A lot of right wingers have been arguing that John McCain was not a hero in Vietnam. He did not claim to be.

I looked up his interview with "US News and World Report" from the seventies, and he admits that his first words when he was captured were an offer to give information in return for medical care. McCain himself has said repeatedly that anyone who did not cooperate with the Cong in the Hanoi Hilton did not come out alive. He's named the real heroes, and they are dead.

His medals have been denounced as "boiler plate," because they are awarded to everyone in his category. Normally, such a medal is only awarded to those who are seen by witnesses to show courage "above and beyond the call of duty.'

But there were no witnesses when McCain was questioned by the Cong, and the other survivors, all of them American airmen doing their duty, went through the Hanoi Hilton and came out alive, just as he did.

But none of us, I think, would say that he and his comrades do not DESERVE medals. They went through hell for this country, when America's media and a major portion of our population were condemning them, and the Fondas were giving aid and comfort, in America and even in North Vietnam itself, to their tormentors.

On the other hand, this is a disservice to those who, in the sight of witnesses, did more than their duty to their country, and often died doing it.

We should separate courage above and beyond the call of duty from having put a duty upon a group of fairly typical American servicemen that no human being should have to bear. We should be proud of how high a duty Americans can perform as part of their call.

We all have a right to be proud of the Hanoi Hilton survivors precisely because all of them did all that in the name of duty. No one should deny them medals for their suffering above and beyond what should be the call of duty.