Denton, a native of Mobile, Alabama, was a 1946 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. After graduation, he became a naval aviator and served with various units and squadrons, including Attack Squadron 75, which he assumed command of in June 1946.
Based on the USS Independence (CVA-62), Denton was engaged in a combat mission over North Vietnam in July 1965 when he was shot down near Hanoi and subsequently captured by the Vietnamese military. He spent the next seven years and seven months as a prisoner of war at the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" under harsh, brutal conditions.
In 1966, the Vietnamese arranged a television interview for Denton as a propaganda campaign. However, he outwitted his captors while on camera by blinking the word "T-O-R-T-U-R-E" in Morse code. His quick thinking single-handedly confirmed that the Vietnamese were torturing American POWs.
In 2010, the U.S. Navy dedicated a building in Denton's honor where Sailors receive Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training. During his remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Denton shared some of his experience as a POW.
"Once I was tortured for three days and three nights straight and overheard the camp commander, frustrated because I did not break, say to my tormentor, 'break his legs,'" said Denton. "I knew my body could no longer take the punishment and literally thought I was going to die any moment. At that moment I prayed to the man upstairs telling him I could no longer continue to resist on my own, I needed him to intervene. It was in that very moment that my pain was simply gone and the guard refused the order to break my legs. I stand here today telling you that if it were not for God, I would have washed out."
SERE training has existed since the late 1950s, and it began as an arctic survival course. Today, it is a 12-day Code of Conduct course designed to give Sailors, whose duties designate them at high risk for capture, the skills necessary to survive and evade. If captured, to resist exploitation, escape if possible, and return home with honor.
"Often forgotten are the families of those men and women who equally suffer and in some cases endure the endless suffering of not knowing what has happened to their loved one," said Denton during his 2010 remarks at the SERE school dedication.
Denton, at age 89, died on March 28, 2014, in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
In 2019, the Secretary of the Navy named a future Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer in Denton's honor, the USS Jeremiah Denton (DDG 129).
The Center for Security Forces provides specialized training to more than 23,000 students per year. It has 14 training locations across the United States and worldwide that carry the motto: "Where Training Breeds Confidence."
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