Jailer at 'Hanoi Hilton' prison in Vietnam praises John McCain's 'toughness,' says he feels 'very sad' about Arizona senator's death

The jailer at the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" prison in Vietnam said he feels sad about Sen. John McCain's death as he praised the former Navy pilot's "toughness" and the "strong stance" he had during his five-plus years in confinement.

Former Col. Tran Trong Duyet, who was in charge of the prison, said he met McCain many times after his Skyhawk dive bomber was shot down over Hanoi in 1967.

"When I learnt about his death early this morning, I feel very sad," Duyet told the Vietnam News newspaper on Sunday. "I would like to send condolences to his family. I think it's the same feeling for all Vietnamese people as he has greatly contributed to the development of Vietnam-U.S. relations."

McCain was tortured often while he was in the prison, and has admitted he tried to commit suicide during his confinement. The son of a four-star admiral, McCain was offered his release from the "Hanoi Hilton" after a year, but would not abandon his fellow prisoners who had been there longer.

"He was a dear friend; I loved him like a brother," cellmate Orson Swindle told Time. "We came home [from Vietnam] and we had a long friendship. We had our differences. On many occasions we’d fight and argue and then 10 minutes later be laughing about it."

McCain was in a full-body cast for six months after his capture after breaking both arms and his right leg. He was treated in a hospital only because of who his father was, according to Time.

"He came within a heartbeat of dying," fellow prisoner Paul Galanti told Time. "He was put in a full plaster body cast and he couldn’t take it off for six months. His body just was becoming unglued."

McCain, the longtime Arizona senator, lost his battle with brain cancer on Saturday night. He had been diagnosed with glioblastoma more than a year ago.

Many in Hanoi paid their respects to McCain at the U.S. Embassy and at a monument by Truc Bach lake, where the pilot landed after parachuting from his plane.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, said McCain was "a great leader and real hero" who helped normalize relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.

Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan sent messages of condolence to McCain's loved ones.

With News Wire Services