The United States Navy’s latest Arleigh-Burke class guided missile destroyer will be given a big name to live up to. It will be known as the USS Jeremiah Denton.
To most today that name may not be familiar, but to his family, to all Vietnam veterans, and to all Sailors and Marines, that name carries huge honor and respect. You see, Jeremiah Denton was one of the iconic heroes of the Vietnam War and his heroism was shown in the most harrowing of ways.
Denton was held as a Prisoner of War (POW) for 7 and a half years, much of that time in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton.”
On July 18, 1965, Denton was the group leader of a squadron of A-6 Intruder fighter bombers assigned to hit an important target near Hanoi. They took off from their carrier and entered North Vietnam airspace and were on the target early on that July morning. The area around there target was defended heavily by multiple anti-aircraft weapons defenses.
During the attack, Denton’s plane was hit badly, and he had to eject over that area. He became a POW on that day and would not come home until the first POWs were released from North Vietnam on February 12, 1973.
On one occasion, while Denton was being held in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, he was dragged before TV cameras by his captors. He was essentially told to tell the press that was present that he and his fellow prisoners were being treated humanely. But, while in front of the cameras, Denton became a legend of true heroism for all of us.
His captors were unaware that he was blinking his eyes in an unusual manner. He was blinking Morse code.
He was blinking over and over again the word, “TORTURE.” The North Vietnamese wanted to use Denton to lie to the world about the conditions they were enduring in captivity, but their intentions were foiled by the very man that they had forced to deliver the message.
Denton and his fellow POWs were systematically and regularly tortured over most of the years that they were being held by the North Vietnamese. Denton spent the majority of his time as a POW in solitary confinement. His captors could see that he was a leader, and they were attempting to deny him that role and recognition among his fellow POWs.
After 7 and a half years of torture, solitary confinement in the most notorious of North Vietnam’s prisons, Jeremiah Denton was released with the first group of POWs on February 12, 1973. He was the first to come off of the plane at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. He was put in front of another microphone and cameras where, this time, he thanked the Commander-in-Chief and all those who helped bring this day about on behalf of all his fellow returning POWs.
He ended his short comments taking in a quick breath, trying to hold back his emotions, saying, “God bless America.”
Denton was awarded the following medals for his service as a USN fighter pilot and POW:
- Navy Cross
- Defense Distinguished Service Medal
- Navy Distinguished Service Medal
- Silver Star
- Distinguished Flying Cross
- Bronze Star with Combat “V”
- Air Medal
- Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”
- Purple Heart
- Navy/Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon
- POW medal
Jeremiah Denton’s service to his country and his state was not done yet. He would run for and win a seat as a US Senator for the State of Alabama and serve in that capacity from 1981-1987. He would also write a book about his POW experiences called, “When Hell Was In Session.”
Denton died in March 1989.
The Navy’s newest Arleigh-Burke class guided missile destroyer, the USS Jeremiah Denton will be built at the Ingalls Shipbuilding Yard near Denton’s hometown of Mobile, Alabama.
Learn more about Denton in the video below.
The Veterans Site remembers the distinguished, heroic, and honorable service of Jeremiah Denton. He endured things beyond the scope of our imaginations. We honor, too, all of his fellow POWs and will never forget their courage in the most trying of conditions. We also encourage you to keep in mind all those who continue to be listed as Missing In Action.
We offer our support and respect to all the Sailors who will serve on this new Arleigh-Burke class guided missile destroyer that will be given the honorable and noble name of the USS Jeremiah Denton.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.