Early Life and Military Career of John Mc Cain - Military Career - Naval Training, Early Assignments, First Marriage, and Children

Naval Training, Early Assignments, First Marriage, and Children

McCain was commissioned an ensign. He spent two years as a naval aviator in training, first at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida through September 1959, and then at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, during which time he was promoted to lieutenant, junior grade. He earned a reputation as a party man, as he drove a Corvette, dated an exotic dancer named "Marie the Flame of Florida", spent all his free time on the beach or in a Bachelor Officer Quarters room turned bar and friendly gambling den, and, as he later said, "generally misused my good health and youth". He began as a sub-par flier: he had limited patience for studying aviation manuals, and spent study time reading history books instead. He was not assigned to the elite units flying fighter aircraft, and instead became a pilot of attack aircraft. During a March 1960 practice run in Texas, he lost track of his altitude and speed, and his single-seat, single-pistoned-engine AD-6 Skyraider crashed into Corpus Christi Bay and sank to the bottom. Although momentarily knocked unconscious by the impact, he squeezed out of the cockpit and swam ten feet to the surface, escaping without major injuries. He graduated from flight school at Corpus Christi in May 1960. He joined squadron VA-42 at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia for five months of further training on the Skyraider.

Starting in November 1960, McCain flew Skyraiders with the VA-65 "World Famous Fighting Tigers" squadron on the aircraft carriers USS Intrepid and USS Enterprise. The carriers were based at Naval Station Norfolk and cruised in the Caribbean and in several deployments to the Mediterranean. His aviation skills improved, but around December 1961 he collided with power lines while recklessly flying too low over southern Spain. The area suffered a power outage, but McCain was able to return his damaged Skyraider to Intrepid.

On board for Enterprise's maiden voyage in January 1962, McCain gained visibility with the captain and shipboard publicity that fellow sailors and aviators attributed to his famous last name. McCain was made a lieutenant in June 1962, and was on alert duty on Enterprise when it helped enforce the naval quarantine of Cuba during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. In November 1963, he was rotated back to shore duty, serving nine months on the staff of the Naval Air Basic Training Command at Pensacola. In September 1964, he became a flight instructor with the VT-7 training squadron at Naval Air Station Meridian in Mississippi, where McCain Field had been named for his grandfather.

During the 1964 stint at Pensacola, McCain began a relationship with Carol Shepp, a successful swimwear and runway model originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They had known each other at the Naval Academy and she had married and then divorced one of his classmates. McCain told her he wanted to do something important with his life, so he would be recorded in history. On July 3, 1965, McCain married Shepp in Philadelphia. She already had two children, Douglas and Andrew, born in 1959 and 1962 respectively; he adopted them in 1966. Carol and he then had a daughter named Sidney in September 1966.

In July 1965, McCain appeared as a contestant on the quiz show Jeopardy! (during the Fleming era), winning one game and losing the next.

In November 1965, he had his third accident when apparent engine failure in his T-2 Buckeye trainer jet over the Eastern Shore of Virginia led to his ejecting safely before his plane crashed. While at Meridian, McCain requested a combat assignment. In October 1966, he was slated for upcoming Vietnam War duty, and so reported to the VA-44 Replacement Air Group squadron at Naval Air Station Cecil Field in Florida for training on the A-4 Skyhawk, a single-seat jet attack aircraft. There McCain was seen as a good pilot, albeit one who tended to "push the envelope" in his flying. Promoted to lieutenant commander in January 1967, McCain joined the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal by May 1967, flying Skyhawks with the VA-46 "Clansmen" squadron. Forrestal conducted training exercises in the Atlantic throughout the spring, then set sail for the Pacific in June. By this time, Jack McCain had risen in the ranks, making rear admiral in 1958 and vice admiral in 1963; in May 1967, he was promoted to four-star admiral, and became Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, stationed in London.

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