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The POW Blinked

Each year, April 9 is named National Former Prisoner of War Day by presidential proclamation.

In issuing the proclamation this year, President Barrack Obama wrote: “Since the earliest days of our Republic, the brave men and women of our Armed Forces have answered the call to serve. They have put their lives on the line for our Nation, and many have sacrificed their freedom to safeguard us. These patriots often suffered physical and mental torture during their captivity. Many endured starvation and isolation not knowing when and if they would make it safely back to our shores.”

Eleven days before this year’s Prisoner of War Day, Jeremiah Denton, former Alabama Senator, retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, Navy pilot in Vietnam, prisoner of war and, above all, a man of remarkable courage died.

In June of 1965, the Mobile, Ala., native and father of seven started flying combat missions in Vietnam. He was shot down near Thanh Hoa the following month. Captured, Denton spent the next 7 ½ years in several North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camps, including the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” Four years of his captivity were spent in solitary confinement in a tiny, stinking windowless cell.

Denton first received wide notice as a POW with an unbending patriotic commitment despite torture and the horrors of captivity by providing the first direct evidence of torture by the North Vietnamese. In a TV tape, made by a Japanese interviewer and intended by the North Vietnamese as propaganda, unbeknownst to his captors, Denton continually blinked, sending his message, “Torture” in Morse code. He then infuriated his captors when he said that he continued to support the U.S. government “and I will support it as long as I live.” And he was tortured again.

After his release in 1973, Denton told his amazing story of the almost eight years he survived as a POW in North Vietnam in his book “When Hell Was in Session.”

As President Obama wrote in his proclamation, “We honor those who stood up, took an oath, put on the uniform, and faced immeasurable challenges far from home.”