CHARACTER COUNTS

Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald sends heartfelt message to John McCain

Dec 26, 2017, 8:53 PM
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In a time of joy and celebration, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was on the mind of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald wrote a letter to Sen. McCain, touching on all McCain has done for him as a friend, supporting him and the rest of the Arizona Cardinals at practices and games.

More importantly, Fitzgerald highlighted the sacrifices the senator made for the United States when he was taken as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

“I saw the very jail cell where he was held as a POW and I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be him,” Fitzgerald said in the letter. “Then, I read the testimony from some of the other POWs. When Senator McCain refused to be released from the prison camp until his fellow soldiers were freed as well, he earned the respect of all those men going through hell.

“After hearing all this, I was astounded by the quality of human being he was.”

The 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner and the senator have grown close over the past five years, according to Fitzgerald, who said that McCain had given him a private tour of the U.S. Senate.

Fitzgerald called the tour “tremendous,” admitting that he was not familiar with politics, but wants his young sons to one day understand and appreciate the history.

Though, out of all of the conversations the two have had, Fitzgerald says they have never spoken about the senator’s time in Vietnam.

Because of my relationship with Senator McCain and his wife, Cindy, I knew many of the stories about his service in Vietnam and was curious to learn more. Everyone in Arizona knows a little something about it, but I wanted to know more about what happened to him over there.

The most meaningful part of the trip was seeing the spots related to Senator McCain’s experience. I went to the lake where he was shot down and I learned about how he was captured. On Oct. 26, 1967, he was flying his 23rd mission as a Navy pilot, set to drop bombs on a site in Hanoi. The North Vietnamese fired a missile at his plane and hit one of the wings. When Senator McCain was hit, the plane went into a spin and was going to crash. He bailed out, and went crashing into Truc Bach Lake just outside of Hanoi. His left arm was broken. His right arm was broken in three places. His right leg was broken. He was in such pain when he fell into the lake that he almost drowned. He had to inflate his life vest with his teeth because he couldn’t use his arms.

The suffering that McCain endured while in Vietnam is something that Fitzgerald admits to have thought about a lot, and especially now as the senator endures yet another battle.

Sen. McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma in July, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer. The typical survival period after a diagnosis is 12 to 15 months, though a small percentage live longer than five years.

McCain had the growth removed, but in November, doctors found another growth in the same location as the first. The senator’s decline in health caused him to miss the vote for the new GOP Tax Plan, but does plan to return to Washington in January should his health improve.

Fitzgerald offered his support for his friend, saying he will “wish him a Merry Christmas today, and I pray he lives another 20 years.”

“I know this: As soon as my boys are of age, I’ll tell them stories about the quality of the man I’ve gotten to know,” he added. “I’ll tell them: Senator John McCain will be revered and respected for as long as the United States of America has a place in this world, and his legacy will outlive us all.

“My prayers are with you, my friend.”

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