Sept. 5, 2008, St. Paul, MN – In a convention hall jammed with people cheering for Sen. John McCain on Thursday night, one group of delegates felt an especially close kinship with the newly minted Republican presidential nominee.
Among them was Tom Moe, 64, of Lancaster, Ohio, the Vietnam veteran recognized on national television Wednesday night as the fellow prisoner of war who witnessed a tortured McCain being returned to his cell – with thumbs up and unbowed.
Far removed from their years as malnourished, black pajama-clad POWs, Moe – wearing a gray sports jacket and a tie with stars and stripes – sat just 50 feet from the stage, ramrod straight in his chair, anticipating McCain’s appearance.
“It will be a very, very deep emotion to see him up there and the memory it will harken in me,” Moe said of the man he credits with keeping his spirits alive in the darkest days of his life.
Because of the bravery McCain exhibited by standing up to his interrogators, and his foreign policy experience, Moe and Texas delegates like Bob Long of Bastrop say veterans will have an especially empathetic ear from McCain, should he become the commander-in-chief.
Long, also a Vietnam veteran, was reluctant to criticize President Bush, despite the revelations of poor care given Iraq war veterans at Veterans Administration hospitals and rehab facilities in Washington, D.C., and around the country. But he said McCain would not tolerate such treatment for wounded soldiers.
‘He’ll clean up and straighten out the Veterans Administration from top to bottom because he truly cares,” Long said.
A minister and chaplain of the Republican Party of Texas for eight years, Long said McCain, unlike Democrat Barack Obama, cares about veterans’ issues because of his wartime experience.
“He understands where they’ve been and what they’ve gone through because he has been in a worse place than most war veterans,” Long said. “McCain won’t let up until veterans have the health care, hospitals, and other facilities they fully deserve.”
Long, a 24-year-old Army captain when he arrived in the Mekong Delta in 1968 to serve in an artillery battalion, said McCain’s war experiences will have an effect on other world leaders.
“I love and respect George Bush, but he is not from a family of warriors like John McCain,” he said. “Coming from a family like that means he’ll get the attention and respect of countries in the Middle and Far East that have a heritage of honoring their warriors.”
In his prepared remarks, McCain said he was “never the same” after his experience as a POW.
“I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s,” he said. “I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for.”
Moe – the subject of a shout-out Wednesday night from McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin – heads the Ohio Veterans for McCain and will spearhead efforts to have veterans groups rally to McCain.
He recalled the inspiration he drew from McCain, who was kept in a tiny, dingy cell across from his at the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison.
“I can so easily see him being led back to his cell, walking, shuffling bent over from his terrific injuries, from the (plane) exploding parts, and from the beating and the bayonetting he endured. And I can see him giving me the sign, the thumbs up.”
“That meant that he was telling me, ‘We are gonna make it through this, we are going to make it back, and when we were going to leave, it was going to be with honor, with our heads held high,'” Moe said. “I have that memory as if it were yesterday.”