He Survived Captivity, One Minute At A Time

Jeremiah Denton Jr., who survived nearly eight years of captivity in North Vietnamese prisons, died this week in Virginia Beach. NPR's Scott Simon reflects on his remarkable life.

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NAVY ADM. JEREMIAH DENTON JR.: I get adequate food and adequate clothing...


His eyes told the story. Jeremiah Denton Jr. had been in a North Vietnamese prison camp for 10 months in 1966 when he was brought into a room to tell a Japanese TV crew he was being well-treated. He blinked his eyes in Morse code: torture. And when the lights went off, his jailers brought him back to be tortured more.

Adm. Denton was among the highest-ranking officers to be taken prisoner in Vietnam when he was shot down over Hanoi. He wound up serving seven and a half years in the infamously brutal Hoa Lo complex, including four years of solitary confinement. Even there, he was a source of inspiration, devising a code by which American prisoners could communicate by coughing and sniffling.

If I had known when I was shot down that I would be there more than seven years, I would have died of despondency, of despair, he once told Investor's Business Daily. But I didn't. It was one minute at a time, one hour, one week, one year and so on. If you look at it like that, anybody can do anything.

Jeremiah Denton received the Navy Cross for sending a secret message to U.S. military intelligence. Later in life, he was appointed commandant for the Armed Forces Staff College. In 1980, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama.

Jeremiah Denton died this week in Virginia Beach. He was 89.

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