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Veterans Day

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, today I wish to pay my respects to my fellow veterans. It is only through the leadership, dedication and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, that we are able to enjoy the freedoms that being an American entails.

No matter what your views on the war on terror or the war in Iraq, all Americans can unite behind our brave men and women in uniform. These fine Americans have truly answered our Nation's highest calling and we are better off for it. Today is a day to give thanks to these heroes.

On Veterans Day, I like to share the story of one of my heroes during my service, Mike Christian. I have shared his story before and it has become familiar to many, yet it bears repeating. This year, as Americans serve across the globe in important battles against error and tyranny, Mike Christian's story takes on even more meaning. In the same manner as service in Vietnam, a new generation of heroes is emerging in Iraq.

In the early years of our imprisonment in Hanoi, the North Vietnamese kept us in solitary confinement, or if we were fortunate, two or three to a cell. In 1971, the North Vietnamese moved us from these conditions of isolation into large cells with as many as 30 to 40 men to a room. This was, as you can imagine, a wonderful chance. And was a direct result of the efforts of millions of Americans, led by people like Nancy and Ronald Reagan, on behalf of a few hundreds POWs, 20,000 miles from home.

One of the men who moved into my cell was Mike Christian. Mike came from a small town near Selma, AL. He didn't wear a pair of shoes until he was 13 years old. At 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He later earned a commission. He became a naval aviator, was shot down and captured in 1967. Mike had a keen and deep appreciation for the opportunities this county-and our military-provide for people who want to work and want to succeed.

The uniforms we wore in prison consisted of a blue short-sleeved shirt, trousers that looked like pajama trousers and rubber sandals that were made out of automobile tires. I recommend them highly; one pair lasted my entire stay.

As part of the change in treatment, the Vietnamese allowed some prisoners to receive packages from home. In some of these packages were handkerchiefs, scarves, and other items of clothing. Mike got himself a piece of white cloth and a piece of red cloth and fashioned himself a bamboo needle. Over a period of a couple, of months, he sewed the American flag on the inside of his shirt.

Every afternoon, before we had a bowl of soup, we would hang Mike's shirt on the wall or our cell, and say the Pledge of Allegiance. I know that saying the Pledge of Allegiance may not seem the most important or meaningful part of our day now, but I can assure you that-for those men in the stark prison cell-it was indeed the most important and meaningful event of our day.

Our day, the Vietnamese searched our cell and discovered Mike's shirt with the flag sewn inside, and removed it. That evening they returned, opened the door of the cell, called for Mike Christian to come out, closed the door of the cell, and for the benefit of all of us, beat Mike Christian severely for the next couple of hours.

Then they opened the door of the cell and threw him back inside. He was not in good shape. We tried to comfort and take care of him as well as we could. The cell in which we lived had a concrete slab in the middle on which we slept. Four naked light bulbs in each corner of the room.

After things quieted down, I went to lie down to go to sleep. As I did, I happened to look in the corner of the room. Sitting there beneath that dim light bulb, with a piece of white cloth, a piece of red cloth, another shirt and his bamboo needle, was my friend, Mike Christian. Sitting there, with his eyes almost shut from his beating, making another American Flag. He was not making the flag because it made Mike Christian feel better. He was making the flag because he knew how important it was for us to be able to pledge our allegiance to our flag and country.

Duty, Honor, Country. We must never forget the millions of Americans who, with their courage, with their sacrifice, and with their lives, made those words live for all of us.

This year, as we pause to remember those men and women currently serving their country, as well as our family and friends who serve before us, we need to remember the sacrifices of people like Mike Christian who made this Nation what it is today.

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