In an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Nguyen Tien Tran acknowledged that conditions in the prison were “tough, though not inhuman”. But, he added: “We never tortured McCain. On the contrary, we saved his life, curing him with extremely valuable medicines that at times were not available to our own wounded.”
Tran, now 75, said McCain reached Hanoi with the worst injuries he had seen in a downed pilot. But he denied torturing him, saying it was his mission to ensure that McCain survived. As the son of the US naval commander in Vietnam, he offered a potential valuable propaganda weapon.
During our visit we sought out Vietnamese who’d met McCain. We found 81-year-old former nurse, Nguyen Thi Thanh. In his memoir, McCain says she saved his life, fending off a baying mob at the edge of Hanoi’s West Lake, and treating his wounds, putting splints on his arms and leg, and giving him antibiotics.
“Some people were very angry,” she recalled, “but I was a nurse, it was my responsibility.”
Perhaps most surprising of all is the man who ran Hoa Lo, the notorious Hanoi Hilton prison, where McCain spent two years after the Plantation.
These days Tran Trong Duyet, talks about his “friend” McCain, who he describes as “strong willed, but with a sense of humor.”
He dismissed the well-documented reports of brutality in the prison system. “During ‘office hours’ I would call him to my office and have fierce debates about the war. But ‘after hours’ we would talk to each other as friends.”
He calls McCain a “model American soldier,” who helped teach him English.
As for today: “If I had a vote, I would choose the person I knew well. So I would vote for John McCain.”
That must go down as one of the strangest endorsements the Arizona senator is ever likely to get.