Biden Invokes McCain in Tribute at Late Senator’s Hanoi Memorial

US President Joe Biden wrapped up a historic visit to Hanoi with a visit to a memorial for his longtime Senate colleague, the late John McCain.

(Bloomberg) — US President Joe Biden wrapped up a historic visit to Hanoi with a visit to a memorial for his longtime Senate colleague, the late John McCain.

“I miss him, I miss him,” Biden said Monday from the memorial, situated on the banks of a central Hanoi lake where McCain’s A-4E Skyhawk was shot down during the war in 1967. McCain was quickly captured and, even before getting medical treatment, beaten and interrogated.

Biden, alongside climate envoy and Vietnam War veteran John Kerry, touched a wreath of red, white and blue flowers at the memorial and bowed his head. He also left one of his command coins at the base of the memorial. Both Biden and Kerry served with McCain in the Senate, and the president called his former colleague, who died in 2018, a “good friend.” 

McCain, who spent five and a half years in the nearby Hoa Lo Prison – known in the US as the “Hanoi Hilton” – was Vietnam’s most prominent prisoner of war. Decades later he became a beloved figure in the Southeast Asian nation for pushing the US government to normalize diplomatic and economic relations with its former enemy.

In a reflection of that legacy, Biden earlier Tuesday announced a slate of new business deals between US and Vietnamese companies. That came after Vietnam announced its decision to upgrade the relationship between the two countries to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.” The shift puts the US on equal footing with more traditional economic partners like China and India.

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In the US, the story of McCain’s imprisonment — in which he was repeatedly tortured, spent years in solitary confinement and refused early release until fellow prisoners were released – remains legendary, and fueled a decades-long political career that saw him become the Republican nominee for president in 2008, a campaign he eventually lost to Democrat Barack Obama. 

McCain and Biden were longtime friends, and Biden spoke about how their relationship transcended party divides at the Arizona senator’s funeral in 2018. 

The memorial visit also provided an implicit contrast with former President Donald Trump, who famously sparred with McCain, including during a 2015 incident when he criticized McCain’s military service.

“He’s not a war hero,” said Trump, who didn’t serve in the conflict. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

As an American in his late 20s and early 30s in the Vietnam era, Biden did not serve in the war, receiving multiple student draft deferments. Kerry was awarded the Silver Star for his service in Vietnam and later became a vocal critic of the conflict.

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