out that while they were in Vietnam, astronauts had landed on the moon.

For everything he’d done in the Navy, my dad earned the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart.

After he got home, my dad met and married my mom, Cindy. They had me in 1984, and then came my brothers, Jack and Jimmy. Finally, my mom and dad adopted my sister, Bridget, when she was a baby.

My brother Jack is in the Navy, just like our dad and his father and grandfather. My brother Jimmy joined the Marines. The McCain family tradition of serving our country just keeps going.

My dad stayed in the Navy for a few more years, but he’d been so badly hurt, he wasn’t able to fly a plane. So he began thinking about a new career — politics — and he moved to my mom’s home state of Arizona.

Excerpted from “My Dad, John McCain.” Copyright (c) 2008 by Meghan McCain. Reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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