Faith of my Fathers (2005)
Director: Peter Markle.
Starring: Michael Arata (Captain Hart), Joe Chrest (Bob Craner), Erin Cottrell (Carol McCain), Korbi Dean (Roberta McCain), Scott Glenn (Jack McCain), Shawn Hatosy (John McCain), Robert Heath Hickman (Doug McCain), Anh Huu Nguyen (Head Militia), Troy Ruptash (Bud Day), Shea Whigham (Norris Overly).
story of John McCain (senator from Arizona) and his military experiences in Vietnam
Spoiler warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
South China Sea. October 26, 1967. Vietnam War. On an aircraft carrier, the pilots are given their mission. They are to hit a thermal power plant in the middle of Hanoi. Pilot Lt. Commander John McCain has had only twenty-two missions bombing truck stops in Haiphong. The resistance in Hanoi will be substantial.
On the mission they are met with anti-aircraft fire and SAM missiles. One aircraft explodes in the air. McCain tries to avoid a SA-2 missile but he is hit.
McCain's father receives a call telling him that his son's plane has been downed over Hanoi. After the phone call ends he tells his wife, who starts crying.
After ejecting from his aircraft, McCain lands in a lake.
John's parents, Jack and Roberta, call to break the bad new to John's wife Carol. She starts to cry.
Three men swim out to retrieve John. They pull him onto the shore where he is roughly handled by others. A woman medic binds up his leg which hurts John a great deal. He tells her thank you and she spits at him. He is brought into a prison cell and literally dumped on the ground. A guard comes over to say in Vietnamese that he shot down McCain's plane.
John is put in a hospital bed where the chief interrogator shows him a picture of his capture. The headline is: "Admiral McCain's Son Shot Down Over Hanoi." The fellow asks him for the names of the men in his squadron. John replies: "Go piss up a tree." So another man strikes his leg. The process is repeated with the same result. But now John gives the man the names of the '62 Green Bay Packers. The fellows thanks John and leaves. The man next to him starts talking about the Packers. John tells the fellow his name and asks for his, but the man has just died.
Spring 1953. John remembers back to his high school days when he was a wrestler. His father arrives to see his son on the mat. John sees his father and with a sudden burst of power, he gets free of his competitor and gets him on the mat. Jack McCain goes to see the school principal and he tells Jack that John's grades are at the bottom of the class and he constantly gets into trouble. The principal thinks that this will endanger the likelihood of John getting into the Naval Academy. Jack only asks if his son broke the honor code (lied, cheated or stole)? No. Jacks tells the principal to call him if his son breaks the honor code. He leaves. John wins the wrestling match but his dad is not there to see it.
Hanoi. The interrogator comes in to tells John that a French journalist, Mr. Chalais, is coming in to interview John. If John doesn't say nice things about the North Vietnamese and doesn't express regret over his crimes, his cast will be removed, his leg will rot and he will die like the other American. The journalist says that John revealed the names of the men in his squadron. John repeats the names of the Green Bay Packers team. He then tells his wife that he will get well, he loves her and hopes to see her soon. McCain does not apologize for his crimes.
Back home. John's parents and wife are shown the footage. His father worries when the reporter says that John revealed the names of the men in his squadron. He smiles, however, when he recognizes the names of the Packers team.
Fall 1953. John listens to a war story told by his father. At the time he was the commander of a submarine. Jack drops his son off for his first day at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. Dad tells his son that John has a lot to live up to: he and grandfather both were last in academics and first in demerits. John receives the traditional harassment that plebes always have to go through. This is interspersed with scenes from Hanoi.
Hanoi. John is taken back to a prison cell and again dumped on the floor. He is greeted by cellmates Bud Day and Norris Overly. John complains that the North Vietnamese cut through his ligaments. Norris tells John that they are not going to let him die on them.
December 25, 1967. DMZ (de-militarized zone). Jack McCain gets off a helicopter. This is as close as he can get to his son. Meanwhile, John is helped by Norris with a little physical therapy. He follows after John making sure that if John starts to fall, he will catch him.
Naval Academy. Captain Hart of the Marines personally messes up McCain's room and leaves a letter about the incident signed by himself. He is tired of McCain's insolent attitude and lack of respect for military protocol. McCain proves his insolence by stomping into Hart's office and reporting that his room was vandalized. This angers Hart who tells him to go back and knock on the door and ask for permission to speak to him. John does so, but Hart denies him permission to speak. McCain speaks anyway. So Hart gets up and balls him out. He says he is going to "bilge out" of the Academy, but John is just too arrogant and stupid to see this. He is 547 out of 552 and Hart can't believe there are five cadets even stupider than McCain. For punishment McCain has to run around a courtyard holding a M-1 rifle over his head. Hart watches him from his office window.
Talk about insolence! McCain receives some harassment from someone out on the courtyard and McCain trips him, gets him into a wrestling head hold and pushes his face into the ground. He makes the fellow say that he does not know anything about McCain.
Hanoi. On a trip to dump his waste bucket, a guard trips McCain and he falls to the ground. When he returns to his cell, the guard kicks him in the back of his leg collapsing McCain again.
Naval Academy. The president of the class rescues McCain from his courtyard punishment. Wet and filthy like he is, McCain is introduced to the young men and women at a dance and given the honor of choosing a partner for the first dance. A pretty girl smiles at him and she agrees to dance with him. As they dance, other couples get up and dance. McCain's partner is Carol, his future wife.
February 1970. Norris is grabbed from his cell and taken out. When he is returned to his cell, Norris tells his two cellmates that they offered him amnesty. Norris told his captors that he would think about it. He tells his cellmates that he didn't tell them anything. But later the chief interrogator comes in with a gift: a fresh pineapple. Norris is going with the North Vietnamese. Before he leaves, McCain shakes his hand and says thanks: "You saved my life."
Naval Offices. Jack McCain learns that the North Vietnamese just released three more prisoners, but not John.
Hanoi. The guards come and take Bud out of the cell. John opens and eats the pineapple.
Hanoi, eighteen months later. McCain can get around better now, but he still needs his crutches. While emptying his waste bucket, he sneaks around a corner to see another pilot being tortured by being left hanging with his hands behind his back. He asks McCain to help him, but there is nothing McCain can do. Back in his cell, he hears a voice coming from behind a cell wall. John wraps his wash cloth around his cup and uses it to talk through the wall. The next door neighbor is Bob Craner of the Air Force. He was shot down December of '67 on his 102nd mission. McCain replies he was shot down in October of that year.
Back home. Carol writes John a letter.
Hanoi. The chief interrogator files Carol's letter away in the McCain folder John and Bob talk about baseball, love and duty at Pensacola.
Pensacola, Florida. McCain and some buddies are at a strip joint. Outside, the stripper drives up in her car and gives John a ride. The guys are shocked.
Hanoi. John sees a glimpse of the legs of two who are sitting down and listening to a radio playing American music. He goes to investigate and asks the men what the hell are they doing here? The men start yelling in Vietnamese for the guards to come. The guards grab McCain and dip his head into the waste storage bin. Later McCain gets to shower. He has been eyeing a very pretty, young North Vietnamese girl. She takes a shower. McCain can only see a bit of her body at a time. She knows the prisoner is watching her, but she seems to enjoy the attention.
Back in his cell John tells Bob through the wall about the two Americans on vacation. Bob says they sold out a long time ago and warns John to stay away from them because they have turned in other Americans, who were subsequently killed. Alone, John thinks about his grandfather's death and the toast his father delivered to his memory. He is taken out of his cell and brought to the office of the chief interrogator, who tells John that his father has been named Commander of the Pacific. He also tells John that he is free to go home. He has been granted amnesty. McCain answers: "I have to think about it."
McCain talks with Bob through the walls and he says that if the North Vietnamese don't ask too much in return for the amnesty, he should take it and get out of here. John tells the chief interrogator: "I will stay here and wait for my proper turn." The interrogator tells John if he stays, things will get worse for him and he may never get a turn to leave. John says he knows that. The interrogator asks him if his family knows that? He then gives John a letter from Carol.
The interrogator demands that John admit his war crimes. John is defiant. So the interrogator goes out and the guards hit him with the butts of their AK-47s. McCain screams in main. They tie his hands behind his back and hang him up into the air, just like the prisoner that asked John to help him. He screams in pain.
McCain is returned to his cell. He still is defiant and so is kicked and the main guard stomps on his hand. The interrogator tries to have McCain record his confession, but he still won't cooperate. So he is tortured some more. They finally break McCain and he records the confession. The recorded confession is played over the loud speaker.
Admiral McCain's office. A seaman held in the Hanoi Hilton talks with Admiral McCain about his son. The fellow says that McCain was tough and admired by his comrades. When he left, McCain was doing okay. When alone dad listens to John's taped confession.
Hanoi. All the prisoners are brought out of their cells at the same time. McCain calls out for Bob until he finds him. Bob teasingly says McCain is a lot uglier than he imagined.
Admiral McCain's work place. Carpet bombing of Hanoi is being carried out. McCain is told that the POWs are kept right in the middle of the city of Hanoi. Jack says that they have to do it.
Hanoi. December 25, 1972. The men sing Christmas carols. American planes fly overhead and the men can hear and feel the bombardments. John has a smile on his face.
Hanoi. March 15, 1973. The war is over. The men are released by date of capture and loaded onto a truck.
USA. The men land. Carol waits for her husband along with many other wives. His two boys run to greet him. His wife hugs and kisses him. John sees his father and mother arrive. John goes to see his little girl. She tells him she had forgotten what he looked like.
At home John apologizes to his father about the statement he made. Dad asks him what Bob Craner said. He said: "Everyone is broken eventually . . ." Dad says John survived for 1,968 days. There's nothing that he has to regret. His grandfather would be proud of him and he is too.
Good movie. In the presidential campaign of 2008, it was said that McCain had a bad temper. And the movie illustrates this. At the academy he was known for his insolence. In the Senate the liberals respected him for being a maverick (at least until the 2008 campaign). In a Hanoi prison his insolence probably both helped and hurt him. He refused to leave Hanoi when amnesty was offered to him saying he would await his proper turn to leave. He was warned that things would get worse and they did. In fact, by staying behind, McCain made himself a target and the North Vietnamese broke McCain and he recorded a message for the enemy. But, as they say in the film, eventually everyone breaks. The movie kept my interest the whole time, so I was happy about that. The actors were good, but I thought Scott Glenn was especially good as Admiral McCain.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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