Cindy McCain honors late husband aboard USS McCain as destroyer gets new commander
By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 2, 2019
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A change-of-command ceremony here Tuesday for the USS John S. McCain was “bittersweet” for the widow of one of the destroyer’s three namesakes.
It was Cindy McCain’s first visit to the warship that bears her late husband’s name since the Arizona senator’s death Aug. 25 at age 81.
It was also the first time she has been aboard since the Navy added him as a namesake. The others are his father and grandfather, also named John S. McCain, who were both admirals.
The Navy added U.S. Sen. John S. McCain to the list as he lay dying of brain cancer.
“For all the wonderful tributes to John that poured in before and after his passing — all of which his family appreciates beyond description — the one that touched us the most, and perhaps meant the most to him, was the Navy’s decision the month before he died to add his name to the ship’s namesake,” Cindy McCain said.
Tuesday’s visit was also the first by members of the McCain family since the guided-missile destroyer collided with the Alnic MC, a commercial tanker, near Singapore on Aug. 21, 2017.
Confusion among watch-standers that night led to a loss of steering control and the ship crossed in front of the tanker. The Alnic slammed into a berthing area on the McCain’s port side, taking 10 sailors’ lives. It was the second of two fatal collisions involving 7th Fleet vessels that summer.
Cindy McCain was accompanied Tuesday by her sons Jimmy and Navy Lt. Jack McCain.
A new commander
They sat in the front row as Cmdr. Micah Murphy relinquished command of the USS McCain to Cmdr. Ryan Easterday, formerly the ship’s executive officer. Murphy’s next assignment will be at Afloat Training Group Western Pacific. During the ceremony, he was awarded a meritorious service medal for his efforts in returning the USS McCain “to a full mission-capable warship.”
Both men came aboard the destroyer in December 2017 when it returned to Yokosuka after the collision. They spent the next two years overseeing repairs and restoration of the ship, which suffered more than $200 million in damage.
Easterday said Murphy’s “unique skills, creativity and energy carried this ship and her crew through some very difficult times.”
“Almost two years ago, we had a great task laid before us,” he said, addressing the crew. “Thanks to your efforts, we have made more progress in bringing this ship back to life than anyone could have hoped or expected.”
Three former USS McCain commanding officers also attended the ceremony Tuesday.
In her address, Cindy McCain recalled that her late husband’s last public speech was at the Pentagon ceremony for the 10 fallen sailors.
“One of my most poignant memories of him is overhearing him as he sat at our kitchen table, days after receiving his terminal cancer diagnosis, calling each of their families and offering his condolences,” she said while choking back tears.
The ship spent 11 months in dry dock at Yokosuka undergoing repairs before it was moved to the base pier in November. The Navy has not announced when the destroyer will return to sea, but in his address Tuesday, Murphy said he would cheer on the USS McCain and its crew from the pier as they “finally get underway this fall.”
The change in commanders follows the Memorial Day visit by President Donald Trump to the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship that was visiting Yokosuka.
The president’s disdain for John McCain — a fellow Republican who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for 5½ years — is well known. Controversy accompanied the president’s visit when White House staff asked that the USS McCain, docked within view of the USS Wasp, be moved or its name covered up during the president’s visit.
The ship’s name on the stern was photographed covered by a tarp May 24, but the Navy removed the covering before Trump’s arrival and the ship remained in view, according to the Washington Post. The president said he did not know of the request to hide the USS McCain.
“I was not a big fan of John McCain in any shape or form,” Trump said, according to the Washington Post. “Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn’t like him, OK? And they were well-meaning.”
No one spoke of the incident at the ceremony Tuesday. Cindy McCain was not available for an interview afterward.
‘The world I know best’
As the ceremony ended, sailors presented Cindy McCain with the commissioning pennant that flew from the McCain when it entered active service. As the ship’s sponsor, she broke a bottle of sparkling wine across the USS McCain’s bow at its commissioning 25 years ago Tuesday.
The ship originally was named for Sen. McCain’s father, John S. “Jack” McCain Jr., commander-in-chief of U.S. Pacific Command in the Vietnam War era, and grandfather, John S. “Slew” McCain, a World War II carrier task force commander.
At the ceremony, Cindy McCain and her sons unveiled a portrait of her late husband that will hang next to those of his father and grandfather in the ship’s wardroom. Sen. McCain, a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, is depicted as a young officer in dress uniform years before he took to politics.
“Please know that this portrait that we will shortly unveil of a young naval aviator, the son and grandson of admirals who became a lifelong servant to the country he loves, hangs in a place where it belongs — a place he always wanted it to be,” she said, fighting back tears.
Cindy McCain said her late husband revered the Navy as “the world I know best and I know most,” though he spent more years in office than in uniform. She added that the late senator “was grateful to the end for the life he was able to lead in service to his country at war and at peace.”
She then quoted from his 1993 commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was buried last fall: “I will go to my grave in gratitude to my creator for allowing me to stand witness to such courage and honor.”
“And so, he did,” she said.