His image was grainy and odd when I saw it on the television in 1966. I was 11 and had seen images of war on the evening news for years. It would be a long time until I understood his profound courage, courage he knew would likely lead to more torture. It did.
Jeremiah Denton, Jr. served in Vietnam and was shot down on July 18, 1965, when he was flying his 12th mission over North Vietnam. He took off from the South China Sea. As he flew over the Thanh Hoa Bridge on the Ma River, he was shot down and taken prisoner. He was kept in different prison camps for the next seven years and seven months. Awful, torturous spaces.
Ten months after his capture, he was selected to participate in a propaganda interview for Japanese television. As he appeared on television, he blinked in odd patterns, as though the lights bothered him. But he was sending a message with those blinks – TORTURE – he spelled in Morse code with the blink..blink..blink-blink of his eyes.
The POWs came home – alive – in February 1973. I was a senior in high school and understood a bit more about war. I wrote letters to one POW who returned, welcoming him home. He came to school and spoke to the students, explaining how they communicated with tap.tap. tap on the walls. Learning each other’s names and remembering hometowns. They were a community of heroes.
Jeremiah Denton, Jr. died last week at age 89. Today, we remember him: his patriotism, his courage and all that he suffered, all he endured - for US.