Flyboy McCain : Hero or Fraud?

Updated September 5, 2008

This provocative article by Thomas Cleaver, written for The Rag Blog, was originally posted on August 30, 2008. We are publishing it again today with some very interesting discussion added.

Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog

Flyboy McCain with mates.

A Rag Blog Special…

A NOUN, A VERB, AND POW: The Truth About John McCain
By Thomas McKelvey Cleaver / The Rag Blog / August 30, 2008

While all good Democrats were being wowed by Michelle Obama this past Monday night (For the record, this political junkie with a 48 year history of involvement has never ever seen a campaign speech to beat this one given by Michelle Obama – it’s the greatest speech ever given by a political wife ever, for any office, period.), the sad fact is that about the same number of Americans watched John S. McCain III feed Jay Leno his patented barbecued baloney three hours later on “The Tonight Show.”

Last question of Jay’s interview: “How many houses do you have, Senator McCain?”

To which “the man who doesn’t really want to speak at length about his Vietnam experience” said “Well, for five and a half years I didn’t have a house, didn’t have a kitchen table, didn’t have a chair.” Ah yes, John S. McCain III was a POW, so you can’t ask him any question and you have to give him a lifetime pass on everything.

To which I call BULLSHIT!!!

Many of you reading this are among that overwhelming majority of Americans who don’t know that the pointed end of an airplane goes in front, and you certainly don’t know about the esoteric topic of “Naval Aviation.”

Allow me to educate you, so far as the topic refers to a certain presidential candidate.

As background, I was personally involved in Naval Aviation in Vietnam (as en enlisted man), and I write about aviation history for Flight Journal. I have studied the subject since the first word I ever said was “O-pane” when an airplane flew over the park we were in, and I am a recognized “subject matter expert” on this topic.

Most of you haven’t likely noticed this fact, but it’s important: in all of John S. McCain III’s political career, he has never had a Naval Aviator of his generation come out and publicly support him, publicly speak for him. Naval Aviation is a tight fraternity, and it is very judgmental of its members. If you don’t have “the Right Stuff” (i.e., the ability to land an airplane on a ship in any weather, day or night – one of the hardest jobs there is for a human to do – and if you crash, get up and “ride the horse” at the next available opportunity, and be a “man of honor”), then you aren’t really in the fraternity. You won’t be thrown out publicly, but you will know you’re out.

John S. McCain III has been “out” of the fraternity since before he became a POW.

The name McCain is lauded in naval history. The senator’s grandfather was one of Bull Halsey’s “fighting admirals” of the Third Fleet who defeated Japan in World War II. This is the American equivalent of being one of “Nelson’s captains” at Trafalgar. His father commanded the naval air forces in the Pacific through most of the Vietnam War. John S. McCain and John S. McCain Jr.

Unfortunately – like his friend George W. Bush – John S. McCain III is living proof of the old saw “the first generation makes it, the second generation saves it, and the third generation loses it.”

As has been noted by others, John S. McCain III graduated 494 in a class of 499 from Annapolis. Naval aviation is picky — they pride themselves on taking the best and making it hard to pass the test to get in. Outside of John S. McCain III, all other Annapolis graduates who have received a Naval Aviation assignment upon receiving their commission graduated in the upper third of their class. Not Johnny. After having to repeat three sections of his pilot training, John S. McCain III managed to crash five airplanes. In three of those events, the crash investigators wanted to say it was “pilot error” (a career-ender for any pilot anywhere), but the Navy wasn’t ready to give the boot to the progeny of two of its most famous commanders of the 20th Century.

Right wingers will tell you (and will send you to a You-Tube video they claim proves their case), that John McCain didn’t kill 137 of his fellow sailors and wound over 300 of them in what is known in Navy History as “The Forrestfire.” Unfortunately for the Righties, the bits of video are not conclusive proof. No time stamps, and the “map” of the flight deck of the USS Forrestal – and the position of McCain’s airplane and his escape route from the explosion – is not proven by anything more than assertion. Unfortunately, the websites that have put forward the relevant information are far right/white supremacist sites, so it is easy for the McCain campaign to “tar” these facts with the rest of the site.

But take note, they only tar the sites for their bad politics, not for the inaccuracy of these facts.

On July 29, 1967, the USS Forrestal was at Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf, preparing to launch an “Alpha Strike” against North Vietnam: 12 A-4 Skyhawks with 12 F-4 Phantoms for fighter escort. LCDR John S. McCain III was a Skyhawk pilot. He had a reputation for “breaking the rules” (being son of an Admiral your superiors may have to answer to gives you “latitude”). This time, he decided on a “wet start.” This is something against the rules; it involves feeding gas to the engine before lighting it off, and results in a flame shooting 6-12 feet out the tail of the jet. Everybody in the near vicinity “gets a shock.” In some circles of Naval Aviation this is considered a “joke”.

This time, the flame was more than 12 feet, and it caught the F-4 Phantom positioned right behind the Skyhawk, enveloping it in flame. The pilot and the “guy in back” didn’t get out — victims #1 and #2 — and more importantly, the flames cooked off the 600-gallon drop tank the Phantom was carrying. The flames spread to the two Zuni rocket pods on the inboard pylons, which heated to the point where 10 rockets ignited and went flying into the 12 fully-fueled, fully-armed Skyhawks, which went off like the 12,000 lb. bombs each was.

Eight hours later, the USS Forrestal – first of today’s supercarriers – was “hors de combat” with 137 dead, several hundred more injured, and damage to the ship sufficiently bad that this carrier would spend the rest of the Vietnam War in repair.

The righties say there’s no proof John S. McCain III was responsible, but at the end of the day, the only unwounded man transferred from the Forrestal to the carrier USS Oriskany was LCDR John S. McCain III. Coincidence???

The next month — August 1967 — LCDR John S. MCain III was privately informed he had failed promotion to Commander (CDR) that coming November, for the third time. In the Navy it’s “three strikes and you’re out.” This meant that LCDR John S. McCain III would never follow his father or grandfather to the heights of the Navy. If he wanted to stay in the Navy another nine years, that would be it. No more promotions and an involuntary retirement at 20 years’ service. According to Admirals I have interviewed, when a junior officer fails to make the cut from Lieutenent (LT) to Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) of from Lieutenant Commander to Commander (CDR), the real reason — according to a very senior Admiral — is “lack of maturity, which the officer dropped will either quickly disprove as a civilian or spend the rest of their lives proving the judgment correct.”

This brings us now to October, 1967. LCDR John S. McCain III gets shot down.

Rule #1 of Attack Aviation is: “Never turn around and fly over the target you just bombed low and slow when they’re ready for you.” LCDR John S. McCain III broke the rule as he has so many others, and he was shot down.

For most of us, becoming a POW would not be a “career-maker’ but not for our Johnny-boy.

Once he’s confirmed as a POW, he enters the armed services’ “Joint POW fast-track promotion policy,” i.e., the first time a POW is eligible for promotion, they get promoted.

So in November, 1967 — rather than being drummed out of the Navy — John S. McCain III gets a promotion to CDR. By the time he gets out of the Hanoi Hilton in 1973, he’s a Captain (Navy equivalent of a Colonel). The incompetent who failed promotion to CDR gets an assignment for a Captain: commander of the Navy’s Replacement Air Group for Attack Squadrons in the Atlantic Fleet. He flunks it.

Eighteen months later he’s told there won’t be a third Admiral McCain, but the Navy needs him in Washington, where they can use his “celebrity status” as a POW as a liaison with Congress, where his job is to keep congressmen well-laid and well-liquored up, so they’ll vote for more Big Boys Toys for the boys in Navy Blue.

It’s at a party in Hawaii thrown by the Naval Congressional Liason Office that soon-to-be-an-official-loser CAPT McCain meets the 24 year old daughter of a convicted Arizona bootlegger who is still considered an indicted participant in the assassination of investigative reporter Don Bolles in 1967 (Bolles’ was investigating the Arizona crime syndicate that Cindy’s dad was a capo regime in.)

And the rest is history.

As an aside about POWs, there have been Prisoners of War in every war America has ever fought. Those captured by our now-erstwhile allies the Brits during the Revolution suffered worse treatment than any other American POWs in any other war: 80% of them died in captivity. I have a good friend who survived the Bataan Death March and three and a half years’ captivity in Japan — no one ever made any sort of “big deal” out of his experience, which was only equaled by my own great-great-grandfather when he was imprisoned in Libby Prison in Richmond after being captured at Cold Harbor. (Historical note: 60% of American POWs in the Civil War – on both sides – starved to death). The Korean War POWs came home to be doubted by those for whom they had gone to war for possibly being “brainwashed.”

The only time in American history that POWs were turned into “heroes” was the war in Vietnam , when LBJ and Nixon needed something to con the rubes with to continue “the good fight” as they searched for “peace with honor.”

All hail John S. MCain III – product of “special treatment” from the day he was born, whether he had the competence to deserve it or not.

Discussion about this article by Ragbloggers, posted September 5, 2008.

Tom Cleaver would have it that McCain caused the US Forrestal fire with a childish prank.


NavSource Online: Aircraft Carrier Photo Archive,


Wikipedia: 1967 USS Forrestal fire.

These and other sources agree that an electric malfunction of a rocket loaded on a F-4 was the cause. McCain was in an A-4 Skyhawk.

The wikipedia article supplies 8 references and 8 external links.

Cleaver supplies no references.

The dead and wounded were transferred to the hospital ship USS Repose according to the logs of the Forrestal (reproduced on the top link above). Cleaver has the wounded transferred to the USS Oriskany which is an aircraft carrier.

You be the judge.

Michael Eisenstadt

Actually, the Wikipedia article is bullshit, being written by right-wingers. But we must always trust what we read on the internet, right? Particularly the stuff we find on sites that can be edited by anyone who stops by.

The facts as I laid them out are still facts. McCain was the only unwounded guy transferred to the Oriskany, and none of the “eividence” presented about the fire is conclusive of anything (I wish it was). And despite numerous FOIA requests, the Navy has never released the results of the investigation into the incident.

Thomas Cleaver

The logs of the USS Forrestal are available on line. The Wikipedia article and the logs for July 29 are in close agreement.

The planes on the deck that day were pointed inboard. Cleaver claims that McCain and his plane caused the fire by lighting off his engine prematurely as a prank.

In other words, Cleaver has the plane’s position backwards. The spotting diagram of the planes is reproduced in the Wikipedia article. I forwarded the diagram in my initial email to show the impossibility of Cleaver’s claim. Cleaver either borrowed this from another liar or made up the lie himself.

See attached diagram and read the caption on the bottom of the diagram explaining the accident.

McCain was apparently a total screwup during his navy career but he did not cause the fire on the USS Forrestal.

[Eisenstadt’s own empirical evidence was a freaking Wikipedia piece, a source as unsubstantiated as they get.]

No, I looked for and found corroborative evidence. The logs for the USS Forrestal are on line and are maintained by a navy veteran who was aboard the Forrestal on July
29, 1967.

Check it out here.

Generally Wikipedia articles are quite good and do not freak.

Mike Eisenstadt


I remain agnostic in regards to the specific debate concerning McCain’s responsibility for the fire on the USS Forrestal. I do believe that Thomas Cleaver is correct in asserting that McCain’s military record contains ample evidence of his poor judgment and character. However, it is not appropriate for you to call Mr. Cleaver a liar. It is fine for you to argue that he is mistaken or ill informed, but to call him a liar is an inappropriate personal attack.

David Hamilton


You cant remain agnostic about an impossibility. The planes on the stern of aircraft carriers face inboard. The engine is at the back. The planes have to be turned in the right direction long before the engines are lighted off.

Whoever made up this lie, Cleaver or someone else, wasnt aware of how planes are spotted on an aircraft carrier. Case closed.

I adopt the role which conforms in my mind as best supporting the truth and morality.

Cleaver may not be a habitual liar but once one is caught doing it, it is bad for one’s reputation.

Like Chomsky lying his head off in his reportage on the nighttime bombing of the pharmeceutical factory in the Sudan where the nightwatchman was killed.

Mike Eisenstadt

I see that M.E. wants to pour more jet fuel on the fire …

So let me get this straight. The military can be trusted ABSOLUTELY to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me Admiral McCain.

Tell that to Pat Tillman’s family.

Or more to what I suspect is Eisenstadt’s underlying point, tell that to the families of the 34 seaman killed during Israel’s June 8, 1967, aerial and torpedo-boat attack on NSA spyship USS Liberty on day four of the Six Day War. Many many many people think that Admiral Papa John McCain covered up that story:

New Details in Attack on American Spy Ship / Chicago Tribune / Oct. 3, 2007 /

The Liberty incident was only six weeks before the admiral’s son was involved in the Forrestal fire, and freelance journalist/cybersleuth Wayne Madsen smells a burning connection. In particular, he suggests that Bush-Cheney neocons may have found something in the Pentagon’s classified files to hold over McCain’s head — he notes that they have had seven years to dig. Madsen’s conjecture includes references to Forrestal survivors “and those who have investigated the case” who believed “that McCain deliberately ‘wet-started’ his A-4E” as a hotdog stunt. Madsen provides no names — not itself especially surprising given the high profile of these allegations — but in a later report he writes that “previous reports on McCain’s direct involvement in causing the worst non-combat-related disaster in the history of the Navy has since been verified by a senior Naval officer who was assigned to the Naval War College.”

See McCain’s past makes him a Neocon puppet / Feb. 5, 2008 / Portland Indymedia.

As for the flight deck diagram cited by Eisenstadt as proof that a McCain wet-start could not have started the Forrestal’s conflagration, I would point out that this sketch only shows how the planes were positioned before moving into launch position. The Forrestal fire broke out as pilots were firing up engines preparing for a mission over Vietnam. If the A-4s were moving into line for launch, McCain would have been in position to play a little prank.

All in all, Madsen provides interesting things to ponder about John McCain’s glossy flyboy image — and the five expensive aircraft he lost during his Navy service.

A final note: Madsen’s conjecture shows up in a bizarrely twisted version on an anti-Zionist website called Judicial Inc, and this link provides interesting things to ponder about why Mike Eisenstadt might be so anxious to discredit Tom Cleaver as a liar. Judicial Inc features both the Forrestal and Liberty stories in a silly attempt to prove that the McCain family reputation is controlled by Zionists.

What do I take from all of this? Not much beyond the observation that whenever I see Michael Eisenstadt’s name on an MDS post, I get ready for the Silly Season to commence.

Liar liar
pants on fire.

Jim Retherford

The fire broke out while planes were parked
at the stern before being moved. See attached diagram and read the accompanying caption.

This diagram published in the Naval Aviation News, October 1967, was described as follows:

Deck plan of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59) on 29 July 1967 in the Gulf of Tonking during the Vietnam war, when an accidentially launched rocket led to a catastrophe that killed 134, and injured 62. 21 aircraft of Attack Carrier Air Wing
17 (CVW-17) (tail code “AA”) were destroyed.

Perhaps we should now assume that the Naval Aviation News was lying in their role as agents of the Zionists.

Mike Eisenstadt

The Naval Aviation News was restating the military review findings, not doing any new groundbreaking reporting.

Mike, I can’t decide whether you have an overall authority problem or a problem selecting authorities. If the Navy’s own review of the Forrestal disaster was tainted by “orders from above” (ie, Admiral Johh McCain Jr. or others acting to protect his interests) — as is believed by military journalist Bryant Jordan in the USS Liberty case and as was the case during the Pat Tillman cover-up (before overwhelming contravening evidence blew that fiction up) — so then will all of the subsequent stories, including Naval Aviation News and Wikipedia, etc.

Such is how fiction often passes for history –until someone begins to poke at the myths or accidently stumbles onto the truth.

All you are proving to the readers of this group is that you cherrypick your sources, selecting only that which supports your own chiseled-in-stone belief system while discarding any countervailing opinions as lies.

I’ll not call this lying. I’d call this lousy self-serving scholarship.

Jim Retherford

The Rag Blog

This entry was posted in Rag Bloggers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Flyboy McCain : Hero or Fraud?

  1. Thank you, thank you! Now get this story circulated everywhere you can – it belongs on the front pages of every newspaper, but of course if anything does get printed, it will be a brief entry near the personals column…….

    A great truth; a great story! /ds

  2. Anonymous says:

    unfortunately USS Forrestal story is bullshit.

    Mike Eisenstadt

  3. HarryE says:

    Excellent piece, Thorne. Thank you.

    I read the whole thing at which point I was in the condition my father used to describe as not knowing whether to shit or go blind. The McCains make the Bushes look like summer theater. I urge each of you to read this article.

    I googled Cleaver. He knows his stuff about planes and aeronautical history.

    I also found
    a short blog of his from The Carpetbagger of THREE YEARS AGO
    . Any of this sound familiar to you?

    “Dark clouds have been forming out over our national horizon for quite awhile now. It’s entirely possible to see the flashes of distant lightning and hear the echoing thunder over the cacophony of voices crying out about the daily news from the war in Iraq.

    “There’s the possibility of a flu pandemic that could literally alter the state of human existence on the planet; the oil crisis may be asking people to choose between filling the tank and putting food on the table for a long time to come; the coming housing bubble may knock the pins out from under our “growing economy” as I read that housing here in the Lower Left Corner is now considered 50 percent overpriced; four senators – three Republicans and one Democrat – have just returned from Point Barrow, Alaska, and have publicly stated they now believe the Arctic is melting.”

    Harry Edwards

  4. TCinLA says:

    Of course, Mike, we should always believe something we read on the internet, written by someone anonymous, on a site that can be edited and modified by anyone who signs in.

    Wikipedia is as good as the integrity with which its information is created. However, this past Spring it was revealed that every article on the subject of global warming had been edited and “de-fanged” by a public relations firm employed on a special contract from the White House.

    And you think the McCain Campaign would have no interest in writing their own history of their candidate’s service?

    I’ll give you that the Forrestfire is speculation, since the Navy has never issued a public version of the accident investigation, and has resisted every FOIA request on grounds of “national security” (the usual catch-all one-size=fits-all argument when a government agency doesn’t wish to have its dirty laundry aired).

    So tell me what else is wrong in the article? There’s nothing in there that does Wet Start Johnny any good. As an officer I know who knew him “back in the day” once said, “John McCain was your typical privileged asshole. Someone you wanted to stay well away from.” That pretty much echoes what Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi said back in January, “The thought of John McCain as President sends a chill through my bones.”

  5. Mike Eisenstadt says:

    Photos of the surveillance cameras of the planes burning on the stern
    of the USS Forrestal July 29, 1967 published in October 1967 in
    Naval Aviation News

    Clicking on the Oct. 1967 issue links to a 7.2Mb pdf of the entire

    (photos attached below). Some of the photos in the Oct 67 issue<

  6. Charles Loving says:

    The story seems to have a lot of legs. The screw up on the flight deck has some problems. If you look into the Navy’s report or (Or cover up) there seem to be some loose ends there. Anti McCainites will tend to magnify the screwups and play down the actual. My judgement is that McCain was at fault more than once.

    I was in the PACAF command center the night that the Tonkin Bay incident

  7. Ed in Arisona says:

    In response to the comment on the USS Liberty. There’s plenty of evidence that the USS Liberty case was a cover up. The USS LIberty was the victim of an unprovoked and deliberate Israeli attack, covered up by the Johnson administration and the Pentagon. The survivors are living witnesses to the attack. Sadly, every presidential administration since has given Israel a free pass on the attack. Do

  8. richard jehn says:

    One more remark about this from an article at Information Clearing House.

    A few months [after the Forrestal incident], sipping Scotch in a Saigon villa with Johnny Apple of the New York Times, McCain reflected on the trauma. “It’s a difficult thing to say,” he said, “but now that I’ve seen what the

  9. Anonymous says:

    Actually what’s bullshit is YOU Cleaver. You are a fucking joke in every sense of the word. Why don’t you just fucking die already.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *