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"He gave the Vietnamese hell": McCain's POW cellmate recalls time in captivity

Posted at 6:30 PM, Aug 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-29 07:56:30-04

Capt. Render Crayton met John McCain about a decade before he spent time in captivity with him. He was McCain's flight instructor in Corpus Christi, Texas, in the early 1960s. But he wouldn't exactly say he taught McCain everything he knew. 

"Well he crashed three airplanes, so I don't know whether I should say that or not," Crayton laughed. "Maybe it shows what kind of instructor I was. But he did tell me one time, at least I showed him how to live through a crash."

Crayton was shot down over North Vietnamese territory and captured in 1966. McCain was captured in 1967. From 1971 to 1972 they were in the same cell block at the Hanoi Hilton with 40 other prisoners.

"We got rambunctious one time and everybody decided one morning we would stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem," Crayton recalled. "There were 40 of us in there and we made quite a racket and the Vietnamese didn't like that, so the very next day there was no longer any big room. We were all back in small rooms."

Both men were released in 1973. Crayton eventually moved to Phoenix where he said he would run into his old friend at charity events. Now it was John McCain the politician.

"He would come up and give me a hug and we'd reminisce for a few minutes and he was off to something else. He was very busy," Crayton said.

Over the years, Crayton followed McCain's political trajectory. And though he didn't always agree with the senator's decisions, he said he never questioned his integrity.

"I think his experience in Hanoi kind of brought that out in him. He gave the Vietnamese hell. Of course, they did to him back, but he was a lot of trouble to them and he fought them tooth and nail. I respect him for that," Crayton said.