Newspapers in the United States have revealed that John McCain's 19-year-old son, Jimmy, has been serving in Iraq, prompting a furious response from the Republican presidential contender's aides after months of effort to keep his son out of the public spotlight.
McCain has repeatedly refused to make political capital from his son's service, despite having put support for the war in Iraq and national security at the heart of his campaign for president. But a tacit pact with the US media has begun to break down, and details are emerging of Lieutenant-Corporal Jimmy McCain's military service, his childhood interest in war memorabilia and his experiences patrolling Anbar province in Iraq.
Jimmy McCain has attended few of his father's campaign events, although he has accompanied him on at least one private visit to meet the family of a serviceman killed in the war.
When McCain visited Iraq last year and shared a Thanksgiving dinner with troops, there was no press coverage of the fact that he was dining with his son and his unit. And he has kept to his code of silence even when pressed by the media. Asked about his son on Fox News recently, he replied: "We have two sons in the military but we never talk about it, if that's all right. I am so proud of both of them."
Jimmy McCain enlisted in the US Marines two years ago, at an age so young his mother had to fill consent forms for his medical examinations, and spent his Iraq tour in what was by then a largely subdued area, making house-to-house patrols and handing out footballs as gifts to residents.
In common with the British Royal Family, which gathered the press together to agree a news blackout when Prince Harry served in Afghanistan this year, the McCain camp has argued that coverage could make his son a target.
However, with Jimmy McCain's tour over in February, the Washington gossip sheet The Hill last week and the New York Times over the weekend printed their own investigations. The newspaper, though, agreed not to publish recent photos. A spokesman for the senator said: "The McCain campaign objects strongly to this intrusion ... The children of presidential candidates in this election cycle should be afforded the same respect for their privacy that the children of President Bush and President and Senator Clinton have been afforded."
Jack McCain, who is two years older than Jimmy, is set to graduate from naval college next year, making it possible that John McCain could become the first sitting president since Eisenhower to have a son in a war zone. That may present security concerns after any inauguration, but before that it will play heavily in the presidential campaign where the war in Iraq will be a fissure between McCain and his rival, whether it be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, both of whom have demanded a withdrawal of troops.
ONE OF MANY MILLIONS
* John McCain's son is serving in Iraq. McCain is a Vietnam War veteran and was a prisoner of war.The US Department of Veterans Affairs says the Vietnam War (1964-1975) involved over 8.7 million US service members worldwide. Over 3.4 million were deployed to Southeast Asia.
* The US suffered about 58,000 battle deaths during the Vietnam War. Vietnam and neighbouring countries such as Cambodia and Laos suffered far higher death tolls, many of which were civilian.
* There are around 7.2 million US Vietnam veterans still living.
* While several veterans of World War II have been elected to the White House, the Vietnam conflict has yet to produce an American president.
* Many Vietnam veterans were draftees from lower-income backgrounds and a large number have experienced social and economic difficulties.