WASHINGTON - Republican Sen. John McCain on Monday gratefully thanked U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen for sacrificing for fellow Americans "who won't be asked to make sacrifices for you'' in an emotional address from the former Navy pilot now battling brain cancer.
With a mix of humor and pathos, the six-term Arizona senator returned to his alma mater to speak to the Brigade of Midshipmen and field a few questions about past presidential campaigns, the Russia probe and advice for those at the academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
McCain, 81, described himself as an "undistinguished member of the class of 1958'' and now stands as the "luckiest guy you'll ever know.'' The senator underwent surgery in mid-July to remove a 2-inch (51-millimeter) blood clot in his brain after being diagnosed with an aggressive tumor called a glioblastoma.
"Many of you will risk everything for your country. You will make sacrifices for your fellow Americans, who won't be asked to make sacrifices for you. That's your calling. Thank you for accepting it,'' said McCain, who spent 5 years in a Vietnamese prison after being shot down. "I promise, there will be compensations for the hard times you endure. You will have lives of adventure. You will have the best company. And you will know a satisfaction far more sublime than pleasure.''
McCain described his regret from the 2000 presidential campaign, when he yielded to polling data and said the people of South Carolina should decide whether the Confederate flag should fly over their state.
"My friends, that was the wrong answer and I lost anyway. It was the easy thing to say at that time,'' McCain recalled. "I knew at the time it was the wrong thing to say.''
His message to the midshipmen: "Do the right thing, thanks or no thanks.''
Questioned about the Russia probe, McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had not seen evidence that the meddling by Moscow affected the outcome of the presidential election. He added, however, that he has seen these scandals before and "every day, another shoe drops.''
McCain recently drew the wrath of President Donald Trump for questioning the "half-baked, spurious nationalism'' in America's foreign policy. The senator shrugged off the criticism, saying he had faced tougher adversaries. The GOP senator stunned the White House this past summer when he was the decisive vote against a Republican plan to dismantle Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Given a chance Monday night to answer additional questions, McCain joked, "as many questions as you want, since we're not doing anything in the Senate.''