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Thursday, Apr. 17, 2014

Local war hero was cellmate of GOP candidate

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

SIKESTON -- There aren't many who can say they were roommates with a presidential candidate.

While memorable, Col. George E. "Bud" Day would hardly refer to his time with Sen. John McCain as the "good ol' days" as the room they shared was a cell in the notorious Hoa Loa Prison where the North Vietnamese held their prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.

"We called it the 'Hanoi Hilton,'" Day said. The nickname being a sarcastic play on the upscale Hilton Hotel chain, "the only resemblance with the Hilton was the name. Conditions there were terrible, barbaric."

Day ended up there after his F-100 Supersabre jet was shot down on Aug. 26, 1967.

"I was all busted up -- my limbs were all damaged one way or the other," Day said, adding he was barely able to feed himself.

McCain's plane was shot down two months later on Oct. 26, 1967.

"I didn't get paired up with him until Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7," Day said. "When I got him as a roommate he was in the same condition. He had a fractured right arm, a fractured right knee, his left arm was out of socket and was very badly injured. He had been bayonetted in the left leg."

Day and McCain remained cellmates for about five months.

"I got moved to a very bad camp," he recalled. "Then I got paired up with him again in the summer of 1970. I was the camp commander of another camp and he came into my squadron."

The two POWs ended up remaining there together for another three years until they were released March 14, 1973.

"I did 5 years and 7 months; he did 5 years and 5 months," Day said.

During their time together as prisoners of war, Day formed an opinion of McCain that remains unchanged.

"He is one of the most intelligent people I've ever known. I would say he is one of the 10 brightest people in the country," Day said, adding that he has dined and visited with Henry Kissinger and believes McCain is every bit as intelligent as the former secretary of state.

"He also has perhaps one of the strongest characters I have ever seen in that the Vietnamese tried to send him home early when he was in this terrible, broken up condition," Day said. "His answer was, 'Absolutely not.' It would have been the wrong thing to do and he made it clear that he would never leave before everybody who got shot down before him went home. They tortured him because he wouldn't do it."

Day said McCain's leadership potential was apparent to him from the start.

"I had no doubt that he would either be the secretary of the Navy or end up in some very high position," Day said. When McCain first ran to be a U.S. representative for Arizona in the early 1980s, Day and his wife campaigned for him.

"I recognized then it was very possible he would become a very high ranking official -- secretary of defense, conceivably president," Day said. As McCain is the frontrunning Republican candidate, there is a good chance Day may be right on the mark.

"I think he's going to be our next president," Day said. "Some people claim that he isn't conservative enough. They've got that all wrong. John's view is that there is room in the Republican Party for far right wingers, middle-of-

the-road Republicans and moderate Republicans. His take is the Republican Party reaches out to all political leanings. But there's a faction out there that claims if you aren't far right, you're not conservative. That's just stupid. John's got one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate."