John McCain Reminds Everyone That American Service Members Can Be Heroes Even If Their Missions Don't Succeed

A back and forth between McCain and the White House finished with a memorable lesson.

Senator John McCain took the time to respond to Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday, and his words are sure to be remembered by anyone who heard them.

The exchange came after McCain openly criticized a raid in Yemen ordered by President Trump, which ended with the death of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens and, reportedly, 30 Yemeni civilians. McCain, who is the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which oversees military operations, characterized the operation as a "failure."

In response, Spicer told the White House briefing room that any characterization of the raid as unsuccessful "does a disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens."

"He fought knowing what was at stake in that mission," Spicer said. "And anybody who would suggest otherwise doesn't fully appreciate how successful that mission was."

The comment was clearly directed at McCain, and a reporter asked if that's the message Spicer would relay. He said it was.


McCain during a 2015 meeting with the president of Ukraine. Drop of Light / Shutterstock, Inc.

When MSNBC tracked McCain down to ask him about Spicer's comments, the Vietnam vet took the opportunity to offer his thoughts on what constituted a hero and honoring service. McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam who repeatedly refused freedom without his fellow soldiers being released with him. 

"Many years ago when I was imprisoned in North Vietnam, there was an attempt to rescue the POWs," McCain said. "Unfortunately, the prison had been evacuated. But the brave men who were took on that mission and risked their lives in an effort to rescue us prisoners of war were genuine American heroes. Because the mission failed did not in any way diminish their courage and willingness to help their fellow Americans who were held captive. Mr. Spicer should know that story."

McCain then walked away from the cameras after he finished.

On the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump criticized McCain's status as a war hero by saying "I like people who weren't captured." At the time, McCain's response was measured. He had an upcoming election in Arizona. Now, though, he is at the beginning of a six-year senate term and has little reason not to engage the current administration in debates over policy and messaging.

His words are a bold reminder that an American service member's sacrifice and heroism is not defined by whether their mission was a success or failure. And, coming from someone with McCain's background, they carry some additional weight.

 Cover photo via Shutterstokc / mistydawnphoto.


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