McCain rises from rebel to presidential candidate

By Jed Layton, Yan Zhang, Jialing Zhang

WASHINGTON, D.C.8212;Captain Frank Gamboa sat in a hardback chair at his home in Fairfax, Va. His eyes sparkled at the chance to reminisce about his old friend, Sen. John McCain.

Gamboa roomed with the Republican presidential candidate at the U.S. Naval Academy from their sophomore year until they graduated in 1958.

“We used to call him “John Wayne McCain’ on account of his good looks,” Gamboa said. “He was graying at the temples, and it made him more dashing. It was a real adventure living with John.”

Gamboa, a first generation Mexican-American, now campaigns for McCain. He is often on the McCain “Straight Talk Express” bus helping the GOP candidate reach out to Latino/a voters.

Gamboa said McCain’s grades were good in the subjects he enjoyed, such as literature and history, but if a class did not stimulate him, McCain would do only enough to pass. McCain graduated from the Academy 790th out of 795 in world history and international relations.

McCain was also a member of the Century Club each year8212;an infamous group that received more than 100 demerits in a year.

“He stood low in his class, but that was by choice, not design,” Gamboa said, describing McCain as “interesting, confident, mature, energetic, dynamic, having a good sense of humor.”

When the two met at the Naval Academy, they had little in common. Gamboa was the son of immigrant parents from a small town in the Sierra Nevada. McCain was the son and grandson of naval officers and attended Episcopal High School, a private school in Alexandria, Va.

Christina Holt, the school’s director of communications, estimated tuition to be $40,000 per semester, but said it was much less expensive in the 1950s. In McCain’s time, Episcopal was more like a military boarding school intended to help young men toughen up with disciplined education, mandatory team athletics and strict rules.

McCain entered the school as a rebel and earned the nickname “McNasty” from classmates who feared him.

The school’s current headmaster, Robertson Hershey, said the school was a place where McCain gained maturity and learned how to learn.

“He was too young and too feisty to translate into a strong academic,” he said. “So he often talks about his early days at Episcopal and how he used to fight the system.”

Hershey said McCain was particularly affected by William Ravenel, an English teacher who encouraged McCain to do his best. Ravenel often had McCain go to his house to make up demerits by working with him in the yard. Ultimately, Ravenel was one of the main reasons McCain decided to attend the Naval Academy, Hershey said.

Founded in 1845, the Naval Academy has seen generations of the McCain family. McCain’s grandfather, Adm. John “Slew” McCain, graduated from the academy in 1906. He later commanded aircraft carriers in the Pacific during World War II. Sen. McCain’s father, Adm. Jack McCain, graduated in 1931 and won the Silver Star for commanding two submarines during World War II.

After McCain graduated, he decided to go on to flight school in Pensacola, Fla. He was there for two years, graduating in 1960. In 1967 he was deployed to Vietnam8212;the same year he was shot down and captured. McCain spent five years in a war camp, where he earned another nickname, “Crip,” because of extensive injuries to his arms and legs.

After returning from Vietnam, McCain spent time in Washington, D.C. as a liaison between the Navy and the Senate. He made good friends with politicians and after a few years was encouraged to run for office himself. A short walk away from the U.S. Capitol, McCain’s Senate office now bustles with activity even though the Senate is in recess and McCain is rarely present.

On work days, McCain made the Washington area his home. He resided in Arlington, Va., in the Crystal Gateway condominium.

The three-bedroom condo of 2,100 feet has received publicity in recent months because it is one of seven residences McCain owns. Democratic opponents have said this shows the candidate as an elitist and out of touch. Arlington County records indicate the apartment building is actually owned by McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain.

Alfred Stoddard, a mechanic who lives within sight of McCain’s apartment building, said he did not know McCain lived there and said he thought the candidate would live somewhere more remote because of another nickname McCain has picked up recently.

“Sarah Palin calls him a “Maverick,’ right?” he said. “Maybe he should be living out in the Appalachian Mountains if he really is a cowboy.”

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