Taste of Senate Set Capt. McCain on a New Path





At a meeting in his Pentagon office in early 1981, Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman told Capt. John S. McCain III that he was about to attain his life ambition: becoming an admiral.

But Mr. McCain, the son and grandson of revered Navy admirals, was having second thoughts about following his family’s vocation. He had spent the previous four years as the Navy’s liaison to the Senate, sampling life in the world’s most exclusive club as he escorted its members on trips around the globe — sitting with the sultan of Oman on the floor of his desert tent, or smuggling a senator’s private supply of Scotch through Saudi Arabian customs.

He had found a sense of purpose in an apprenticeship to some of the Senate’s fiercest cold warriors. And in Senator John G. Tower, a hawkish Texas Republican, he had found a new mentor, beginning a relationship that many compared to the bond between a father and son.

With Mr. Tower’s encouragement, Mr. McCain declined the prospect of his first admiral’s star to make a run for Congress, saying that he could “do more good there,” Mr. Lehman recalled. But Mr. Lehman knew duty was only part of the reason.


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