(Editor’s note: U.S. Sen. John McCain died in late August and was buried last week. Jim Pat Mills, a resident of Paris, knew McCain and decided to share these memories.)
I was blessed to share short-but-personal conversations with Sen. John McCain four times in three states during his courageous standard-setting life. But, this set of blessings does not make me unique, because Sen. McCain would listen to almost anyone who showed respect for our great country.
I witnessed Sen. McCain even suffering a few fools, as long as their message was one of respect, reverence, and gratefulness for the United States of America, its military (especially its combat veterans), its flag, its national anthem, and its solemn motto: In God We Trust.
His whole life, from birth to death, was bathed in American patriotism.
I first spent some time with Sen. McCain at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., many years ago, during an Intelligence Center dedication ceremony, where we shared some of our Vietnam War experiences. At one point, I felt that I was hogging his precious time; but he literally would not let me go; and, with the assistance of an aide-de-camp, he ushered me into a private classroom where we continued our Vietnam conversation uninterrupted for about 30 minutes.
I later spent a wonderful evening with him, at his table during a fund-raiser in Dallas, where I lived and worked for 25 years. He made everyone at his table, including me, feel like the most important folks in the room and I assure you I was far from that, especially since sitting at the table next to us was the future President of the United States, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
I visited Sen. McCain in his Washington office for a 15-minute meeting about the then-mess at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He called me three times after that meeting for more of my thoughts on this continuing important issue.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed me State Chairman of the Veterans-for-Asa Campaign; and, because Gov. Hutchinson knew of my link with Sen. McCain, he had me sit next to Sen. McCain at the head table for the standing-room-only fund-raiser dinner in the immense Northwest Arkansas Convention Center. After I led the crowd of several thousands in the Pledge of Allegiance, Sen. McCain tapped me on my shoulder. I turned to him and, with tearful eyes, he said, “Jim-Pat, I’ve never heard the Pledge led better. I’ve never felt prouder to be an American than I did at that moment.”
I was honored by an invitation to attend the Aug. 31 Washington service for Sen. McCain; but I had to pass because, on the 31st, I had a long-standing oil and gas appointment in Fort Smith during the day and I had promised Ron Koch that I’d watch the County Line FFA kids show their animals that night at the county fair in Charleston. You see, I know John McCain would have insisted that those commitments were much more important than the Washington media show. He was one of the most courageous Americans.
My wife, Paula, and I will pay our respects to Sen. McCain at his graveside later this year.