In Pennsylvania, McCain Tells a New Version of Heroic P.O.W. Story -- Subbing the Pittsburgh Steelers for the Green Bay Packers
July 10, 2008 5:37 PM
Yesterday in Pittsburgh, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., professed his love for the Steelers to KDKA-TV.
Asked what first comes to his mind when he thinks of Pittsburgh, McCain chuckled, "the Steelers. I was a mediocre high school athlete but I loved and adored the sports but the Steelers really made a huge impression on me particularly in my early years."
And then McCain told a rather moving story about his time as a P.O.W. "When I was first interrogated and really had to give some information because of the pressures, physical pressures on me, I named the starting lineup, defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron mates."
"Did you really?" asked the reporter.
"Yes," McCain said.
"In your POW camp?" asked the reporter.
"Yes," McCain said.
"Could you do it today?" asked the reporter.
"No, unfortunately," McCain said.
Here's one reason he likely couldn't do it today -- the Steelers aren't the team whose defensive line McCain named for his Vietnamese tormentors. The Green Bay Packers are. At least according to every previous time McCain has told this story. And the McCain campaign just told ABC News that the senator made a mistake -- it was, indeed, the Packers.
In McCain's best-selling 1999 memoir “Faith of My Fathers,” McCain writes:
“Once my condition had stabilized, my interrogators resumed their work. Demands for military information were accompanied by threats to terminate my medical treatment if I did not cooperate. Eventually, I gave them my ship’s name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant. Pressed for more useful information, I gave the names of the Green Bay Packers offensive line, and said they were members of my squadron. When asked to identify future targets, I simply recited the names of a number of North Vietnamese cities that had already been bombed.”
In 2005, A&E ran a movie version of "Faith of My Fathers."
And McCain discussed that precise clip on CNN.
The actor playing McCain, asked to name the men in his squadron, says: "Starr; Greg; McGee; Davis; Adderly; Brown; Ringo; Wood."
Cut back to real life. The CNN anchor asks McCain: "For those who don't know the story, were those NFL football players?"
"That was the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers, the first Super Bowl champions, yes," McCain responded. But it's -- it was the best I could think of at the time."
The movie actually shows this act of defiance twice.
INTERROGATOR: The names of your squadron...
MCCAIN: Starr, Gregg...McGee, Davis...Adderley, Brown, Ringo, Wood.
INTERROGATOR: Ten points, McCain.
MCCAIN: Ray Nitschke, our C.O.
The Packers anecdote is not only a key part of the McCain biography, it's part of his argument against torture.
Explaining why he thinks torture can result in erroneous information, McCain wrote in Newsweek in 2005, "In my experience, abuse of prisoners often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear--whether it is true or false--if he believes it will relieve his suffering. I was once physically coerced to provide my enemies with the names of the members of my flight squadron, information that had little if any value to my enemies as actionable intelligence. But I did not refuse, or repeat my insistence that I was required under the Geneva Conventions to provide my captors only with my name, rank and serial number. Instead, I gave them the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, knowing that providing them false information was sufficient to suspend the abuse.
McCain's valor as a P.O.W. is beyond admirable, but this business of substituting the Steelers for the Packers is odd, though as I said, the McCain campaign says this was an honest mistake.