By Hill Kemp



When John McCain crashed his fifth navy fighter plane he was captured by the North Vietnamese.  That crash gave him his greatest claim to fame and made him a national celebrity.  But the in run-up to that incident hides a whole other story.


Acclaimed war hero McCain clearly demonstrated his rating in the lowest 0.5% in his military class of 900 during his tour of duty in Viet Nam.  On June 27, 1967 aboard the USS Forrestal 167 US sailors lost their lives in a giant fire and a series of explosions.  The crewmen who had to fight that fire for 24 hours to keep the aircraft carrier from sinking were looking for the “hotdog” pilot they thought started the chain reaction disaster.  But they were too late to find him.

John McCain, whose dad was a Pentagon bigwig, left the ship the next morning taking up a space on a helicopter meant to evacuate the wounded.  He was the only pilot transferred to another ship from the Forrestal after the incident in what is likely the fastest military transfer in recorded history – a kind of “cut and run” that left his grieving shipmates behind. 

His evacuation probably kept the death toll from going to 168 if the crewmen could have found the pilot who “wet-started” his A-4E Skyhawk fighter jet and triggered the incident.  “Wet-starting” means pooling jet fuel in the engine before starting it to send a flash of flame out the engine exhaust. (XA4D-1 Skyhawk BuNo 137812) This was done to shake up the pilot in the F-4 fighter behind him.  But in the confusion a rocket went off, bombs were dropped on the ship deck and the chain reaction disaster was underway.  The ship was so damaged it had to be taken out of the war effort.

Those 15 US jets lost?  Well, McCain outright crashed five from the pilot seat.  His whispered nickname was “McCrash”.  His fifth crash earned him POW status as his principal claim to heroic fame.  The other ten planes lost were casualties of the juvenile ‘hotdogging’ on the Forrestal deck that terrible day.  The financial cost for his stint in the service, even in 1967 dollars, was in the tens of millions.

Oh, and his flights before being captured probably amounted to a few casualties on the other side.  Sixty is a high side estimate.

(Based on official naval film account, a McCain campaign film adapting the record and testimony of sailors from the ship.)




Hill Kemp is a former Texas State Representative and his novel, Capitol Offense, ISBN 1878096702, rips away the Austin facade and reveals a surprising cast of the real players and their cut-throat contentions. In the place where George W. Bush and Karl Rove learned their abc’s of governing, Kemp’s novel exposes the hidden 90% of the governing process which never makes its way into the news. Capitol Offense, is a parody of then governor Bush and virtually a literary political cartoon. The page-turner was labeled “dangerously close to reality” by one Austin, Texas veteran.