Jeremiah Denton, Vietnam POW and U.S. senator, passes away at 89

Jeremiah Denton, Vietnam POW and U.S. senator, passes away at 89

[Ed. – Fair winds, shipmate.]

Former Alabama Republican Sen. Jeremiah Denton, a retired Navy rear admiral who spent nearly eight years as a captive in brutal North Vietnamese prison camps, died Friday in Virginia. He was 89.

Denton is remembered for bravely defying his communist captors as an American POW in Vietnam and being a conservative leader on Capitol Hill. In 1980, he became the first Republican to win a Senate seat in Alabama since Reconstruction. …

Denton spent less time in the Senate than he did as a prisoner in Vietnam, where he showed courage and resilience. He was shot down near Hanoi on July 18, 1965, only a month after deploying. He was already 41 and the father of seven children.

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“My dad has occasionally jokingly described the flying experience of a Navy carrier pilot as ‘days of boredom occasionally interrupted by moments of sheer terror,’” son James Denton later wrote in World Affairs Journal. “But, as he drifted to the ground under his bright white parachute, he was beginning seven years and seven months of imprisonment that would be defined by terror, mercifully interrupted by moments of solitude and isolation that tested his capacity to resist, endure, and survive.”

The American people caught a glimpse of that capacity in a 1966 television appearance. After ten months of imprisonment and torture, the North Vietnamese forced Denton into an interview with a Japanese reporter for propaganda purposes.

Denton — who assured the reporter “whatever the position of my government is, I support it fully” — blinked the word “torture” in Morse code. The North Vietnamese tortured him again, but the U.S. government awarded him the Navy cross.

“Vietnam’s most ruthless interrogators couldn’t break the iron will of this rock-ribbed Alabama native,” said Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions in a statement.

Held at the “Hanoi Hilton” and “Alcatraz,” the two most infamous Vietnamese prisons, Denton led his men in resisting their captors at every turn. “As a senior ranking officer in prison, Admiral Denton’s leadership inspired us to persevere, and to resist our captors, in ways we never would have on our own,” Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a fellow POW, recalled in a statement.