3/28/2014 1:17:00 PM Vietnam POW who blinked 'torture' in Morse code dies
(AP) — 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 today. He was 89.
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.
As a senator, he was a strong advocate of conservative causes and backer of the Reagan administration. But the iron will that served him in such good stead in captivity gave rise to criticism that he was too rigid as a politician.
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.”
In June 1965, the Mobile native and father of seven began flying combat missions for the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. The next month, on July 18, he was shot down near Thanh Hoa.
Captured, he spent the next 7 1/2 years in several North Vietnamese prisoner of war camps, including the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” Four of those years were spent in solitary confinement in a tiny, stinking, windowless cell.
“They beat you with fists and fan belts,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1979. “They warmed you up and threatened you with death. Then they really got serious and gave you something called the rope trick.” The use of ropes — to cut off circulation in his limbs — left him with no feeling in his fingertips and intense muscle spasms, he said.
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.
“In the early morning hours, I prayed that I could keep my sanity until they released me. I couldn’t even give in to their demands, because there were none. It was pure revenge,” Denton wrote.
He said his captors never brought him out for another interview. He was released in February 1973.