ANNAPOLIS, Md – My husband and I had the honor of visiting the grave of Senator John McCain at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery, located on the campus, along Maryland’s Severn River, in Annapolis.
It was 51 years ago when my husband Richard L’Heureux of Sanford, Maine, was assigned to the Seabee Batallion MCB 71, in 1967, while the unit was deployed to Chu Lai, South Vietnam. Following that tour, in 1968, he was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid and returned to the Gulf of Tonkin. During both tours, he and his US Navy colleagues were kept informed about the ongoing situation with the son of the Pacific Fleet Admiral John “Jack” S. McCain, who was being held as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese, in Hanoi. His son was Senator John McCain.
Senator John McCain (1936-2018) was a prisoner of war from 1967-1971, in North Vietnam. His remains are now buried in the cemetery located on the campus of the US Naval Academy, in Annapolis, where he was a midshipman.
As a naval aviator, McCain flew attack aircraft from carriers. During the Vietnam War, he narrowly escaped death in the 1967 USS Forrestal fire. On his twenty-third bombing mission during Operation Rolling Thunder in Vietnam, in October 1967, he was shot down over Hanoi and badly injured. He suffered torture during his imprisonment.
My husband left a coin tribute on Senator McCain’s granite headstone, as has become customary when visiting the grave of a military person. There is particular significance in the “coin tradition”. Leaving a penny at the grave shows respect and marks a visit. A nickel indicates that the deceased trained together with the person who leaves the tribute, while a dime means having served, in some capacity, with the deceased. Yes, my husband placed a dime on Senator McCain’s headstone. Leaving a coin tribute on a veteran’s grave is a tradition that apparently became customary during and after the Vietnam War, although a history of this practice is found, dating back to the Romans.
Buried alongside Senator McCain is his Naval Academy classmate Admiral Charles R. Larson (1936-2014). The two men wanted to be buried side by side at the Naval Academy cemetery, in two plots, on a grassy hill overlooking the Maryland Severn River. A grave on the right side of the Senator’s plot (facing the river) is where the remains of Admiral David McDougal LeBreton (1884-1973) with his wife and son are buried.
While paying tribute to the graves, we walked through the cemetery to view the Midshipmen Monument and the Jeannette Monument. Both monuments are memorials to the victims of sea tragedies.
A history about the Naval Academy cemetery explains how the land was purchased by the college in 1868, after the Civil War. A part of the sixty-seven acre piece of land called Strawberry Hill became the cemetery. Since its beginning the cemetery has become the final resting place for Medal of Honor recipients, Superintendents of the Naval Academy, midshipmen, and former employees of the Academy and hundreds more veterans. The cemetery is also home to monuments that do not mark remains, but commemorate the heroism of individuals who gave their life in service to their country. The Jeannette Monument, erected in 1890, was built in memory of the men who lost their lives in the tragic Jeannette Arctic Expedition.
As a Maine Franco-American retired navy veteran, my husband was honored to pay tribute to his Vietnam War colleague, Senator John McCain. May be rest in peace.
An on line photograph album showing all the pictures I took while visiting at the Naval Academy Cemetery are located at this link.