‘He’s the man for the job’ | VailDaily.com

‘He’s the man for the job’

Special to the Daily/Brent Bingham/Photo EffectsTom Kirk is leaving Sunday for the Republican National Convention, where John McCain " who served as a prisoner of war alongside Kirk " is set to be nominated as the party's presidential candidate Wednesday.

VAIL ” Tom Kirk didn’t have any political experience. But he wanted to be a delegate, and he had a succinct explanation why.

“I said, ‘My name is Tom Kirk. I’m a retired Air Force pilot. I was shot down in Vietnam. I was a cellmate of John McCain. I believe in him. I think he’s the man for the job. I love him, and I want to work for him,” said Kirk, 79, of West Vail.

That was in May at the Colorado State Republican Convention in Broomfield. Kirk received more votes than any other prospective delegate.

Kirk, one of 46 Colorado delegates, is leaving Sunday for the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, where McCain is set to be nominated as the party’s presidential candidate Wednesday.

McCain and Kirk were prisoners of war together in Hanoi from 1970 through 1971. McCain was shot down as a Navy pilot and Kirk was shot down as an Air Force pilot, both in 1967.

“I’ve watched him under very adverse situations be as strong as steel in what he believes in, holding up well and taking torture to not reveal things he believes in,” said Kirk, who retired as a colonel.

Over the last few months, Kirk has been traveling around Colorado speaking in support of his one-time cellmate. And Kirk’s support for McCain goes beyond what he saw in Vietnam. He likes McCain’s positions on many issues ” including health care, education, the military, antiterrorism and the economy ” and he also likes McCain’s considerable political experience.

“I think this country is in serious trouble,” Kirk said. “I think the Democratic candidate is totally unprepared for the job, lacking experience. He is the most liberal senator in the Senate.”

Kirk, a Portsmouth, Va. native, was a pilot in the Air Force for 28 years. He later lived in Europe, in Italy, Germany and Spain, for nearly 20 years, working as a financial planner.

He came to Vail in 1992, where he continues to work as a financial consultant. He also plays the saxophone in the Tony Gulizia Trio and teaches skiing on Vail Mountain.

Kirk was a prisoner of war from 1967 through 1973.

He spent two years in solitary confinement in a Hanoi prison. He would walk back and forth in his cell ” three and a half steps each way ” which he figures added up to four miles a day. He would pretend to play the flute using a stick. He would figure out amortization tables in his head and recall poems he learned as a student. He would talk to fellow POWs by tapping on the wall in code.

“We lived day to day, one day at a time,” he said.

When he was taken out of solitary confinement, he was put in a large room with McCain and about 40 other prisoners of war. He spent the next several months with McCain. They would often talk of history, of both America and the world. McCain also shared with Kirk his desire to enter into the world of public service.

Next week, Kirk and 11 other former Vietnam prisoners of war will get the chance to meet with McCain for a few minutes during the convention.

Kirk said he’ll tell McCain to get “more animated, more fired up. He’s kind of laid back. … Let me see more of the fire that’s in him.”

The West Vail resident said he thinks of every day as the Fourth of July ” a celebration of freedom. McCain probably feels the same way, he said.

“When you’ve had your freedom taken away from you, and didn’t know when you were ever going home, never a day in your life do you take for granted the freedoms we have in the United States,” Kirk said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

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