Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Presidential POWs

If John McCain had been elected President, he would have been the third American president to have done time as a prisoner of war. The first was George Washington, who was forced to surrender to French forces at Fort Necessity near present-day Pittsburg back in 1754. His actions managed to touch off a world war. Quite an accomplishment for a twenty-two-year-old.

The second story is less well-known. In 1780, a thirteen-year-old boy who was serving as a courier to a South Carolina militia unit was captured by British forces, along with his older brother. (A third brother had already been killed in action the year before.) At one point, a British officer ordered the young fellow to polish his boots. The teenager’s exact words are lost to history, but they so enraged the officer that he struck the boy repeatedly with his saber, leaving him with scars on his head and left hand. There was no Geneva Convention in those days and the life of a prisoner of the British was a hard one. Both brothers nearly starved to death while in British custody. The younger brother contracted smallpox and died a few days after his release. That teenage boy had had a tough year. His widowed mother had been tending to wounded American soldiers, contracted smallpox herself and died. Who would have believed that that orphaned thirteen-year-old boy who had lost his entire family would become Andrew Jackson.