The date was Oct. 26, 1967. I was on my 23rd mission, flying right over the heart of Hanoi in a dive at about 4,500 feet, when a Russian missile the size of a telephone came up-the sky was full of them-and blew the right wing off my Skyhawk dive bomber. It went into an inverted, a most straight-down spin.
I pulled the ejection handle, and was knocked unconscious by the force of the ejection-the air speed was about 500 knots. I didn't realize it at the moment, but I had broken my right leg around the knee, my right arm in three places, and my left arm. I regained consciousness just I landed by parachute in a lake right in the center of Hanoi, one they called the Western Lake. My helmet and my oxygen had been blown off.
I hit the water and sank to the bottom. I think the lake was about 15 feet deep, maybe 20. I kicked off the bottom I did not feel any pain at the time, and vas able to rise to the surface. I took a breath of air and started sinking again....
Some North Vietnamese swam out and pulled me to the side of the lake and immediately started stripping me, which is their standard procedure. Of course, this being in the center of town, a huge crowd of people gathered, and they were all hollering and screaming and cursing and spitting and kicking at me.
When they, had most of my clothes off, I felt a twinge in my right knee. I sat up and looked at it, and my right foot was resting next to my left knee, just in a 90-degree position. I said, "My God-my leg!"
That seemed to enrage them I 'don't know why, One of them slammed a rifle butt down on my shoulder, and smashed it pretty badly. Another stuck a bayonet in my foot. The mob was really getting up-tight...
Read "John McCain, Prisoner of War: A First-Person Account"at US News and World Report.
Image via National Archives/Today's Document