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McCain likes to illustrate his moral fiber by referring to his five years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. And to demonstrate his commitment to family values, the 71-year-old former US Navy pilot pays warm tribute to his beautiful blonde wife, Cindy, with whom he has four children. But there is another Mrs. McCain who casts a ghostly shadow over the Senator’s presidential campaign. She is seldom seen and rarely written about, despite being mother to McCain’s three eldest children.
She was the woman McCain dreamed of during his long incarceration and torture in Vietnam’s infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison and the woman who faithfully stayed at home looking after the children and waiting anxiously for news. But when McCain returned to America in 1973 to a fanfare of publicity and a handshake from Richard Nixon, he discovered his wife had been disfigured in a terrible car crash three years earlier. Her car had skidded on icy roads into a telegraph pole on Christmas Eve, 1969.
Her pelvis and one arm were shattered by the impact and she suffered massive internal injuries.
When Carol was discharged from hospital after six months of life-saving surgery, the prognosis was bleak. In order to save her legs, surgeons had been forced to cut away huge sections of shattered bone, taking with it her tall, willowy figure. She was confined to a wheelchair and was forced to use a catheter. Today, she stands at just 5′ 4″ in and still walks awkwardly, with a pronounced limp. Her body is held together by screws and metal plates and, at 70, her face is worn by wrinkles that speak of decades of silent suffering.
For nearly 30 years, Carol has maintained a dignified silence about the accident, McCain and their divorce. But last week at the bungalow where she now lives at Virginia Beach, a faded seaside resort 200 miles south of Washington, she told The Mail on Sunday how McCain divorced her in 1980 and married Cindy, 18 years his junior and the heir to an Arizona brewing fortune, just one month later.
“My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be 40, he wanted to be 25. You know that happens … it just does.”
In 1979 — while still married to Carol — he met Cindy at a cocktail party in Hawaii. Over the next six months he pursued her, flying around the country to see her. Then he began to push to end his marriage. Some of McCain’s acquaintances are less forgiving, however. They portray the politician as a self-centered womanizer who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to ‘play the field’. They accuse him of finally settling on Cindy, a former rodeo beauty queen, for financial reasons.
Ted Sampley, who fought with US Special Forces in Vietnam and is now a leading campaigner for veterans’ rights, said: “I have been following John McCain’s career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There is something wrong with this guy and let me tell you what it is — deceit.”
“When he came home and saw that Carol was not the beauty he left behind, he started running around on her almost right away. Everybody around him knew it. Eventually he met Cindy and she was young and beautiful and very wealthy. At that point McCain just dumped Carol for something he thought was better.”
“McCain is the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory,” he said. “After he came home, Carol walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona. And the rest is history.”
Ross Perot, a billionaire Texas businessman, and a former presidential candidate, who paid her medical bills all those years ago, now believes that both Carol McCain and the American people have been taken in by a man who is unusually slick and cruel — even by the standards of modern politics.