Former Alabama Sen. Jeremiah Denton, who survived 7 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and alerted the U.S. military to conditions there when he blinked the word “torture” in Morse code during a television interview, died Friday. He was 89.
Denton’s grandson, Edward Denton, said his grandfather had been in declining health for the past year and died from heart problems at a hospice facility in Virginia Beach, Va.
Denton, a retired Navy rear admiral, in 1980 became the first Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama since Reconstruction, but he narrowly lost a re-election bid six years later.
Denton first received wide notice as a POW with an unbending patriotic commitment, despite torture and the horrors of years of captivity. He called his book about the experiences “When Hell Was in Session.”
It was Denton who provided the first direct evidence of torture by his captors when, apparently unbeknownst to them, he blinked his message in Morse code in a 1966 interview done with him in captivity.
In the tape, made by a Japanese interviewer and intended by the North Vietnamese as propaganda, Denton also confounded the captors by saying that he continued to fully support the U.S. government, “and I will support it as long as I live.” He was tortured again.
But with the war’s end drawing closer, he was released in February 1973.