"Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
Jeremiah A. Denton Jr., a retired Navy rear admiral and former U.S. senator who survived nearly eight years of captivity in North Vietnamese prisons, and whose public acts of defiance and patriotism came to embody the sacrifices of American POWs in Vietnam, died March 28 at a hospice in Virginia Beach. He was 89.
Adm. Denton was widely known for his heroism as a naval aviator and prisoner of war, and particularly for two television appearances that reached millions of Americans through the evening news during the Vietnam War.
In the first, orchestrated by the North Vietnamese as propaganda and broadcast in the United States in 1966, he appeared in his prison uniform and blinked the word “torture” in Morse code — a secret message to U.S. military intelligence for which he later received the Navy Cross.
He further shocked his captors when answering questions about what he thought of U.S. actions.
“I don’t know what is going on in the war now because the only sources I have access to are North Vietnam radio, magazine and newspapers, but whatever the position of my government is, I agree with it, I support it, and I will support it as long as I live.”
For this singular statement of loyalty, Jeremiah Denton received a series of particularly brutal and horrific torture sessions that included beatings with iron rods, being suspended by his arms behind his back to the point where his shoulders dislocated, and cement rollers over his shins. During his time in Hanoi's infamous Hỏa Lò Prison (the Hanoi Hilton) and another prison known as Alcatraz - a punishment facility - Denton endured over four years in solitary confinement.
In February 1973, Admiral Denton was the first returnee to disembark from the Freedom Bird at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. I remember watching him walk down the steps of the Freedom Bird, dressed in what was obviously freshly issued Vietnam POW garments, and proudly saluting. Even though I was a kid at the time, and not yet an American citizen, I will never forget his words:
"We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our Commander-in-Chief and to our nation for this day. God bless America."
It was like he was THANKING America for the opportunity to serve, under such extreme hardship. This is heroism, defined.
Later, after I became a US soldier, I read his book When Hell Was In Session
Jeremiah Denton set the standard for Prisoner of War Resistance . . .