Former Sen. Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.), who survived nearly eight years of torture and imprisonment at the hands of the North Vietnamese, died Friday of a heart ailment at a Virginia Beach hospice. He was 89 years old.
President Obama said in a statement that Denton “bravely served his country as a naval aviator in Vietnam and went on to represent the people of Alabama in the U.S. Senate.”
“After his aircraft was shot down by enemy fire in North Vietnam, he spent nearly eight years as a prisoner of war. One of the highest-ranking officers to be taken prisoner in Vietnam, he endured torture, starvation, and years of solitary confinement with extraordinary fortitude,” the president continued.
“The valor that he and his fellow POWs displayed was deeply inspiring to our nation at the time, and it continues to inspire our brave men and women who serve today. As Senator, he served as a strong advocate for our national security. He leaves behind a legacy of heroic service to his country, and Michelle and I send our condolences to the Denton family.”
Navy Adm. Denton’s A-6 Intruder was shot down south of Hanoi just a month after he deployed to the region in 1965. In a 1966 propaganda video, he blinked the word “torture” in Morse code. In 1973, he was the first of the POWs freed at the end of U.S. involvement in the war to come off the plane at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
Denton served one term in the Senate before being defeated by now-Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) in 1986.
“Admiral Denton will be long remembered for his service to America,” Shelby said in a statement Friday. “He was a war hero, an honorable senator, and a family man who cared deeply about his country. I send my deepest condolences to his family during this difficult time.”