Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) died Saturday at the age of 81, shortly after his family announced that he would be discontinuing medical treatment for brain cancer. He is being remembered as a war hero and a dedicated public servant. But, he also leaves behind a personal story, and it’s one of heartache and infidelity.
Sen. John McCain died Saturday at the age of 81 following his year-long battle with brain cancer. Immediately, those on both sides of the aisle poured out their sympathies. He has been lauded for his service in the military and as a politician, and he will even lie in repose in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, DC, a gesture reserved for the country’s “most eminent citizens,” and receive a full dress funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral.
However, there are some who know John McCain well — some who know the man he truly is — and they would beg to differ that he is a “hero” or a man of great honor and integrity. One of those people is his first wife, Carol, whom John McCain cheated on with Cindy McCain after a bad car accident left her permanently disfigured and handicapped. McCain then left Carol to marry Cindy, even after Carol waited for him during the five-and-a-half years that he was Prisoner of War in Vietnam.
It’s been almost 40 years since McCain left his first wife and three young children to marry Cindy Lou Hensley, a woman 18 years his junior, but for his oldest daughter, Sidney McCain, the pain is still palpable. “We were all shocked and heartbroken,” Sidney said in the documentary John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls. “It caused quite a rift within the family.”
Sidney, 51, and her brothers Doug, 58, and Andy, 56, didn’t attend their father’s second wedding in 1980. In the documentary, McCain’s three oldest children, as well as his ex-wife, open up about the wounds of those difficult early years. “Cindy was very young too, and you can’t help who you fall in love with,” said Sidney. “At the time it was really awful.”
When McCain married Carol Shepp in 1965 he adopted her sons, Doug and Andy, whom she had during her first marriage. John and Carol then had a daughter, Sidney, in the fall of 1966. A year later, McCain was captured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and held for five-and-a-half years.
Upon McCain’s return, he became a commanding officer in a Naval squadron, followed by a job as a military liaison for the Senate. “We travelled all over the world together,” former Vice President Joe Biden says in the film of those days with McCain.
Andy recalls: “As dad progressed, he was gone a lot, doing a lot of international travel, and it was putting a little stress on the marriage.” It was during this time in 1979 that McCain met Cindy Hensley in Hawaii. [Source: PEOPLE]
“I was a teacher of special education at the time in Arizona, and it was spring break and we were invited to a reception that was being held for a group of United States senators on their way through Hawaii to China,” Cindy recalled of her chance meeting with John McCain.
“He introduced himself to me and I just didn’t know what to expect. What I saw was this incredible human being that was a lot of fun to be around,” she added. Within a year of meeting Cindy, the still-married McCain, then 43, asked the 25-year-old to marry him.
According to the Washington Post, John and Cindy obtained a marriage license in Arizona in early March 1980, four weeks before his divorce from Carol was final. They married six weeks later, on May 17. In one of her few public comments about the marriage, Carol said that her then-husband’s introduction to Cindy “was about the time our marriage was falling apart.”
“He was looking for a way to be young again, and that was the end of that,” said Carol. “I didn’t know anything about it, I had no idea what was going on, I was pretty much blindsided and it broke my heart.”
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