A couple of John McCain’s closest friends are remembering him fondly and recalling the trying times they shared as prisoners of war in Vietnam.
"John was just a decent human being. He loved his country. He loved the people of this country," said Colonel Orson Swindle, one of McCain’s best friends.
Swindle, a retired Marine Colonel, spoke to FOX 4 by phone from his Colorado home. He was recently in Frisco celebrating the 45th anniversary of the POW’s return to freedom from Vietnam.
Swindle was a Naval aviator who met McCain after McCain’s plane was shot down and he was captured and imprisoned in 1967. Swindle talked about life lessons learned as a POW with McCain at the infamous “hello hole” called the Hanoi Hilton.
McCain was considered a propaganda tool. His father and grandfather were high ranking naval officers. The North Vietnamese offered to send him home, but McCain refused unless others captured before him were allowed to leave.
"As a group I think we were held longer than any other prisoners,” said Swindle.
Routinely tortured, Swindle says McCain was inspiring and credits him with his survival of seven years imprisonment.
"One of the things, we were isolated and had to tap on walls to communicate,” said Swindle.
In a 1973 memoir he wrote: “The most important thing for survival is communication with someone."
POWs used a code of taps enabling them to secretly communicate with each other.
Longtime North Texas Congressman Sam Johnson, another very close friend of McCain’s, knew the code too.
In a statement he says, “We have lost a genuine American hero today. John and I were fellow POWs at the "Hanoi Hilton," and I can testify to the fact that he did everything he could to defend freedom and honor our Great Nation not just in that hell on earth, but beyond those bleak years... ...We are a grateful Nation for his service and sacrifice both in and out of uniform."
"We were hell bent determined, we were going to come out of this and that we were going to be positive about life from here on because we've had enough sadness and bitterness, hurt and pain,” said Swindle.
Swindle says their imprisonment gave them purpose and McCain exemplified that. He was a patriot and dedicated public servant determined to see democracy and freedom flourish. He gives McCain tribute in their secret code as captives.
"G-B-U - J.S.M. God bless you! John Sidney McCain."