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3 Lessons for Lawyers From the Life of John McCain

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Senator John McCain discovered his love for the United States when he was suffering as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

That experience left him physically disabled for life, but that love empowered a lifetime of service to his country. After his military service, he spent the rest of his career as a representative for Arizona in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

McCain didn't talk a lot about the five and a half years he spent in prison, but he lived by the lessons he learned while being beaten, tortured, and left to die. Here are a few of those lessons that lawyers can apply to their lives.

Cause Worth Fighting For

McCain spent two of those years alone in a cell that had no windows and a tin roof that was "hot as hell." In those endless hours, he thought about what he learned in history books, "figuring out where this country or that country went wrong."

Upon his return from the war in 1973, he saw a country in political and social turmoil. It continued until his final days, but his love for country never failed.

"I loved it because it was not just a place but an idea, a cause worth fighting for," he said in his speech for the presidential nomination.

Larger Than Yourself

McCain said communication with his fellow prisoners kept him going. He memorized the names of all 335 men who were then prisoners of war in North Vietnam.

When his captors offered to free him, he refused because there were others who had been in prison longer. He wanted them to go first.

"Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you, but is not defined by your existence alone," he said in his memoir, Faith of My Fathers.

Lose Gracefully

McCain failed in his bid for president, but nothing could break his spirit after he was shot down in Vietnam. He suffered broken bones, disease, boils, beatings and torture throughout his imprisonment.

At one point, guards beat him every few hours four days in row. They broke his arm again, and one guard jumped up and down on his knee, leaving McCain to hobble on a crutch for a year and a half.

"It's very important to lose gracefully," he said later for Esquire. "You know, no bitterness, no anger, no remorse."

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