Dan Doughty spent seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But it wasn’t until he was set to be released that he met future U.S. Sen. John McCain, who was held at the same prison near Hanoi.
With McCain’s recent death, Doughty has spent time recalling his time in the military.
Doughty, 85, is a Ladysmith native who now lives in the Eau Claire area. He was an Air Force pilot who was shot down in 1966 while flying his 170th mission in the Vietnam War.
“They were shooting at me as I was parachuting down,” the retired colonel recalled. “They had me (captured) within minutes of hitting the ground.”
The next few years were brutal; Doughty said he was routinely tortured and fed minimal amounts of food.
“I was held in seven different prisons in the Hanoi area,” he said. “We kept moving around a lot. They wanted to break up any communications.”
At times he was in a cell with up to 50 other service members. He spoke to fellow POWs in nearby cells — getting to know everything about them — but never saw their faces because they were on the other side of a wall.
Even though Doughty and McCain were at the same prison, they didn’t meet until just two weeks before they were all released in 1973.
McCain had been in that particular prison for two years, but they were in different cells and hadn’t met.
“He was in pretty bad shape,” Doughty said.
Doughty was held as a POW for just shy of seven years when he got the good news he was headed home.
“They had us all out in the courtyard, saying we were going to be released,” Doughty said. “There were 350 of us; I thought there were more than that. It was the first time they had us all in the courtyard together.”
Altogether, about 600 people were released at the same time, he added, including some civilians.
While Doughty didn’t know McCain well, he said those who were in cells with McCain always spoke highly of him and his service. The former POWs have routinely held reunions since their release, and McCain would frequently attend those get-togethers, particularly the gatherings shortly after the war ended.
“We had them every five years,” Doughty said. “I met him six, seven times over the years. Once he got busier, as a senator, he couldn’t make it as often.”
Even this year, 145 of those held in captivity in Vietnam gathered in August in Dallas for the reunion, he added.
While Doughty said he didn’t always agree with the politics of the Arizona Republican, he followed McCain’s political career closely over the years. Doughty said he voted for the senator in primaries both times McCain ran for president.
Doughty said he wasn’t too upset when President Donald Trump stated McCain wasn’t a war hero because he had beencaptured, saying he sawit as part of politics. He added McCain was known for making pointed political comments in his career too.
Since McCain died, Doughty watched the nonstop media coverage of McCain’s life and his funeral, but he came away unimpressed.
“I was really disappointed in the funeral, when they brought up politics,” Doughty said. “It’s too bad it had to go that way.”
He added: “It’s interesting to see those who called him a racist during his campaign were now giving him accolades.”
Doughty contends some of the people who were now praising McCain were doing it in a way to take jabs at Trump.