Mr Lua’s account of that day – along with Vietnamese accounts of the five and a half years that Mr McCain spent as a prisoner of war – differ significantly from the presidential candidate’s own record. Mr Lua speaks of quickly getting Mr McCain to the safety of a police station (now the aerobics studio) before any harm was done. Mr McCain writes of mob attacks on his shoulder, ankle and groin with rifle-butt and bayonet.
Where the accounts differ most starkly is in the period of Mr McCain’s long incarceration as a PoW – first at the prison known as the Hanoi Hilton, then at The Plantation.
Tran Trong Duyet, the former prison director who now surrounds himself with caged birds in a house in Hai Phong, first met Mr McCain a year after he had been shot down. He recalls a defiant rule-breaker, the patriotic son of an admiral and a fervent believer in the war. What he does not recall, however, is a victim of torture or violence.
“I never tortured or mistreated the PoWs and nor did my staff,” says Mr Duyet in contradiction of Mr McCain’s account and those of other prisoners. “The Americans were dropping bombs on military and civilian targets – so it’s not as if they had important information we needed to extract.” Mr Duyet says that he sympathises with Mr McCain and other PoWs for claiming that they were tortured. “It’s up to the Americans to decide whether or not he counts as a hero. He was very brave, very manly, he dared to argue with me and he was very intelligent. But all the talk of being tortured is for the sake of votes.”