Two veterans groups are coming together to honor the late Sen. John McCain and the McCain family for their service to the country by creating and then distributing thousands of T-shirts in the nation's capital for the Fourth of July.
The T-shirts feature a navy blue image of the USS John S. McCain, a U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, along with the ship's name in bright red letters.
Below the ship, in navy blue are the words "Big Bad John" -- the ship's nickname.
Hundreds of volunteers are expected to hand out thousands of the T-shirts in Washington, D.C. on the Fourth, Rags of Honor owner and founder Mark Doyle told Connecting Vets.
Chicago-based Rags of Honor is a screenprinting business best known for its patriotic gear and Doyle's mission to employ homeless veterans. After spending a year in Afghanistan as part of the anti-corruption task force, Doyle returned home and was frustrated by the number of homeless veterans. He spent his savings to start the company.
"For us it was a pretty simple decision," Doyle said in an interview with Connecting Vets. "The more shirts I can do, the more veterans I can keep working."
Despite Rags of Honor partnering with VoteVets, a left-leaning political action committee working to elect veterans, Doyle said the decision to honor McCain was "apolitical." He said he was inspired by the recent rededication of the warship to include the late Sen. John McCain.
"We decided to try to do something to honor the McCain family," he said. "It was a pretty simple, apolitical decision for us. That's just what we do. Grandfather, father, John and son ... we wanted to remember them. It's an amazing legacy, four generations who have served their country."
Doyle said 2,500 shirts had already been shipped to the D.C. area and he planned to produce at least 1,500 more to be sent to the capital ahead of the Fourth.
After reports that White House officials allegedly directed the Navy to keep the warship named for the senator and his family "out of sight", Doyle understands his shirts may have "stirred some people's souls" but "by and large we saw a positive response, people saying 'God love John McCain and all he's done for this country.' We're happy to honor him and the McCain family. Most of what I've seen is very positive and it should be. It's a way to honor the family; that's where we come from."
Doyle said several of his employees are Navy veterans "proud to do anything associated with John McCain."
“Today, we learned the news that Donald Trump is turning the national Fourth of July celebration into a 2020 campaign event, complete with a ticketed VIP section for friends and supporters,” a June 30 email from VoteVets said. “That’s not what America is about.”
"None of us can change the whole world but we can all change the world around us," Doyle said. "For us at Rags of Honor, we appreciate being a part of this, being able to help and keep veterans working. We're changing the world one T-shirt at a time."
Even though they "may have had political battles against Senator McCain," VoteVets wrote that "what has bound us together since 1776 - the belief in something larger than yourself – is always worth honoring on the Fourth."
VoteVets senior adviser Kate Hoit, an Army Reserves veteran, said Rags of Honor reached out to the group for help promoting the shirts and VoteVets was happy to help, regardless of timing.
"It kind of snowballed from there," Hoit told Connecting Vets. "We jumped on the opportunity to help them and honor John McCain's service ... We're not oblivious to the fact that there's going to be a whole Trump celebration on the Fourth on the Mall ... If it was a normal celebration, if it was in the middle of nowhere, we would have said yes to helping out. It doesn't matter much that Trump will be there having this huge celebration. It's more just honoring (McCain's) legacy and helping out a print shop that employs veterans."
Veterans from all over the D.C. area, including many women veterans, have reached out to VoteVets about the shirts. Sen. John McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, shared the fundraising effort for the shirts on social media, Hoit said.
"It's been really nice to see the variety people who are just like 'This is really badass, how do I get a shirt?'" she said. "We definitely have battled with the late senator in the past but at the end of the day, we still honor his service."
Hoit said she visited where the late senator was a prisoner of war in Vietnam and was moved by what she saw.
"Just walking through the prison is absolutely chilling ... there are shackles everywhere, shards of glass line the top of the buildings to discourage prisoners from escaping. There's no way to experience that and not think about his service to our country and generations before in his family. To me, it's just an honor to honor his heroism and sacrifice on the Fourth. It's the least we can do for a man who gave so much to our country."
Where to get one
The shirts will be handed out on the National Mall on the Fourth of July for free thanks to contributions made to FundTheShirt.com. Volunteers selected to hand out the shirts plan to begin after 6 p.m.
Those who won't be in D.C. for the Fourth can still purchase a shirt at FundTheShirt.com. All purchases help support Rags of Honor directly.
About the USS John S. McCain
Keel laid: Sept. 3, 1991
Launched: Sept. 26, 1992
Commissioned: July 2, 1994
Builder: Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine.
2, 5-blade propellers
505 feet long
Speed: 30+ knots
Armament: 2 MK 41 VLS for Standard missiles, Tomahawk; Harpoon missile launchers, one Mk 45 5-inch/54 caliber lightweight gun; two Phalanx CIWS; Mk 46 torpedoes (from two triple tube mounts).
Homeport: Yokosuka, Japan
Crew: 23 officers, 24 chief petty officers, 291 enlisted
Aircraft: Capable of carrying 2 Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters
Motto: "Fortune favors the brave."
The warship was originally named after John S. McCain Sr. and John S. McCain Jr., both U.S. Navy admirals. On July 11, 2018 during a rededication ceremony, Sen. John McCain was added as a namesake of the ship, along with his father and grandfather.