Early Years, Education and Family
McCain was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa. His father, a junior officer on the armored cruiser USS Washington, was away at sea at the time, and his mother, the former Catherine Davey Vaulx, was traveling cross country to visit with her sister. He was called "Jack" by his family, although he would also be called "Junior" by others, which he preferred less. His family's history of military service extended beyond his father—his paternal uncle was U.S. Army Brigadier General William Alexander McCain. His family tree also had other people engaged in military service, back through many wars.
McCain grew up at various naval stations where his father was posted and then in Northwest, Washington, D.C., going to local schools and working as a paperboy. His father was away on duty for much of his childhood, and his mother did much of the parenting. He graduated from Central High School in the district.
McCain entered the United States Naval Academy in 1927, at age 16. He disliked the hazing tradition and behavioral restrictions of Annapolis, and accumulated many demerits and earned mediocre grades during his years at the Academy. As one biographer wrote, McCain "was given to taking unauthorized midnight leave and spent much of his four ... years in contention with authority and working off massive doses of extra duty." McCain later stated: "I was known as a 'ratey' plebe, and that's the plebe who does not conform always to the specific rules and regulations of the upperclassmen. Some of these upperclassmen would ... require you to do such things which only incited rebellion and mutiny in me, see." At one point, McCain had so many demerits he was at risk of not graduating; his partying and drinking was especially dangerous as it was taking place during Prohibition. For much of his final year there, he was banished from Bancroft Hall, the normal residence for midshipmen, and forced instead to live on the barracks ship Reina Mercedes. He graduated in 1931, finishing 423rd out of 441 in class rank, eighteenth from the bottom.
Upon graduation, he was commissioned an ensign and assigned to duty aboard the battleship Oklahoma in the Pacific. He applied to flight school to become a naval aviator, but was turned down due to a heart murmur, and was accepted at Submarine School at Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut instead. There he placed 28th out of 29 in his class.
While stationed on Oklahoma in Long Beach, California, McCain met Roberta Wright, a freshman at the University of Southern California whose father was a successful wildcatter. After Roberta's mother objected to her daughter associating with a sailor, the couple eloped to Tijuana, Mexico, marrying in Caesar's Bar on January 21, 1933. McCain was suspended five days for leaving ship without permission. The couple would have three children: Jean Alexandra "Sandy" McCain (born 1934), John Sidney McCain III (born 1936 at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone), and Joseph Pinckney McCain II (born 1942 at Naval Submarine Base New London).
The family was frequently uprooted as they followed McCain from New London to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and other stations in the Pacific Ocean; Roberta took on the lead role in raising the children. In 1934, McCain was praised for loyalty and for performing his duties very well, but his fitness report said he suffered from nervousness, and he was treated for weight loss at Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital. He served on the old, World War I-era submarines S-45 and R-13. From 1938 to 1940, he returned to the Naval Academy for a stint of teaching electrical engineering to midshipmen. He later said of this position, "The lads learned soon enough never to try to hoodwink an old hoodwinker." In 1940 and early 1941, he sailed in the more modern Skipjack (commanded by Larry Freeman) as part of the Pacific Fleet's SubDiv 15, under Captain Ralph Christie. In April 1941, McCain was detached to his first command, the antique O-8, recommissioned as a training boat at the Submarine School in New London.
Read more about this topic: John Mc Cain, Jr.
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