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American Hero: Jeremiah Denton

March 29, 2014

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When I first met Jeremiah Denton, I greeted him as “Senator Denton.”

“Alvin,” he replied gently, “I was a senator. I’ll always be an admiral.” And he was.

Far more than politics, naval service forever defined POW, admiral, and U.S. Senator Jerry Denton, who passed away Friday at age 89.

Along with future-admiral Jim Stockdale and future-general Robbie Risner, Jerry Denton courageously led hundreds of American POWs through nearly eight years of torture, hardship, and imprisonment in North Vietnam. Shot down on July 18, 1965, Navy A-6 pilot Denton assumed leadership of the POWs in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, a role he would share with fellow Class of 1947 Naval Academy graduate Stockdale and Air Force ace Risner. No POW would prove any tougher or more irritating to the North Vietnamese than Jerry Denton.

After being tortured for weeks in preparation for a televised 1966 interview, Denton still refused to parrot his captors’ script. Instead he supported his government with his boldfaced statements – and managed to blink T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse Code, sending the first indication of the rampant mistreatment of American POWs in Hanoi. For his bravery, he received the Navy Cross.

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