Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Jeremiah Denton, RIP


"In his book “When Hell Was In Session,” Adm. Jeremiah Denton – who passed away Friday at age 89 – described a life-changing personal encounter he had with God while being tortured in a rodent-infested North Vietnamese prison cell:
Our resistance remained resolute, and in the middle of October, Lump [a senior prison official] demanded information from me on camp communications. He told me they knew I was inciting others to resist, and he lost his composure for the first time, threatening me with torture if I didn’t cooperate. 
I refused, and a special rig was devised for me in my cell. I was placed in a sitting position on a pallet, with my hands tightly cuffed behind my back and my feet flat against the wall. Shackles were put on my ankles, with the open ends down, and an iron bar was pushed through the eyelets of the shackles. The iron bar was tied to the pallet and the shackles in such a way that when the rope was drawn over a pulley arrangement, the bar would cut into the backs of my legs, gradually turning them into a swollen, bloody mess. 
I couldn’t move my legs; I couldn’t turn my ankles; I had to remain in a sitting position at all times with my legs absolutely straight. The pulley was used daily to increase the pressure, and the iron bar began to eat through the Achilles tendons on the backs of my ankles. 
After five days and nights in the rig, I decided to give them something harmless, hoping that the gesture would allow them to save face and release me. I wrote that we had talked to other prisoners while pretending to talk to the guards, and had also shouted under the doors. Lump shrugged and ordered me back into the rig. He was angered by my attempt to deceive him and determined to break me. 
The punishment was so gory that each day Happy [a prison guard], after tightening the ropes, would still be weeping when he went to the next cell to let Mulligan out to empty his bucket. For five more days and nights, I remained in the rig. My back got one respite in that time. I managed to lean against my bucket, which I had maneuvered into position on the pallet, and relieve the strain enough to get some sleep. Even a roving guard took some pity. He saw me leaning against the bucket but didn’t report it for 18 hours. By the fifth morning, I was nearing despair. I offered myself to God with an admission that I could take no more on my own. Tears ran down my face as I repeated my vow of surrender to Him. Strangely, as soon as I made the vow, a deep feeling of peace settled into my tortured mind and pain-wracked body, and the suffering left me completely. It was the most profound and deeply inspiring moment of my life. 
A few minutes later, Happy and another guard came into my cell and the two of them began pulling on the rope. Blood began to flow heavily from my legs. I felt nothing, though I still bear the scars and have frequent spasms in my legs from the ordeal.
“I still bear the scars … frequent spasms in my legs,” wrote Denton.

Which perhaps is why, close to five decades later when my daughter and I were walking through the Jamestown Settlement museum with Jeremiah Denton and his wife, Mary (they had graciously invited us to visit them in Williamsburg, Va., where we were overnight house guests), Jeremiah Denton couldn’t bend down and tie his shoelaces that had become untied. Mary knelt down and tied them.

Jeremiah Denton, or Admiral Denton or Sen. Denton (or, as he preferred to be called, “Jerry,” though I always had a hard time calling him that to his face, even when he insisted) was a hero not just because he was imprisoned in filthy prison cells and tortured for his country. Denton, along with the other heroic Americans POWs – many of them, like Denton, Naval aviators shot down over enemy territory – are especially worthy of honor because they dealt with their horrendous mistreatment so nobly, so admirably, so defiantly, like the natural aristocrats of the human race that they were and are.
It’s hard to have any idea what I’m talking about without reading Denton’s book, “When Hell Was In Session.” It has affected me – in a lasting way – more than almost any other book I’ve ever read."

Here's that famous clip of Adm. Denton blinking T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse Code during a North Vietnamese propaganda interview:

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