Let’s harken back to 2008 to cover some important background intelligence about Sen. John McCain who has been lashing out at President Trump and others from his apparent deathbed.
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.
When McCain – his hair turned prematurely white and his body reduced to little more than a skeleton – was released in March 1973, he told reporters he was overjoyed to see Carol again.
But friends say privately he was ‘appalled’ by the change in her appearance. At first, though, he was kind, assuring her: ‘I don’t look so good myself. It’s fine.’
McCain has acknowledged that he had girlfriends during this time, without going into details.
In 1979 – while still married to Carol – he met Cindy at a cocktail party in Hawaii. Over the next six months he pursued her, flying around the country to see her. Then he began to push to end his marriage.
Carol and her children were devastated. ‘It was a complete surprise,’ says Nancy Reynolds, a former Reagan aide.
‘They never displayed any difficulties between themselves. I know the Reagans were quite shocked because they loved and respected both Carol and John.’
Meanwhile McCain moved to Arizona with his new bride immediately after their 1980 marriage. There, his new father-in-law gave him a job and introduced him to local businessmen and political powerbrokers who would smooth his passage to Washington via the House of Representatives and Senate.
And yet despite his popularity as a politician, there are those who won’t forget his treatment of his first wife.