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Wednesday marks 45 years since McCain’s release from Vietnam prison

John S. McCain III is escorted by Lt. Cmdr. Jay Coupe Jr., public relations officer, March 14, 1973, to Hanoi's Gia Lam Airport after the POW was released. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)

PHOENIX — On March 14, 1973, then-Lt. Cmdr. John McCain stepped off of an Air Force Starfield jet onto the tarmac in the Philippines.

For the first time in more than five years, he was finally a free man.

Wednesday marked the 45th anniversary since McCain was released by the Vietcong. He tweeted a gif of himself stepping off a bus — his hair turned white and he walked with a limp — to commemorate the day.

McCain, now Arizona’s senior senator, was taken prisoner after his plane was shot down near Hanoi.

He was able to bail out, but was seriously injured. The force of the ejection broke both his arms, his right leg and left him unconscious.

He landed in a lake and nearly drowned but was able to use his teeth to inflate his life vest. After he was dragged from the lake, he was beaten, spat on and stabbed in both the foot and abdomen by a mob.

Over the next five and a half years, McCain would be extensively tortured. He was given the chance to go home early because of his father’s lofty role in the Navy, but he famously declined to stay with the other prisoners.

He spent years in solitary confinement and, at one point, he broke and gave a written statement admitting to a variety of crimes.

“I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine,” he wrote.

After his confession — which he deeply regretted — his captors allowed him to rest and heal. Though he was treated miserably for several more years, he said that time gave him enough strength to not break again.

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