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July, 1998, Vol. 10, No. 5

DENTON COMMENCEMENT SPEECH

In an emotional commencement speech at Christendom College in Virginia on May 16, retired Navy Admiral Jeremiah Denton used his harrowing experiences as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam to illustrate the need to restore morality and religion to their proper place in our nation.

On July 18, 1965, Denton was leading a group of 28 aircraft from the USS Independence in an attack on enemy installations when he was shot down and captured. He spent the next eight years in North Vietnamese prison camps.
Retired Navy Admiral Jeremiah Denton exhorted Christendom College grads to bring back religion and morality to the nation

During a televised interview set up by his captors in 1966, he provided the first evidence to the American public that American POWs were being tortured, by blinking the word 'torture' in Morse code.

Admiral Denton told the graduates of the conservative Catholic college that during his long years of imprisonment, which included four years of solitary confinement and 'a lot of torture sessions,' he learned an important secret: that if we have everything and don't have Jesus, we have nothing.

He was one of the ten most 'obnoxious, uncorrectable' prisoners who were taken to a prison the inmates dubbed 'Alcatraz.' There he was shown a cell measuring 47 inches-by-47 inches with no window, a 5-watt bulb, and small air holes in the door. 'I really panicked,' he recalled. 'I said, 'God, if you let them put me in there, I'll go nuts.'' Denton spent over two years in that cell. He was in irons for 17 hours a day, and released only 5 minutes a day to dump his bucket in the latrine. Yet, he said, in those two years, 'I was closer to Jesus than I've ever been. I enjoyed an inner serenity that would boggle your mind. 'I prayed; God answered. He answered in gracious, generous and amazing ways, as he always does to desperate prayers. The repetition of that process changed my faith in God to knowledge of God.'

Once, when he was near despair, in the utter silence of the prison he heard a voice say, 'Say, 'Sacred Heart of Jesus, I give myself to you.'' 'You can think I'm kooky, or it really didn't happen, I was dreaming,' Denton told the commencement audience. 'But I was in the most alert stage possible. 'That devotion to the Sacred Heart works; the devotion to the Rosary works: God likes the Catholic Church!'

Another time, after undergoing five days and nights of excruciating torture aimed at forcing him to divulge certain information, he was at the breaking point.

'I said, 'God, I've offered every prayer, every solicitation I can. I have no capacity for anything else. If you want to do something, it's all yours.' Immediately, he felt no more pain. A warm blanket of comfort seemed to envelop him. He felt total immunity from any kind of harm.

The guard, nicknamed Smiley, returned, ready to resume the torture, which consisted of jamming an iron bar against his legs. By that point, the bar had already gone about halfway through his Achilles' tendons.


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