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POW friend on why McCain is loved in Vietnam

Retired Colonel John Fer, who was imprisoned with the late Sen. John McCain during the Vietnam War, shares why McCain's experience in Vietnam shaped his perspective of working with other politicians and countries.

Posted: Aug 28, 2018 5:09 AM
Updated: Aug 28, 2018 5:20 AM

A wall separated prisoners of war Joe Crecca and John McCain.

The two fighter pilots, captured by the North Vietnamese military in the late 1960s, were in solitary confinement in Hoa Lo Prison where American servicemen were imprisoned and tortured during the Vietnam War.

Crecca said his and McCain's cells were next to one another. They communicated by tapping on the wall.

"There's a wall between us, but there's an emotional bond between us that can't be broken. It's like steel," Crecca, now 77, told CNN affiliate KCPQ-TV. He was captured 11 months before McCain.

McCain, who died Saturday at age 81, spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war at Hoa Lo, known to most Americans as the "Hanoi Hilton."

His Skyhawk jet was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967. He parachuted into a lake near Hanoi, breaking both arms and a leg, and was captured by communist soldiers. In captivity, McCain was tortured and beaten, an experience that left him with lifelong injuries, including severely restricted movement of his arms.

Like other American POWs, McCain and Crecca used a complex communication system known as tap code -- tapping out messages on the wall of their cells -- to communicate with each other.

"We would pass humorous things through the wall," Crecca told KCPQ. "You knew you succeeded when you could hear the guy on the other side laughing."

Crecca said McCain kept his spirits up, even through torture and the risk of "those communists re-breaking his arms."

During his time as a POW, McCain refused a preferential release offer, made because his father was an admiral. He turned down the offer until his comrades could also go home.

"He clearly was a man of extreme courage and of loyalty to the United States of America," Crecca said. "To his family, to his God, and to his country."

Decades later when McCain ran for president in 2008, Crecca and his wife, Joan, were there to support him during a fundraising trip in Seattle, Washington.

"He remembered the time when we were tapping through the wall to each other. And of all things, what he says to Joan is 'Joe was a great resister,'" Crecca said, surprised by his fellow veteran's remarks. "He endured much more than I did."

McCain rarely talked about what he went through in Vietnam, according to an October 2017 YouTube video commemorating the 50th anniversary of his capture.

McCain returned to visit Hoa Lo in April 2000. A photo from the visit is on display at the prison, which has been transformed into a museum.

"I put the Vietnam War behind me a long time ago," McCain said at the time. "But I harbor no anger nor rancor. I'm a better man for my experience, and I'm grateful for having the opportunity of serving."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 513622

Reported Deaths: 10264
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34892556
DeSoto33234432
Hinds32638641
Jackson24854389
Rankin22507403
Lee16337242
Madison14922283
Jones14113247
Forrest13766259
Lauderdale12270324
Lowndes11305193
Lamar10659140
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Washington7550169
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Pontotoc6990109
Warren6863178
Panola6759134
Neshoba6730210
Marshall6678141
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Union638297
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Alcorn5879107
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George510180
Prentiss503884
Tippah491482
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Scott477899
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Tate4756116
Leflore4729144
Copiah456495
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Stone365866
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Winston317892
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Clay312278
Clarke301195
Calhoun285049
Holmes271889
Smith269052
Yalobusha243947
Tallahatchie231553
Greene224749
Walthall221666
Lawrence218740
Perry213456
Amite209857
Webster205348
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Montgomery181657
Carroll174541
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152939
Kemper145041
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Humphreys131239
Franklin125529
Quitman107628
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65221
Issaquena1957
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845284

Reported Deaths: 16116
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161552006
Mobile742111380
Madison53307732
Shelby38338368
Baldwin38085589
Tuscaloosa36022641
Montgomery34492781
Lee25562263
Calhoun22586518
Morgan22459406
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Cullman16054303
Elmore15904294
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DeKalb12972269
Walker12030380
Blount10717192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10162194
Coffee9417192
Colbert9342208
Dale9020191
Tallapoosa7256201
Russell708165
Chilton7018170
Escambia6957143
Covington6933195
Franklin6342108
Chambers5784142
Marion5406130
Dallas5285209
Pike5119109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369580
Butler3435100
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Monroe337266
Randolph334867
Pickens333188
Fayette330385
Henry320666
Hale318389
Cherokee317863
Crenshaw260477
Washington257052
Cleburne254460
Lamar251453
Clay250869
Macon244864
Conecuh192862
Coosa185047
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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