But McCain also impressed on serious pursuits.
"He was always right there, man... 'this is how we do it' and people listened to him and did it that way," said Keifer.
McCain stood out even if it meant punishment, breaking rank to snap at an upperclassman mistreating kitchen staff.
"His temper was not when things were affecting him, but when people were being treated in a demeaning manner," Kiefer said.
That same brass was on display when McCain, a Navy pilot, was shot down in Vietnam in 1968.
West Chester's Ralph Galoti was imprisoned in the same POW camp five years later. McCain, skeletal and white haired, was still railing against his guards.
"He just kept reinforcing keeping the faith. Follow the code of conduct, resist to the extent that you can," said Galoti.
The prisoners got the sense that McCain's goal was not an admiral's stars.
Galoti tells Action News, "A lot of folks felt that he was predestined into politics."
Indeed, McCain became a Congressman and Senator.
Villanova's Admiral Tom Lynch, a former Navy congressional liason, says McCain's vote could never be taken for granted.
"He'd say, whatever our position was, what other alternatives have you considered?" said Adm. Lynch.
McCain's colleague Senator Arlen Specter says it was a low time that fueled McCain the most.
"I think it may go back to the accusations against him starting with the Keating Five, when he had so much anguish over staining his family's name," said Sen. Specter.
The Keating Five was a ethics scandal. McCain was exonerated, but Sen. Specter says McCain hated having his integrity questioned.
"I think he was motivated to excel, and the way you excel the most is to become President."
McCain reclaimed his good name by standing out, and sometimes alone, on issues like campaign finance reform and immigration.
"Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, if McCain thinks that's the right thing to do. If that's unpopular, then that's just too bad," said Sen. Specter.
And now we will see if a country joins cadets, comrades and Congress in following John McCain's lead.