(I confess, I can't get over the story about POW-era McCain refusing to be released as a Viet Cong publicity stunt, insisting he wouldn't go unless every man captured before him was released first. You cannot deny it: That is hard core.)Of course, I can deny it. McCain's conduct as a POW was hard core only if meeting the minimal acceptable standard of honorable service is hard core.
Assuming the story of McCain's famous refusal is true in its general outline, the conclusion that he did something exceptionally heroic simply isn't. The order of return for American prisoners - first in, first out, essentially - was not a matter of personal prerogative or honor. It was a matter of standing orders from superior military authority. In other words, had McCain accepted an early release, he would have returned to face the jeopardy of a court martial for violating the orders of a superior officer.
The military may have been willing to overlook McCain's well documented collaboration with the enemy as a means to avoid further torture, but accepting a favor of this kind, leaving his comrades behind to face the hazards of imprisonment? Perhaps he could have escaped prosecution, but he would certainly have faced the end of his military career in a state of disgrace that would likely have precluded a successful political career.
He did, though, follow orders. That he did so is unexceptional. It was his job, and his sworn duty.
Honorable, perhaps, but hardly hard core.
(Edited with apologies to brother Savage.)