Quincy Collins of Charlotte wasn’t sure he’d heard right last weekend when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump questioned whether Sen. John McCain was a true war hero because he’d been captured during the Vietnam War.
But when he heard Trump say at a campaign event in Iowa: “I like people who weren’t captured,” Collins got angry. He was a fellow POW for more than seven years and in 1970 shared a cell with McCain and about 40 other prisoners at the infamous “Hilton Hanoi.”
They were all tortured repeatedly for years, especially McCain after their captors discovered he was the son of a Navy admiral who commanded American forces in the Pacific, Collins said.
“Obviously this guy (Trump) doesn’t have much of a brain in his head when he arrived at that conclusion,” said Collins, 84, a retired Charlotte real estate executive. “John was shot down. He didn’t ask to be there. None of us did. And they really tore into him because his daddy was an admiral and so was his granddaddy.
Never miss a local story.
“Being a POW ain’t the easiest thing on Earth. I doubt our friend Trump would have the will to endure it.”
Collins, an Air Force fighter pilot who was captured in 1965 after his plane was shot down, knows what McCain endured during his five years as a POW.
Being a POW ain’t the easiest thing on Earth. I doubt our friend Trump would have the will to endure it.
Quincy Collins of Charlotte, former POW with John McCain
By the time he met McCain, Collins had been held for five years and McCain for three.
McCain, shot down in his Navy Skyhawk dive bomber, was taken prisoner with fractures in both arms and his right leg. He was given minimal care. “He was in rough shape,” Collins said. “But we all were. They knew almost right away who John was and made him a special case.
“They never allowed his arms to heal.”
Yet their captors did offer McCain early release as a propaganda ploy to show American leaders the POWs weren’t being mistreated.
McCain refused, saying he wouldn’t go without his comrades. That brought more torture, every two to three hours over four days.
“He told them to stick it,” Collins said. “Our rules did not allow a release without the permission of the senior officers. They were being tortured too. This thing went on and on.
“John could have left, but he said no. In my mind, he was absolutely heroic.”
He’s not doing the Republican Party any good, nor is he doing America any good. The American people better wake up. Someone saying what they believe, doesn’t mean that he’s the leader that we need.
Quincy Collins on Donald Trump
Trump in recent weeks has made numerous inflammatory comments, triggering calls by Republicans to soften his rhetoric. But the comments about McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, had many Republicans – including Trump’s Republican opponents – calling for Trump to drop out of the race.
Collins, a devout Republican, said he’s not talked to any of his fellow POWs about the comment.
Trump on Monday softened his stance, saying he respected McCain, but didn’t take back his “war hero” remarks and didn’t apologize to McCain during an interview on Fox News.
McCain told MSNBC on Monday that Trump didn’t owe him an apology, but did owe one to families that “have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone a prison experience in serving their country.”
“The great honor of my life was to serve in the company of heroes. I’m not a hero,” the five-term Arizona senator said in the interview.
Collins said Trump, a real estate billionaire, is hurting the Republican Party and its chances to win back the White House. Trump is leading Republican contenders in recent polls.
“He knows he’s got enough money that no one can hurt him,” Collins said. “He’s not doing the Republican Party any good, nor is he doing America any good. The American people better wake up. Someone saying what they believe, doesn’t mean that he’s the leader that we need.”