Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir
is the 1999 memoir of Vietnam War veteran and former United States Senator John McCain. The book looks back on McCain’s formative years, education at the U.S. Naval Academy and deployment, up until his entry into politics. Much of the book gives background for the senator’s ambitions and philosophies by tracing his lineage before his birth, exploring the lives of his father and grandfather who served in the first and second World Wars. Considered a quintessentially American memoir, Faith of My Fathers
appeals to popular national sensibilities including the fight for freedom, national self-governance, and individual self-determination.
McCain begins his memoir with the story of his grandfather, John Sidney McCain Sr., or “Slew.” Slew was the descendant of a line of military men stretching several generations further back in time. He was unique in that he was the first to join the Navy instead of the Army. At first, his time in service was not illustrious: he had terrible grades at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and received multiple disciplinary marks. When World War I began, he was deployed as a naval engineer. He excelled on the battlefield and was gradually promoted.
Slew remained in the Navy through World War II, where he oversaw every land-based plane stationed in the South Pacific. He became known as a great strategist and a respectable admiral. When he finally left the Navy due to old age, he was given the Distinguished Service Medal, one of the highest military honors in the United States. The award committee cited, in particular, his work during the Guadalcanal Campaign, which took place between 1943 and 1944 in the Solomon Islands. Slew attributed his success to his faith in God and his unflagging respect for officers at all ranks in the Navy.
John McCain’s father was John Sidney McCain Jr., or “Jack.” Jack joined the Navy hoping to emulate his father. Like Slew, he did not excel in school at the Naval Academy, and nearly jeopardized his own graduation with his many disciplinary marks. After the Academy, Jack became a relentless naval leader. To get by, he recalled the experiences his father related to him, many about the Navy’s tendency to take over one’s mind. As Jack was promoted, he and his wife brushed shoulders with important military figures and politicians, expanding the McCains’ network of influence. By the end of their respective service terms, Slew and Jack had both ascended to the title of four-star admiral. John McCain Jr., before becoming a U.S. Senator, served in Vietnam under his father, who was then Commander in Chief of the Pacific forces. During that time, Jack saw his son captured and tortured.
John McCain, like the two generations before him, joined the Navy because his ancestors did. He, too, nearly failed out, and displayed poor behavior. After graduating from the Academy, he enrolled as a naval officer. Even during his training and deployment, he preferred to party than to serve. Eventually, he grew bored with his hedonistic Naval lifestyle and put his energies into serving the interests of the United States. John jumped at the opportunity to enlist in the Vietnam War. His first assignment sent him to a huge aircraft carrier in the Pacific. The carrier almost sank after a devastating fire consumed part of the ship, claiming many of the lives of naval officers onboard. John worried that the incident would undermine his aspirations to continue working in the Navy, but he soon joined a mission on another carrier. While piloting a plane, the Vietnamese army took him out of the sky. Though he survived the crash, he was imprisoned for five and a half years. Eventually, the United States government arranged for his release in a bargain with Vietnam. McCain shares many lessons he learned as a POW, and many more that he had already known and used to survive, thanks to the stories of his brave ancestors. Faith of My Fathers
is ultimately a story about these narrative connections and how they held a generation of men together even through the worst periods of national strife.