Happy we’ll be, beyond the sea
And never again I’ll go sailin’
There is much to dispute/kibbitz/roll ones eyes at in this cover story on Cindy McCain, but what really stands out is the inappropriate and awkward "Navy wife" analogy that writer Holly Bailey uses to introduce her subject:
Ambitious naval officers who hope to make admiral know they must put in years of sea time, long deployments aboard ship where they prove themselves as sailors and earn the respect of their superiors. Back home, their wives work, chase after the kids and take care of the house, building lives of their own while their husbands build their careers. Cindy McCain knows what that’s like. Over the 28 years of her often long-distance marriage to Capt. John McCain, USN (Ret.), she says she thought of herself as a Navy wife whose husband was off on tour—albeit on Capitol Hill instead of somewhere in the North Atlantic. "It was almost like a deployment," Cindy told NEWSWEEK. "What I told the kids from the time they were little is that their dad was deployed and serving our country in Washington."
Whoa there, little filly. Let’s back up a little bit and give "Navy wife" credit where "Navy wife" credit is due, which, in this case would be to the one John McCain dumped:
McCain likes to illustrate his moral fibre by referring to his five years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. And to demonstrate his commitment to family values, the 71-year-old former US Navy pilot pays warm tribute to his beautiful blonde wife, Cindy, with whom he has four children.
But there is another Mrs McCain who casts a ghostly shadow over the Senator’s presidential campaign. She is seldom seen and rarely written about, despite being mother to McCain’s three eldest children.
And yet, had events turned out differently, it would be she, rather than Cindy, who would be vying to be First Lady. She is McCain’s first wife, Carol, who was a famous beauty and a successful swimwear model when they married in 1965.
She was the woman McCain dreamed of during his long incarceration and torture in Vietnam’s infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison and the woman who faithfully stayed at home looking after the children and waiting anxiously for news.
But when McCain returned to America in 1973 to a fanfare of publicity and a handshake from Richard Nixon, he discovered his wife had been disfigured in a terrible car crash three years earlier. Her car had skidded on icy roads into a telegraph pole on Christmas Eve, 1969. Her pelvis and one arm were shattered by the impact and she suffered massive internal injuries.
When Carol was discharged from hospital after six months of life-saving surgery, the prognosis was bleak. In order to save her legs, surgeons had been forced to cut away huge sections of shattered bone, taking with it her tall, willowy figure. She was confined to a wheelchair and was forced to use a catheter.
Through sheer hard work, Carol learned to walk again. But when John McCain came home from Vietnam, she had gained a lot of weight and bore little resemblance to her old self.
Today, she stands at just 5ft4in and still walks awkwardly, with a pronounced limp. Her body is held together by screws and metal plates and, at 70, her face is worn by wrinkles that speak of decades of silent suffering.
Carol insists she remains on good terms with her ex-husband, who agreed as part of their divorce settlement to pay her medical costs for life. ‘I have no bitterness,’ she says. ‘My accident is well recorded. I had 23 operations, I am five inches shorter than I used to be and I was in hospital for six months. It was just awful, but it wasn’t the reason for my divorce.
‘My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be 40, he wanted to be 25. You know that happens…it just does.’
Some of McCain’s acquaintances are less forgiving, however. They portray the politician as a self-centred womaniser who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to ‘play the field’. They accuse him of finally settling on Cindy, a former rodeo beauty queen, for financial reasons.
McCain was then earning little more than £25,000 a year as a naval officer, while his new father-in-law, Jim Hensley, was a multi-millionaire who had impeccable political connections.
It’s one thing for John McCain to toss away the wife who was horribly injured during that time when was waiting for him while he was in captivity; we already know about that and how it reflects upon his character. But it is quite another thing for Cindy McCain, coming from one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Arizona, to willingly wrap herself with the mantle of long-suffering military spouse when her husband was working a pretty sweet gig (with lots of perks and time-off ) that her family bought for him in Washington.
As with her little drug problem, Cindy McCain once again proves that what she can’t buy, she has no problem with just taking.