In 1941, Johnny McCain and I, ages 5 and 4, played together on the sandy beaches of Panama. As we frolicked, our mothers, Roberta and Betty, who were part of the Navy’s submarine family, were likely discussing the possibility of their husbands going off to war.
Most children raised in military families either want to serve their country or have nothing to do with it, having sacrificed for their country all their young lives. John and I hardly knew our fathers, who were deployed for months and months; it was our mothers, the Robertas and Bettys, who provided stability and acted as single parents with support from other military families.
One evening shortly after World War II ended, at home in Navy housing in Pearl Harbor, my parents and their friends — all submarine couples — were singing and celebrating downstairs. I crept to the top of the stairs. Everyone sounded so happy; we had won the war! I heard them singing about a GDHP. The next morning I asked my mother, “What is a GDHP?” Mother responded, “That is a term used to describe Navy pilots. They fly off those carriers. It takes courage, as much courage as going under the waters in submarines.”
Later I learned that GDHP meant a “God Damn Hot Pilot,” and that a healthy intra-service rivalry among aviators, submariners and surface warriors prevails.
Over time my parents and I would refer to someone as a GDHP using a broader definition — a strong, bold leader.
John and I, both children of war heroes, chose to serve our country as naval officers. While John, a GDHP, was fighting for his life in the Hanoi Hilton, I was fighting ashore for equal rights for Navy women.
Later, while Sen. John McCain was fighting for America’s policies, principles and values, I was fighting for repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. John’s decision not to support gays in the military was a huge disappointment, but as John himself would often say, leaders make mistakes.
The Navy and Marine Corps operate on three principles — honor, courage and commitment — and all service members are expected to respect them. We pledge to " ... conduct ourselves in the highest ethical manner in all relationships with peers, superiors and subordinates. We are accountable for our professional and personal behavior. We will be mindful of the privilege to serve our fellow Americans.”
As both a POW and a politician, John McCain was an exemplar for the Navy’s Code of Conduct, always able to take action based upon his convictions. By the time he was a senator, he had piloted his life based on values impressed upon him by his Navy family, his traumatic experiences and his beloved Navy. He had become a sophisticated GDHP, daily manifesting both physical and moral true grit.
Capt. John McCain III, U.S. Navy (ret.), and then Sen. John McCain served his country heroically within two American institutions. During his lifetime, the U.S. Navy remained faithful to its values and principles, while at the same time changing to reflect the diversity of the country; e.g., the personnel profile has changed from 2 percent to 17.8 percent women, and gays and lesbians are now welcomed.
The Senate, however, succumbing to unhealthy rivalries instead of compromise, lost its ability to get things accomplished for the country.
The Senate and Americans as a whole must now face up to how the Senate can find its way again. Perhaps the healthy intra-service and inter-service rivalries can serve as models for the political world, with the politicians always seeking the right solutions not only for their parties but also for their country.
Some believe John McCain is irreplaceable, that the Senate has lost its only lion during a critical time in American history. This is not true. As my dad, the late Rear Adm. John S. Coye, would say, “No one is irreplaceable.”
It is fitting that John S. McCain III is laid to rest at the United States Naval Academy, returning to his Navy roots and fellow shipmates.
Fair winds and following seas, Capt. John S. McCain III.
Cmdr. Beth F. Coye, U.S. Navy (ret.), is a graduate of Wellesley College, The American University School of International Service, the School of Naval Warfare (Naval War College) and is a former commanding officer. She edited and co-authored “My Navy Too,” 1997, and she is the daughter of the late Rear Adm. John S. Coye Jr., a submarine war hero and skipper of USS Silversides. She lives in Ashland, Oregon.