Fellow prisoner of war remembers friendship with Sen. John McCain

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Senator John McCain died Saturday at the age of 81 at his Arizona home following a battle with brain cancer.

McCain was honored many times over his career.

While on a bombing mission during Operation Rolling Thunder over Hanoi in October 1967, McCain’s plane was shot down. He was seriously injured and captured by the North Vietnamese. He was a prisoner of war for six years.

We’re hearing more about his life through his good friends. A Lancaster man told NBC4’s Elyse Chengery about his experiences with John McCain as a prisoner of war.

Colonel Tom Moe remembers it like it was yesterday. He calls McCain a dear friend, someone he respects. While both captive, the two communicated through a pinhole in the wall.

“Well, of course, it was under the terrible circumstances of a Hanoi prison. We would do our best to drill little holes in our cell walls. Most of the time, we lived solo. So, I found a little piece of wire and drilled a hole. So, I’d sit on the floor and just look out to the world beyond,” said Moe.

Then one day, he saw a man who he says was badly crippled.

“Fellow pilot limping his way across the courtyard and we were able to establish through the camp identification his name, that he was a Navy pilot. I learned later that his dad was not only a 4-star admiral and his granddad, but his dad at the time was a commander of the entire Pacific war operation,
 said Moe. “Admiral McCain. John McCain’s dad and granddad were both 4-star admirals, and he had every way in the world if he wanted to get out of a dangerous assignment to do so. He could have lifted his little pinky and it would have been done. But, of course, he would never do that and didn’t do that. On the contrary, he flew fighters in some of the most dangerous airspace for war ever seen in the history of air warfare. So, that tells you right away about John McCain.”

Colonel Tom Moe said he had to see the world through that pinhole for five years and three months after his plane was shot down.

He became friends with John McCain, who he says would pass by his cell and give him a thumbs up.

“Just before the guard would put him in his cell, my door was only about 20 feet away at an angle. So, he could look right at my door and he would give me a thumbs up and a wink and then go into his cell. So, knowing we would beat these people and we’re going to go home and we’re going to go home with our honor and we did both of those things,” said Moe.

More than 5 years later, they met in person for the first time. They were finally able to fly home together.

“So much of the time we saw each other was through a pinhole and it was almost amusing to meet someone then in person and they look different. Maybe you might say it’s like seeing a person in the flesh that you’ve only seen on television,” said Moe.

Years later, Colonel Moe went on the campaign trail with McCain and told the stories.

“We’d be on the stage or traveling in the bus or just over a cup of coffee, and I couldn’t help in the background of my mind think of that image of him limping across the courtyard because he was so badly injured,” said Moe. “I told that story many times. So, here is a person who is tough and when you get to know him and see him in action a person, also moderate thoughtful, who is kind and which made our friendship particularly strong and why I was asked to campaign for him for President.”

As Senator John McCain was fighting his battle with Cancer, Moe was able to pass on his well wishes.

Moe said he and McCain always ended their conversations the same way.

“We would tap on the wall or wherever. And still til this day, when we’d email each other is with GBU which is our closing to say God Bless You. That’s the last message I sent to him,” said Moe.

McCain will be laid to rest Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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