Military Wiki
John S. McCain, Sr.
Birth name John Sidney McCain
Nickname "Slew"
Born (1884-08-09)August 9, 1884
Died September 6, 1945(1945-09-06) (aged 61)
Place of birth Carroll County, Mississippi
Place of death Coronado, California
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1906–1945
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg Admiral
Commands held USS Ranger
Air Forces for Western Sea Frontier and the South Pacific Force
Bureau of Aeronautics
Second Fast Carrier Force
Task Group 38.1
Task Force 38

World War I
World War II

Awards Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Relations ADM (USN) John S. McCain, Jr. (son)
CAPT (USN)/Sen. John S. McCain III (grandson)
BG (USA) William Alexander McCain (brother)
PVT (CSA) William Alexander McCain (grandfather)

John Sidney "Slew" McCain Sr. (August 9, 1884 – September 6, 1945) was a U.S. Navy admiral. He held several command assignments during the Pacific campaign of World War II.

McCain was a pioneer of aircraft carrier operations[1] who in 1942 commanded all land-based air operations in support of the Guadalcanal campaign, and who ultimately in 1944–1945 aggressively led the Fast Carrier Task Force, in the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II. His operations off the Philippines and Okinawa, and air strikes against Formosa and the Japanese home islands, caused tremendous destruction of Japanese naval and air forces in the closing period of the war.[2] He died four days after the formal Japanese surrender ceremony.

He was the father of Admiral John S. McCain, Jr.; they became the first father-son pair ever to achieve four star admiral rank in the U.S. Navy. He was the grandfather of U.S. Senator from Arizona and 2008 Republican presidential nominee Captain John S. McCain III, and the great-grandfather of John S. McCain IV. All four graduated from the United States Naval Academy.

Early life, education and family

McCain was born in Carroll County, Mississippi, the son of plantation owner[3] John Sidney McCain (b. Mississippi, 1851 – d. 1934) and wife Elizabeth-Ann Young (b. Mississippi, 1855 – d. 1922), who married in 1877. His grandparents were William Alexander McCain (b. 1812, North Carolina - 1863) and Mary Louisa McAllister, who were married in 1840.

He attended the University of Mississippi for two years, where he joined the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, and then decided to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, where his brother William Alexander McCain was enrolled.[4] To practice for its entrance exams, he decided to take the ones for the United States Naval Academy; when he passed those and earned an appointment, he decided to attend there instead.[4] In doing so, he would leave behind his Mississippi plantation and adopt the Navy's itinerant life.[5]

At the Naval Academy, his performance was lackluster.[1] He failed his annual physical on account of defective hearing, but the condition was waived due to the great need for officers.[4] When he graduated in 1906, he ranked 79 out of 116 in his class, and the yearbook labeled him "The skeleton in the family closet of 1906."[1]

He married Catherine Davey Vaulx, who was eight years his senior (b. Fayetteville, Arkansas, January 9, 1876 – d. San Diego, California, May 29, 1959), on August 9, 1909 at Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Early career and World War I

McCain as a young ensign listens to President Theodore Roosevelt as he stands on a gun turret to address the officers and men of the USS Connecticut (BB-18), upon its return as a part of the Great White Fleet in February 1909 in Hampton Roads, Virginia

Soon after earning his commission, McCain sailed aboard the Great White Fleet's world cruise from 1907 to 1909, joining the battleship USS Connecticut for the last stretch home.[6] His next assignment was to the Asiatic Squadron, after which the Navy ordered him to the naval base at San Diego, California. During 1914 and 1915 he was executive officer and engineering officer aboard the armored cruiser USS Colorado, patrolling off the Pacific coast of then-troubled Mexico.[6] In September 1915, he joined the armored cruiser USS San Diego , flagship for the Pacific Fleet.[6] With U.S. entry into World War I, McCain and San Diego served on convoy duty in the Atlantic,[6] escorting shipping through the first dangerous leg of their passages to Europe. Based out of Tompkinsville, New York, and Halifax, the San Diego operated in the weather-torn, submarine-infested North Atlantic. McCain left the San Diego in May 1918, two months before she was sunk, when he was assigned to the Bureau of Navigation.[6]

Interwar period

McCain's Rear Admiral nomination

In the 1920s and early 1930s, McCain served aboard the USS Maryland, the USS New Mexico, and the USS Nitro. His first command was the USS Sirius. In 1935, McCain enrolled in flight training. Graduating at 52 in 1936, he became one of the oldest men to become a naval aviator and from 1937 to 1939 he commanded the aircraft carrier the USS Ranger. In January 1941, after promotion to rear admiral, he commanded the Aircraft Scouting Force of the Atlantic Fleet.[7]

Physically short in stature and of rather thin frame, McCain was known for being gruff and very profane; he liked to drink and gamble.[5] He also showed courage and was regarded as a natural, inspirational leader of men.[5] In the words of one biographical profile, McCain "preferred contentious conflict to cozy compromise."[5]

World War II

Vice Admiral McCain (L) and Admiral William Halsey, Commander of the Third Fleet, hold conference on board battleship New Jersey en route to the Philippines in December 1944.

Admiral McCain (R) with Admiral William Halsey on the battleship Missouri on September 2, 1945 shortly after the ceremony in which Japan surrendered, ending World War II.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Navy appointed McCain as Commander, Aircraft, South Pacific in May 1942. As COMAIRSOPAC, he commanded all land-based Allied air operations supporting the Guadalcanal campaign in the Solomon Islands and south Pacific area. Aircraft under McCain's command, including the Cactus Air Force, located at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, were key in supporting the successful effort to defend Guadalcanal from Japanese efforts to retake the island during this time.[7]

In October 1942, the Navy ordered him to Washington, D.C. to head the Bureau of Aeronautics. In August 1943, he became Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air with the rank of vice admiral.[7]

McCain returned to combat in the Pacific in August 1944 with his appointment as commander of a carrier group in Marc Mitscher's Task Force 58 (TF 58), part of Raymond Spruance's Fifth Fleet. In this role, McCain participated in the Marianas campaign, including the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the beginning of the Philippines campaign.[7] At the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Admiral William Halsey left in pursuit of a decoy force, leaving Rear Admiral Clifton "Ziggy" Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 (usually referred to by its radio callsign, "Taffy 3") to continue supporting forces ashore, defended by only a light screen of destroyers and destroyer escorts.

Taffy 3 came under attack from a much heavier Japanese force, under Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, provoking the Battle off Samar. Sprague promptly began to plead for assistance from Halsey who was responsible for protecting the northern approach to the landing site. Halsey had contemplated detaching a battle group, Task Force 34 (TF 34), but chose to bring all available battle-groups north to pursue the Japanese carrier force. Hearing Sprague's pleas (including messages in plain language, not even bothering to encrypt them, as the situation grew desperate), Admiral Nimitz sent Halsey a terse message, TURKEY TROTS TO WATER GG FROM CINCPAC ACTION COM THIRD FLEET INFO COMINCH CTF SEVENTY-SEVEN X WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR RR THE WORLD WONDERS. Halsey was infuriated (not recognizing the final phrase as padding, chosen for the anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade, until a communications officer shortly thereafter explained and cleared it up for him.) and sent McCain's Task Group 58.1 (TG 58.1) to assist.[8]

McCain had been monitoring the original pleas for help and, recognizing the seriousness of the situation, had turned around without awaiting orders.[9] His ships raced downwind towards the battle, briefly turning into the wind to recover returning planes. At 10:30, a force of Helldivers, Avengers, and Hellcats was launched from USS Hornet, USS Hancock, and USS Wasp at the extreme range of 330 miles (610 km). Though the attack did little damage, it strengthened Kurita's decision to retire.[10]

On October 30, 1944 McCain assumed command of Task Force 38 (TF 38). He retained command of the fast carrier task force that he led through the Battle of Okinawa and raids on the Japanese mainland.[7]

While conducting operations off the Philippines, McCain, as Chief of Staff of Third Fleet, participated in Halsey's decision to keep the combined naval task force on station rather than avoid a major storm, Typhoon Cobra (later known also as "Halsey's Typhoon") which was approaching the area. The storm sank three destroyers and inflicted heavy damage on many other ships. Some 800 men were lost, in addition to 146 aircraft. A Navy court of inquiry found that while Halsey committed an error of judgment in sailing into the typhoon, it stopped short of unambiguously recommending sanction.[11]


John S. "Slew" McCain, Sr. and John S. "Jack" McCain, Jr. on board a U.S. Navy ship in Tokyo Bay, c. September 2, 1945. The senior McCain died 4 days later.

By war's end in August 1945, the stress of combat operations had worn McCain down to a weight of only 100 pounds. He requested home leave to recuperate but Halsey insisted that he be present at the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. Departing immediately after the ceremony, McCain died just 4 days later of a heart attack at his home in Coronado, California on September 6, 1945. His death was front page news.[1] McCain Sr. was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

McCain was posthumously promoted to full admiral in 1949, based upon a resolution of the U.S. Congress.[12] This followed a recommendation of Secretary of the Navy Francis P. Matthews, who said that McCain's combat commendations would have earned him the promotion had he not died so soon after the war.[12] During his career McCain was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and two Gold Stars in lieu of subsequent awards.[13]

Family heritage

His grandfather, William Alexander McCain (b. North Carolina, 1812 – d. 1864), died while serving as a private in Company I, 5th Mississippi Cavalry Regiment, Confederate States Army. Archive files indicate he deserted on February 15, 1864, and was later held as prisoner in Memphis. He died in a hospital on April 26, 1864. During his life, he owned a 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) plantation in Carroll County, Mississippi known alternately as "Teoc" (the Choctaw name for the creek it was located upon) and "Waverly", as well as 52 slaves (some of whose descendants share the surname and call themselves the "black McCains").[14] He was married in 1840 to Mary Louisa McAllister (b. Alabama, 1812 – d. 1882). William's son, the first John Sidney McCain, known as J.S. McCain (which may explain the apparent discrepancy in Senator John S. McCain being the III, rather than the IV), served as Sheriff and, later, President of the Board of Supervisors of Carroll County. McCain's older brother, another William Alexander McCain, also attended the University of Mississippi before transferring to the United States Military Academy. William A. McCain would eventually retire with the rank of Brigadier General, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for actions in World War I, as well as the Oak Leaf Cluster during World War II. An uncle, Henry Pinckney McCain (b. Mississippi, 1861 – d. 1941), also attended West Point and later retired from the Army as a Major-General. Camp McCain, a World War II training base and current Mississippi National Guard training site, located in Grenada County, Mississippi, is named for him. His son, John S. McCain, Jr. was a submarine commander in World War II and later served as CINCPAC, Commander in Chief Pacific Command, during the Vietnam War.

His grandson, John S. McCain III was a U.S. Navy pilot during the Vietnam war, and was shot down and spent over five years as a P.O.W. in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" and other North Vietnamese camps. After his release, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the United States Senate from Arizona. He ran for President in 2000 (losing the Republican nomination to George W. Bush) and then again in 2008 where he won the Republican Party's nomination only to lose in the general election to Barack Obama. John S. McCain, III wrote a book, Faith of My Fathers, concerning his navy family and his own experiences as a midshipman at Annapolis, a naval aviator and prisoner of war.

John S. McCain III claims a royal connection on his campaign website: "McCain’s family roots in Europe are Scots-Irish. His great-aunt was a descendant of Robert the Bruce, an early Scottish king. McCain's roots in America date to the American Revolution. John Young, an early McCain ancestor, served on Gen. George Washington's staff."[15] John Young's ancestry has been traced to John Lamont, Baron McGorrie (the "red baron of Inverchaolain and Knockdow"; 1540–1583).[16][17]

Great-grandson John Sidney "Jack" McCain IV attended and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2009.[18] Another great-grandson, James Hensley "Jimmy" McCain, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2006.[19] He finished a tour of duty in the Iraq War in 2008.[20] Another, Douglas McCain, served as a Navy A-6E Intruder carrier pilot before turning to commercial aviation.[21]


McCain Field, the operations center at Naval Air Station Meridian, Mississippi was named in his honor.[5]

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DL-3) (in service 1953–1978) was named for him, and the destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) (in service 1994–present) was named for both of the Admirals John S. McCain.

McCain was a would-be author who wrote fiction that was never published, including some adventure stories under the name Casper Clubfoot.[22]


Navy Cross ribbon.svg  Navy Cross
Bronze star
Bronze star
Navy blue ribbon with central gold stripe
  Navy Distinguished Service Medal with 2 gold award stars
Mexican Service Medal ribbon.svg  Mexican Service Medal
Bronze star
  World War I Victory Medal with "ESCORT" clasp
American Defense Service ribbon.svg  American Defense Service Medal with "FLEET" clasp
American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg  American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon.svg  Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg  World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation ribbon.svg  Navy Occupation Service Medal with "ASIA" clasp (posthumous)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Timberg, An American Odyssey, pp. 17–34.
  2. Alexander, Man of the People, pp. 13–14.
  3. McCain and Salter, Faith of My Fathers, p. 21.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 McCain and Salter, Faith of My Fathers, pp. 22–23.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Leahy, Michael (2008-08-31). "A Turbulent Youth Under a Strong Father's Shadow". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Reynolds, Famous American Admirals, p. 206.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Boatner, Biographical Dictionary, p. 351.
  8. McCain and Salter, Faith of My Fathers, 40–41.
  9. This makes one wonder at Halsey's claim of being unaware.
  10. "Wasp". DANFS. U.S. Naval Historical Center. 2005-05-11. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  11. Drury, Halsey's Typhoon.
  12. 12.0 12.1 "M'Cain Promotion Passed". Associated Press for The New York Times. 1949-08-28. 
  13. USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), [1].
  14. Chideya, Farai (2008-10-21). "Black McCains Share Family's Struggles, Triumphs". NPR. Retrieved 2008-10-26. 
  15. McCain and Salter, Faith of My Fathers, p. 19.
  16. "Ancestors of one Young family in America". Archived from the original on 2006-02-10. Retrieved 2007-07-05. 
  17. Ancestry of John McCain (b. 1936)
  18. Superville, Darlene (2009-05-22). "Obama vows not to send people to war without cause". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 2009-05-23. [dead link]
  19. "Sen. McCain’s youngest son joins Marine Corps". Marine Corps Times. Associated Press. July 31, 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-01. 
  20. "McCain win might stop sons from deploying". Navy Times. March 10, 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-17. 
  21. Jennifer Steinhauer (2007-12-27). "Bridging 4 Decades, a Large, Close-Knit Brood". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
  22. Kirkpatrick, David D. (2008-10-12). "Writing Memoir, McCain Found a Narrative for Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-13. 



This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).