MIAMI – Retired Col. George “Bud” Day, a Medal of Honor recipient who spent 5½ years as a POW in Vietnam and was Arizona Sen. John McCain’s cellmate, has died at age 88, his widow said Sunday.

Day, one of the nation’s most highly decorated servicemen since Gen. Douglas MacArthur and later a tireless advocate for veterans’ rights, died Saturday surrounded by family at his home in Shalimar after a long illness, Doris Day said.

Day received the Medal of Honor for eluding his captors for 10 days after the aircraft he was piloting was shot down over North Vietnam. In all, he earned more than 70 medals during service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

He was a Marine serving in the Pacific during World War II and an Air Force pilot in Korea and Vietnam.

He was McCain’s cellmate at one camp known as the Plantation and later in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, where he was often the highest-ranking captive. During his imprisonment, the once-muscular, 5-foot-9 Day was hung by his arms for days, tearing them from their sockets. He was freed in 1973 — a skeletal figure of the once dashing fighter pilot. His hands and arms never functioned properly again.

On Sunday, McCain called Day a great patriot and said he owed his life to the man. “He was the bravest man I ever knew, and his fierce resistance and resolute leadership set the example for us in prison of how to return home with honor,” McCain said.