Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr. was born on July 15, 1924 in Mobile, Alabama. He attended McGill Institute, Spring Hill College, and the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1946.
"We don't have to turn to our history books for heroes. They are all around us. One who sits among you here tonight epitomized that heroism at the end of the longest imprisonment ever inflicted on men of our armed forces. Who will ever forget that night when we waited for the television to bring us the scene of that first plane landing at Clark Field in the Philippines--bringing our POWs home. The plane door opened and Jeremiah Denton came slowly down the ramp. He caught sight of our flag, saluted, and said, 'God Bless America.' then thanked us for bringing him home."
His 34-year naval career included service on a variety of ships and in many types of aircraft. His principal field of endeavor was naval operations. He also served as a test pilot, flight instructor, and squadron commander. In 1957, he was credited with revolutionizing naval strategy and tactics for nuclear war as architect of the "Haystack Concept."
In June 1965, he began a combat tour in Vietnam as prospective Commanding Officer of Attack Squadron Seventy-Five. On July 18, 1965, Denton was leading a group of twenty-eight aircraft from the USS Independence in an attack on enemy installations near Thanh Hoa, when he was shot down and captured by local North Vietnamese troops.
He spent the next seven years and seven months as a prisoner of war, suffering severe mistreatment and becoming the first U.S. military captive to be subjected to four years of solitary confinement.
A Commander when he was shot down, Denton was recommended for and promoted to the rank of Captain while a prisoner. He was confined at several prison camps in and around Hanoi, frequently acting as the senior American military officer in the camps.
Denton's name first came to the attention of the American public in 1966, during a television interview arranged by the North Vietnamese in Hanoi. Prior to the interview, torture and threats of more torture were applied to intimidate him to "respond properly and politely. " During the interview, after the journalist's recitation of alleged U.S. "war atrocities," Denton was asked about his support of U.S. policy concerning the war. He replied: "I don't know what is happening now in Vietnam, because the only news sources I have are North Vietnamese, but whatever the position of my government is, I believe in it, I support it, and I will support it as long as I live."
Throughout the interview, while responding to questions and feigning sensitivity to harsh lighting, Denton blinked his eyes in Morse Code, repeatedly spelling out a covert message: "T-O-R-T-U-R-E". The interview, which was broadcast on American television on May 17, 1966, was the first confirmation that American POWs in Vietnam were being tortured. Denton was released on February 12, 1973, when he again received international attention as the spokesman for the first group of POWs returning from Hanoi to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. Denton was advised that as the senior POW onboard, he might be expected to say something on behalf of the group upon arrival. As he stepped from the plane, Denton turned to the microphones and said: "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."
In April 1973, he was promoted to Rear Admiral.In his last tour of duty, Admiral Denton served as Commandant of the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia, for three and a half years. During his tour, he was credited with reinforcing NATO solidarity and hosted a highly successful NATO symposium of top national and NATO commanders, as well as academic, journalistic and corporate leaders.
Major Military Decorations:
Dept. of Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Three Silver Stars
Distinguished Flying Cross
Five Bronze Stars
Two Air Medals
Two Purple Hearts
Combat Action Ribbon
Numerous combat theatre, campaign,
and occupation awards.
The Denton and Ed Brandt collaboration, When Hell Was in Session was published in 1976 which chronicled the Vietnam experience of Denton and his family. An NBC television movie of the same title, based on the book, and starring Hal Holbrook and Eva-Marie Saint, won the Peabody Award in 1979.
In 1979, Denton retired from the Navy and returned to Mobile.
Denton was elected to the United States Senate in November 1980. In so doing, he became the first Republican ever elected by popular vote to the U S. Senate from Alabama, the first resident of Mobile elected to the U.S. Senate, the first retired military officer and the first Catholic elected to any statewide office in Alabama, and the first retired Admiral or General elected to the U.S. Senate by any state.
Denton served in the Senate from January 1981 to January 1987. His major committee assignments included: the Judiciary Committee where he chaired the Sub-Committee on Security and Terrorism; the Labor and Human Resources Committee where he was Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Aging, Family, and Human Services; the Armed Services Committee; and the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Among many other legislative accomplishments, Denton established the highly acclaimed international aid program now known as The Denton Program. Since inception, this program has transported over 20 million pounds of critical equipment and supplies to needy people throughout the world, on a space available basis and at no cost to the donors.