From RT, "Trump is right (but only on this): McCain is no war hero"

John McCain flew ground-attack aircraft from carriers in the US Navy. He was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and spent the next six years as a prisoner of the Vietnamese, whom he alleged tortured him. His mission when he was shot down was the bombing of a light bulb factory, a civilian target prohibited under international law. This means that rather than a “war hero” John McCain is in fact a “war criminal.”

This claim is repeated by Max Blumenthal in his article "The Other Side of John McCain",

During the Vietnam war, McCain had been captured by the North Vietnamese Army after being shot down on his way to bomb a civilian lightbulb factory.

Is that true? Was John McCain's mission to bomb a light bulb factory when he was shot down?


2 Answers 2


Firstly, there was a light bulb factory in Hanoi at this time.

See for example the Asian Recorder volume 9, page 5802 (March 5-11, 1963)

Plant In Hanoi: A light bulb and vacuum flask factory, built with Chinese assistance, was inaugurated in Hanoi on January 8. The factory produces electric bulbs, neon tubes, car light bulbs, torch bulbs, and vacuum flasks. Work on the factory started in 1961 with the help of Chinese experts. At the inauguration ceremony, the Minister of Light Industry, Mr. Kha Vang Can, expressed sincere thanks for the priceless assistance of the Chinese Government and people.

In May of 1967, there were reports that the factory was bombed. See Daily Report: Asia & Pacific:

5, 12 May Raids

Paris AFF in English 1303 GMT 15 May 1967- - E (FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY)

(Text) 15 May--Jacques Moalic dispatch--A thermos flask and an electric light bulb factory and two buildings North Vietnamese authorities say housed institutes or upper schools were hit by bombs during raids of Hanoi's suburbs on 5 and 12 May

In the Daily Report, Foreign Radio Broadcasts, by the US CIA, is:

VNA International Service in English 1609 GMT 6 May 1967--B (Text: ) Hanoi., 6 May--NHAN DAN in an editorial today highly praised the armed forces and people of Hanoi for downing eight U.S. aircraft and capturing several U.S. air pirates in well-mounted battles yesterday. The paper pointed out that this was one of the quickest, and most bitter defeats of the U.S. aggressors over Hanoi's airspace. By attacking economic establishments and densely populated areas in Hanoi city, the U.S. aggressors have taken an extremely serious step in their war escalation. Like a pack of cornered beasts, they dropped many explosive bombs, and pellet bombs on the Than Long cigarette factory, the soap factory, and the Rung Dong electric bulb and vacuum flask factory. The bloodthirsty Johnson in his capacity as president of the United States himself ordered this barbarous raid against even factories solely intended to serve the people's life.

and Summary of World Broadcasts: Far East, Part 3 (BBC) states:

An editorial in 'Nhan Dan' on 6th May gives high praise to the armed forces and people of Hanoi on inflicting "one of the quickest and most bitter defeats on the US aggressors over Hanoi's air space". The paper states that US aircraft had dropped many high-explosive and pellet bombs on the Than Long cigarette factory, the soap factory and the Rung Dong electric bulb and vacuum flask factory in Hanoi. 'Nhan Dan' adds: "The bloodthirsty Johnson, in his capacity as President of the USA, himself ordered this barbarous raid against factories solely intended to serve the people's life..."

There is also a photograph in Viet Nam Destruction War Damage (1977), "Printed In the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam", with the caption:

Ha Noi electric light-bulb and thermos flask factory (May, 1967)

(the company still exists and still has a factory in Hanoi: Rang Dong Light Source and Vacuum Flask)

However, McCain was shot down on 26 October 1967 and other Americans were shot down and captured in the 5 May attack on Hanoi. Mark McDonald's story (February 2000, Knight-Ridder) of Mai Van On supposedly rescuing McCain on the day the light bulb factory was (allegedly) bombed could be an indication that Mai Van On really rescued a different American.


According to John McCain: A Biography (2009):

His target that day was a solid one—the power plant in Hanoi, the heavily defended capital of North Vietnam

John McCain (2001) has an aerial photograph of the target with the caption:

The view from the air the day John McCain was shot down. His target, a power plant, lies on the right side of the lake, just above the bridge

According to Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir (2000) by John McCain:

Today's attack on Hanoi...would be my first attack on the enemy capital. ... Our target was the thermal power plant, located near a small lake almost in the center of the city


The target was a thermal power plant—the target I had attempted to bomb in my last moment of freedom.

According to The Nightingale's Song (1996):

McCain's A-4E Skyhawk was part of a twenty-plane mission getting ready to hit the power plant in Hanoi, another target previously off- limits

Also, while difficult to decipher the OCR text, the 9 April 1973 Kansas City Times seems to say:

On McCain’s last mission, a strike against the Hanoi thermal power plant

Mark McDonald for Knight-Ridder is responsible for writing this about Mai Van On (who claims to have rescued McCain):

With U.S. planes still bombing and strafing their target of the day - a nearby light bulb factory where [Mai Van] On worked as a security guard

in newspapers in Febuary 2000, for example the 6 February 2000 Indianapolis Star , the 6 February 2000 Santa Ana Orange County Register and 5 February 2000 Philidelphia Inquirer.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) 94-Target List of North Vietnam bombing targets is published in Aerospace Power Journal (Spring 2001). The Hanoi thermal power plant is target 82. No light bulb factory was a target.

Also, the following are notes of the October 23, 1967, 1:05–3:40 p.m. meeting where the President authorized the strike (McCain being shot down October 26th):

The President: Are we now ready to take the wraps off the bombing?

Secretary McNamara: It depends on what you want to do for the rest of the year. If you open up the ten mile circle the JCS have recommended the power plant and the two bridges.

General Wheeler: I would strongly urge the President not to have a pause. I urge you to open up the ten mile circle and also hit the Phuc Yen airfield.

Secretary Rusk: One serious disadvantage is that every time a new target is added it becomes an act of escalation. I would not rush in with a whole new series of targets.

I have no strong feelings about Phuc Yen but it will have to be hit over and over. It may cost more planes than it will destroy. I do not object to the re-entry into the ten mile circle. But I do believe we should spread these targets out.

Secretary McNamara: There has not been a bunch of these targets.

The President reminded those present that the air field had been authorized previously subject only to winding up the Kissinger talks. Now we have gotten rid of all the excuses. Let's go with it.

Secretary McNamara: If we are going to strike we should hit the two bridges and the power plant. They will be announced as a restrike.

General Wheeler: There is a list of thirteen targets. Some of these are restrikes.

Secretary McNamara: Then we are agreed that Phuc Yen is authorized; the two bridges are authorized, and the power plant is authorized. No more than one of these is to be hit in a single day.


[footnote 5] On October 23 the President lifted the suspension of bombing in the Hanoi prohibited area and ordered attacks on various targets including the Hanoi Thermal Power Plant and the Long Bien and Doumer bridges.

And according to The Joint Chiefs of Staff and The War in Vietnam 1960–1968, part 3:

Admiral Sharp moved immediately to execute the new attacks. ... It took only three days for ROLLING THUNDER pilots to hit the bridges and the power plant. However, most of the other targets authorized on 23 October were not struck until November. Some were not bombed at all during 1967.

  • 10
    That JCS - 94 Target List (currently in the last paragraph) seems like the strongest reference here. I would consider putting it first, and quoting a snippet.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 14:15
  • 3
    Meh. Light bulb factory...... plant that makes light bulbs functional and useful...... close enough for an Internet smear. Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 18:14
  • 10
    @EvanCarroll Mark McDonald writes as if he is getting his information from "Mai Van On", but this 21 November 1995 article washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1995/11/21/… says that Mai Van On was "a storeroom clerk with the Department of Industry" who can home from lunch when McCain "was on a mission against a nearby power plant".
    – DavePhD
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 19:47
  • 3
    Perhaps the power plant is somewhere referred to as "an electric light facility" or similar. A person unfamiliar with this old-fashioned terminology could have mistakenly concluded that the facility produced illuminating devices rather than electricity.
    – David42
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 12:03
  • 3
    The original source is a February, 2000 Knight-Ridder wire story which misunderstood or failed to check what it was told by Mai Van On, a Vietnamese worker who rescued McCain from the lake into which he had parachuted. Mr. Mai, a worker in a light bulb factory, had been sheltering from American air strikes which explains the confusion but they were not intentionally bombing the factory. newspaperarchive.com/… Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 10:08

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