Jeremiah Denton

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

The death of Jeremiah Denton, coming amid a vast American retreat overseas, is being marked this afternoon by hundreds of thousands who are watching the video taken of him when he was a captive of the North Vietnamese communists. It is one of the most astonishing film clips in American history. Denton, then a commander in the United States Navy, had been shot down in Vietnam on July 18, 1965, and thrown into a communist dungeon. The following May, the Communists tried to use him in a propaganda exercise, and arranged for him to be interviewed on camera by a Japanese correspondent. It became the broadcast that confirmed what everyone feared.

What the video above shows is Denton stating that he gets “adequate food” and “adequate clothing” and “medical care when I require it.” The Japanese reporter can be heard acknowledging what Denton is saying. Feature, though, Denton’s eyes. He is blinking. Is it exhaustion? Or an old tic? Or the camera lights? Or just general awkwardness? It turns out that the crafty commander is blinking out in Morse code a one-word message: T-o-r-t-u-r-e. It mayn’t have been a surprise. It was, though, a stunning report. The United States Archives call it the “first clear confirmation received by U.S. Intelligence that American POWs were, in fact, being tortured.”

The video clip above is but part of a longer clip that can be viewed at a Web portal of the U.S. Archives. Click to the contents page. Then, under “Scenes From Hell,” there is the link for Denton, where clicking the icon of the motion picture camera will bring up the full clipping. It doesn’t display a URL, which is why we take the trouble to describe how to get to it; the clipping is not to be missed in full. The Archive explains that the motion picture and the words are, as in the original, somewhat out of sync. Today the taped interview is in the Special Media Archives of the CIA.

Denton’s is one of the magnificent stories handed up by the American Navy, into which he was commissioned after graduating from the Naval Academy at Annapolis. He had a stellar Navy career before he was shot down. In seven years, seven months of captivity, he was unbroken. He was not released until the rest of the POWs came home. Denton had been promoted during his captivity, and retired from the Navy as a rear admiral, eventually to be elected by Alabama to the Senate, where he served a term between 1981 and 1987. He and his wife, Jane, were married for 61 years, until she died in 2007. Denton’s was an inspiring, heroic life.

The New York Sun

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