Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., delivered an emotional farewell on Monday to his friend and former Vietnam War cellmate retired Col. George "Bud" Day, who died over the weekend at the age of 88.
Day served as a colonel and pilot in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, spending five and a half years as a prisoner of war in the latter conflict, including a significant amount of time with McCain as his cellmate at both a camp known as the Plantation and the Hanoi Hilton. In a floor speech Monday, McCain choked up as he remembered the confidant whom he called "the bravest man I ever knew." Day earned about 70 medals in his time of service over the three wars, according to obituaries published by The Associated Press and The New York Times.
McCain got the most emotional about his lost friend as he neared his speech's end.
"Bud and I stayed close through all the years that have passed since our war. We talked often. We saw each other regularly. He campaigned with me in all my campaigns and advised me always. We argued sometimes, agreed more often, laughed a lot and enjoyed each other's company. I'm going to miss him terribly," McCain said.
"Even though Bud had reached advanced years, for some reason, I could never imagine Bud yielding to anything, even, I thought, to the laws of nature. Tough old bird that he was, I always thought he would outlive us all, but he's gone now to a heaven I expect he imagined would look like an Iowa cornfield in early winter filled with pheasants,” the Arizona senator continued. “I will miss Bud every day for the rest of my life, but I will see him again. I know I will. I'll hunt the field with him, and I look forward to it."
McCain paid tribute to the work Day did on behalf of fellow veterans when not serving on active duty. Day, a lawyer, tried a case in federal court to help military retirees get the benefits they had been promised by recruiters. He also was involved in McCain’s two presidential campaigns, in 2000 and 2008, and in the 2004 election, he worked against John Kerry, a fellow Vietnam veteran, because of Kerry’s later opposition to the war.
Day’s Medal of Honor came from his resolve not to divulge American secrets to his captors in Vietnam. It was that determination, and process of survival, that McCain described at length on the Senate floor.
“We met in 1967, when the Vietnamese left me to die in the prison cell Bud shared with Maj. Norris Overly. But Bud and Norris wouldn’t let me die. They bathed me, fed me, nursed me, encouraged me and ordered me back to life,” McCain said. “He was a hard man to kill, and he expected the same from his subordinates. They saved my life. A big debt to repay, obviously, but more than that, they showed me how to save my self-respect and my honor. And that is a debt I never can repay.
“Bud was a fierce, and I mean really fierce, resister. He could not be broken in spirit, no matter how broken he was in body,” McCain said. “To have known him in prison, confronting our enemies day in and day out, never, ever yielding, defying men who had the power of life and death over us, to witness him sing the national anthem in response to having a rifle pointed at his face, well that was something to behold. Unforgettable. … Bud was the bravest man I ever knew.”