Shortly after John McCain came back from Vietname in 1973, he wrote a detailed 12,000 word report of his experiences that was published in US News and World Report.
Even though McCain goes into a lot of detail in that story and mentions religion a few times, there is no mention of the cross in the sand story, even though it would have fitted in well with the whole narrative. There are numerous mentions of Vietnamese guards in the reports, mostly bad ones but also good ones, but there is no indication at all that any of them would have been Christian, although "[a] lot of them were homosexual".
So even though McCain yesterday said:
It was Christmas day, we were allowed to stand outside of our cell for a few minutes, and those days we were not allowed to see or communicate with each other although we certainly did. And I was stadning outside for my few minutes, outside my cell. He came walking up. He stood there for a minute and with his handle [sandal?] on the dirt in the courtyard he drew a cross and he stood there and a minute later, he rubbed it out and walked away. For a minute there, there as just two Christians worshiping together. I'll never forget that moment so every day -
That moment he will never forget wasn't worth spending a few of those 12,000 words on.
Religion seem to have been important for the POWs though:
In March of 1971 the senior officers decided that we would have a showdown over church. This was an important issue for us. It also was a good one to fight them on. We went ahead and held church. The men that were conducting the service were taken out of the room immediately. We began to sing hymns in loud voices and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Which makes you wander even more why seeing a fellow Christian on "the other side" doesn't get an explicit mention.
Update [2008-8-17 16:59:28 by Calouste]::
There is a story of a humane North Vietnamese guard though:
It was also in May, 1969, that they wanted me to write—as I remember—a letter to U. S. pilots who were flying over North Vietnam asking them not to do it. I was being forced to stand up continuously—sometimes they'd make you stand up or sit on a stool for a long period of time. I'd stood up for a couple of days, with a respite only because one of the guards—the only real human being that I ever met over there —let me lie down for a couple of hours while he was on watch the middle of one night.
Wich sounds strangely familiar to John McCain's statement yesterday, about the "Cross in the Sand" guard:
One night I was being punished in that fashion. All of a sudden the door of the cell opened, the guard came in, a guy who was just what we call a gun guard. He just walked around the camp with a gun on his shoulder. He went like this and then he loosened the ropes. He came back about four hours later, he tightened them up again and left.
So is that the same guy? Or is John McCain just making stuff up as he goes along?
Even so, that was May 1969, so the next Christmas, according to John McCain above, this guard draws his cross in the sand, right? Except that:
In December of 1969 I was moved from "The Pentagon" [he means "The Plantation" camp] over to "Las Vegas." "Las Vegas" was a small area of Hoala Prison which was built by the French in 1945.
So that Vietnamese guard is following John McCain around from camp to camp?
Update [2008-8-17 18:4:11 by Calouste]:
McCain told the same story on the 2000 campaign trail, except not about himself, as reported by the New York Times
Many years ago a scared American prisoner of war in Vietnam was tied in torture ropes by his tormentors and left alone in an empty room to suffer through the night. Later in the evening a guard he had never spoken to entered the room and silently loosened the ropes to relieve his suffering. Just before morning, that same guard came back and re-tightened the ropes before his less humanitarian comrades returned. He never said a word to the grateful prisoner, but some months later, on a Christmas morning, as the prisoner stood alone in the prison courtyard, the same good Samaritan walked up to him and stood next to him for a few moments. Then with his sandal, the guard drew a cross in the dirt. Both prisoner and guard both stood wordlessly there for a minute or two, venerating the cross, until the guard rubbed it out and walked away.
h/t to exmearden for finding this nugget.
In his 1999 book "Faith of my fathers" John McCain tells this story in the first person though.