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The difference between the Hanoi Hilton and today's White House? One was home to American heroes, says Sen. John McCain.


Courage lacking in U.S. foreign policy leadership

The difference between the Hanoi Hilton and today’s White House? One was home to American heroes, says Sen. John McCain.

At a reception Tuesday night celebrating the release of a book written by a fellow Vietnam prisoner of war, Sen. John McCain didn’t miss an opportunity to compare the bold actions of American heroes with a lack of courage in American leadership today.

Retired Marine Col. Lee Ellis used his experiences in captivity as leadership object lessons in his new book Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. Seven prisoners of war, including McCain, attended the reception.

McCain was captured in Vietnam eleven days before Ellis in 1967, and the two were released on the same day five-and-a-half years later, in 1973. For 18 months of their imprisonment, they occupied adjacent cells.

Leading with honor contains several laudatory references to McCain’s refusal to comply with North Vietnamese propaganda, even when faced with torture or tempted with the prospect of an early return home.

The book also contains some new revelations, including this reflection on isolation:

“Isolation in a communist prison is one of the loneliest experiences imaginable, so it was always cause for celebration when POWs were reunited with their cellmates after such punishment. The reunion conversations lasted for hours, often accompanied by hugs and tears. Air America pilot Ernie Brace, who spent five years in a cafe in Laos and in the hinterlands of Vietnam, was so overwhelmed with emotion when he heard the voice of John McCain that he was unable to respond for several minutes. Every time he tried to say something, he broke down in tears. Walking together through these kinds of trials forged enduring bonds.”

McCain praised Ellis’s book, but also directed harsh rhetoric at President Obama, criticizing his lack of action in Syria and his timeframe for withdrawal from Afghanistan as evidence of courage and authority.

“Lee has written a remarkable book, and it is about leadership,” he said. “And the world continues to cry out for American leadership. As we watch thousands of people being slaughtered in Syria today, American leadership is conspicuous by its absence. As people in the Middle East and the Taliban and Al Qaeda believe that the United States is withdrawing, it cries out for leadership.”

In the presence of an old military buddy, McCain, a retired Navy captain, made sure to send some jabs his way too.

“I often have a phrase I use…when I graduated from the Naval Academy, I tried to get into the Marine Corps, but my parents were married,” McCain said, to chuckles and groans from the audience.

“You know, the funny thing about Marines, they’re not very smart. But they can be pretty stubborn, and the Vietnamese found that out.”

Leading with Honor is available from FreedomStar Media.

Written By

Hope Hodge first covered military issues for the Daily News of Jacksonville, N.C., where her beat included the sprawling Marine Corps base, Camp Lejeune. During her two years at the paper, she received investigative reporting awards for exposing a former Marine who was using faked military awards to embezzle disability pay from the government and for breaking news about the popularity of the designer drug Spice in the ranks. Her work has also appeared in The American Spectator, New York Sun, WORLD Magazine, and The Washington Post. Hodge was born near Boston, Mass., where she grew up as a lover of Revolutionary War history and fall foliage. She also discovered a love of politics and policy as a grassroots volunteer and activist on Beacon Hill. She graduated in 2009 with a degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from The King's College in New York City, where she served as editor-in-chief of her school newspaper and worked as a teaching assistant when not freelancing or using student discounts to see Broadway shows. Hope???s email is

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