by Rees Lloyd
The third Friday of September is annual “POW/MIA Recognition Day,” a day to remember the service and suffering of prisoners of war, and those still missing in action — and their families; a day to honor them, and to reaffirm the commitment to search for and bring home the MIAs.
It is one of six days on which Congress has mandated that the National League of Families POW/MIA Flag be flown over the Capitol, the White House, military bases, veterans memorials and cemeteries, post offices, and other locations nationwide. (36 U.S. Code Section 902)
There are still over 88,000 American military personnel listed as missing in action, from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. Searching for, and bringing home the MIAs, is an extremely difficult but most meaningful effort: Most recently, the remains of the last of 49 Americans listed as missing in action in Operation Desert Storm, U.S. Navy Captain Michael Scott Speicer, were identified in Iraq and returned home to his family in August.
There will be observances of POW/MIA Recognition Day on Friday, Sept. 18, 2009, in many areas of the country, especially at military installations, ships at sea, veterans memorials,veterans cemeteries, and by veterans of the American Legion, the VFW, and other organizations at thousands of Posts and communities across the country.
National ceremonies at the Pentagon’s River Terrace Parade Field, will include a march-in-review, a joint service fly-over by helicopters and jet fighters, and statements by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, and a keynote speech by formerVietnam War POW Rear Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton (USN, ret.), former U.S.Senator (R-Alabama).
Admiral Denton, who will be speaking in a representative capacity, was a POW in Vietnam for seven years and seven months, four years of which he was held in solitary confinement because of his resistance to demands that he denounce and betray his country. He refused despite horrendous torture.
Indeed, when his communist captors attempted to use him for propaganda in a video to be broadcast on U.S. television, Denton outwitted them by affecting an eye-twitch by which he in fact blinked “T-O-R-T-U-R-E” in morse code, confirming that U.S. POWs were being tortured. He was terribly tortured when the Vietnamese communists realized what he had done.
Admiral Denton has detailed the torture inflicted upon American POWs, and how they survived it and kept the faith, in his powerful and moving book, “When Hell Was In Session,” a new edition of which is to be released on Veterans Day by WND Books, a division of Joseph Farah’s www.WorldNetDaily.com internet news service.
Also suffering, though often not recognized, are the families of POWs and MIAs. On POW/MIA Recognition Day 2008, the American Legion Department of California, upon motion of District 21 (Riverside County) supported actively by District 22 (San Diego County), honored Admiral Denton by establishing a plaque for him at the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial in San Diego, honoring all POWs by honoring him in a representative as well as individual capacity.
In the installation ceremonies at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, Michael Denton, one of Admiral Denton’s sons, delivered a moving tribute to his father, which brought home the impact on the families of the POWs, and MIAs, who, year after year, hour by hour, must wait and wonder about the fate of their loved ones held in captivity, or missing in action.
I am attaching a copy of Michael Denton’s moving speech, and urge that it be read in order to gain some understanding of what these military families go through, most often in silence, most often unnoticed by their countrymen and women, including today regarding those of the National League of Families of those still missing in action.
I urge, too, that Admiral Denton’s book, “When Hell Was In Session,” which I think should be in every American classroom and home, be read again, or for the first time, when the new edition is released on Veterans Day by WND Books. (See,www.WND.com.)
I read “When Hell Was In Session” when the 1997 edition came out. I was so moved by the humanity expressed by Admiral Denton in his “Dedication” that I cut it out and taped it to my desk, where I have seen it every day since. I leave off this report on POW/MIA Recognition Day 2009, by quoting Admiral Denton’s dedicatory words:
“To those who strive to make this one nation under God, who are willing to sacrifice to protect her, who thank God for such great beauty as she has developed, and who patiently tolerate her imperfections.”
May God bless Admiral Jeremiah Denton, and all the other POWs and MIAs, and their
families – and may we Americans never forget them.
(Rees Lloyd is a Life Member and Judge Advocate American Legion Post 79, Past Commander and Scribe District 21 (Cal.), and Director, Defense of Veterans Memorials Project, of the American Legion Dept. of California*)[*For purposes of identification only.]
SPEECH OF MICHAEL DENTON AT DEDICATION CEREMONIES HONORING HIS FATHER, ADMIRAL JEREMIAH DENTON, AT MT. SOLEDAD NATIONAL VETERANS MEMORIAL, POW/MIA DAY, SEPT. 19, 2008
Good afternoon. I am the 6th of 7 “navy juniors” born to Jane and Jeremiah Denton. My wife Katherine – herself an air force brat – is also here. Our son and daughter are among the 16 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren, who along with six spouses, comprise our family today. This entire Denton clan sincerely appreciates your presence to honor our patriarch’s personal courage, steadfast dedication to duty and complete faith in God and Country.
I should fit us into the context of our father’s best known Vietnam era service. When he was shot down in 1965, my eldest brother was 17 and my youngest sister was only six months new. They are both lawyers now and the rest of us keep them pretty busy at it. I was about 5 when dad left and 8 when he returned. In 40 years of conversations since, I can tell you that there is no good time to lose your father for any reason, but I believe I had it easier than my elder teenaged brothers. Youthful ignorance is blissful. Still to be honest, as the POW awareness slogan went back then, POW families “Never Had A Nice Day” quite as carefree as others. I know I am different from the experience and although I still don’t fully understand it, I have learned to build upon it. Of course, all military families face varying degrees of family separation for which this nation and world owe eternal respect and rarely show enough.
Again, our family was also different in regards to this respect shown by others, particularly veterans of Vietnam. In our case, the whole family went off a sort of a carrier catapult experience upon dad’s triumphal return. We went from being the neighbors enduring real tough times supported by many dear friends, to being instantly famous after dad’s “return with honor” where a three sentence speech shocked the American heart back to beating more with veterans. More on that in a moment. To use another POW awareness slogan, “We Have Not Forgotten” in the Denton family that some Vietnam vets never came home and tragically few who did got the welcome or honors they deserved.
Coming to the present, after the blessing of 81 years of heroism, strength, and unconditional love, we lost our beloved mother just last Thanksgiving Day to post heart surgery complications. Her caliber as a wife and mother has made possible most of what any Denton has accomplished. Contrary to a popular ‘90s expression, it does not “take a village”, it takes a FAMILY!
Although dad is gaining strength coping with that loss and several of his own medical challenges at 84, a cross-country trip for today was simply impossible … but let me tell you where he is. After decades of service as a "Warrior, Statesman and Humanitarian" Jeremiah Denton now lives nearly within sight of Jamestown Island, the first permanent English settlement in America, along the James River in Virginia. There, recently rebuilt upon the original foundation, is the largest building from that settlement, a 400 year old Americn Christian church. Just up stream from there, where my family lives in Richmond, is where Patrick Henry later thundered that the defense of freedom is worth life itself. This liberty or death speech was made in the largest building for a 100 miles west of the British Governor in Williamsburg, with a crowd overflowing capacity through and outside crammed windows. Many people chose to be buried on the spot they stood on that day. The building was a Christian church which still stands. And just down that river from dad’s house, the sun rises on a powerful naval force of freedom in Norfolk, just as it sets on that same protection here in San Diego. And so, Jeremiah Denton resides today among powerful symbols of the deep beliefs to which he has dedicated and risked his life.
However, to fully honor his service, one must understand that Jerry Denton’s intense beliefs inextricably forge together faith and freedom into a single steeled force, each vital to protect the other. He knows the personal sacrifice that force requires, he gave more than his measure for decades on end, and he calls upon all Americans to do the same – whether in combat, in the sanctity of a quiet church pew, or in a private voting booth. Knowing this about our father, you can understand just how personally meaningful it is to have this plaque in this place – here, among so many heroes and beneath the cherished Mt Soledad Cross.
Having mentioned this cross, so emblematic of vital struggles to preserve our freedom OF religion not freedom FROM religion, I must speak directly for my father. For their victorious preservation of the Mt Soledad Cross, Jeremiah Denton offers his highest salute – known only between brave comrades in arms – to Congressman Duncan Hunter of this district, US Senator Jeff Session of Alabama, the vitally important combatants of The Thomas More Law Center lead by Richard Thompson, Brian Rooney at national head quarters and Charles LiMandi here locally, to the indomitable Rees Lloyd of the American Legion California, and of course the board of Mt Soledad. Quoting dad directly here: “When I said: God Bless America in front of the world upon release from prison, you may be certain that I included in the context of his prayer, movements like yours to save the Soledad Cross which are among the indispensable blessings required to preserve this nation’s well being and security as One Nation Under GOD. The threat to formally discard that title is correctly seen by me, by you and by the majority of our citizenry, as the greatest threat to the survival of these United States of America. May you and those like you prevail in your glorious cause!” END QUOTE.
Regarding the plaque being dedicated today in dad’s unavoidable absence and with his equally heroic wife Jane surely smiling down from heaven, I express our family’s heartfelt thanks to all those involved in this honor, most especially Rees Lloyd who lead the effort, Brian Rooney who among other things has made two trips on its behalf, Ralph Husky of the American Legion here in San Diego, the staff of Mt Soledad including Joanie Miyashiro-Brennen & Charles Emery, as well as all of you distinguished guests present today.
I will close with a current event note and a past intimate family insight. You can actually see video of my father’s action that earned him the Navy Cross in a current physical and online exhibit by National Archives entitled EYEWITNESS which chronicles 25 gripping images of events that shaped America’s history.
Finally, let me take you back to our family’s experience of that late night Vietnam POW return which I’m sure many of you watched live. We were all still back in Virginia Beach, figuring since we’d waited almost 8 years we can wait another few days, rather than take mom and 7 kids all the way to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines without knowing for sure whether he would actually make it back then or ever. We certainly had no idea until he stepped into the door of that plane that he would be the very first. As will happen in families, I had gotten mad at one my older brothers. But while sulking in another room, I started a tape recording without really knowing why I did. When called back into the den for the arrival event, I just left the tape running. As a result, you can now here our family’s roar of shocked jubilation when our dad was the first one out of the first plane.
He was asked just a short time before as a senior officer aboard to say a few words to welcoming crowd. Back home we still couldn’t breath before we saw him actually step up to the microphone! I repeat his words here in closing, because this powerful statement, written just beforehand, eloquently captured both that moment and the essence of his entire life long service as a force of freedom and faith: He said quote: “We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our Commander-In-Chief and to our nation for this day. God Bless America.”
Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.