STOCKTON — When Sam Pachuca was rapidly organizing Saturday’s tribute to Sen. John McCain at the Veteran of Foreign Wars post of which he’s commander, he turned to fellow Vietnam veteran Rick Dimas to deliver the keynote address.
Dimas, 73, is one of the few local Vietnam vets who has met McCain.
The opportunity occurred when McCain stopped in Stockton and spoke at Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium during his 2008 presidential run.
“I have a POW/MIA flag I carried with me,” Dimas recalled. “I was sitting at the edge the stage and I got up and started waving my flag when he came in. He looked straight at me, gave me a smile and thumbs up and went on stage and started talking to his supporters.
“All of a sudden, this older gentleman is walking toward me. I realize it’s Everett Alvarez, the longest-held prisoner in Vietnam. He sat with me and shook my hand. I was speechless.”
Dimas had read Alavarez’s book, “Chained Eagle,” about his eight years as a prisoner of war in the same Hanoi prison where McCain was held for five years.
After McCain’s speech, Alvarez took Dimas to meet McCain onstage, where Dimas shook his hand and had McCain, his wife, Cindy, and Alvarez autograph the flag.
“I was star-struck,” Dimas said.
A few years later, a buddy from his unit asked Dimas to return to Vietnam with him, and Dimas and his wife, Rose, made the trip.
“We had a tour guide and I told him, ‘I want to go to the Hanoi Hilton where McCain was,’ ” Dimas said. “He said, ‘You can’t go there. You need special permission, but I can take you where he parachuted into.’ I was surprised. The Vietnamese people made a monument to John McCain.”
Dimas was moved by the visit.
“John McCain inspired me,” he said. “I was in Vietnam. I wasn’t tortured. A hell of a lot of us infantrymen went through a lot, but this guy got beat up bad. There’s nothing wrong with me.
“I started getting tears in my eyes. I started thinking about all the men that got killed and wounded and what we did to their people there.”
Dimas said he was honored to be speak at Saturday’s event at Stockton’s Vietnam Memorial.
“John McCain has always been my star,” Dimas said. “I disagreed with some of his policies, but he did a lot for us Vietnam veterans and all the people he touched. That’s what inspired me.”
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.