Delegates to the recent 96th annual national convention of The American Legion, representing some 2.4 million wartime veterans, voted to adopt a resolution supporting an initiative by Vietnam prisoners of war known as the "Alcatraz 11" calling for a Navy warship to be named in honor of the late Rear Adm. Jeremiah A. Denton Jr.
The Alcatraz 11's initiative and a new book by author Alvin Townley – which magnificently tells the epic story of what the "Alcatraz 11" and their families endured, as representative of resisting POWs generally, titled "Defiant: The POWs who endured Vietnam's Most Infamous Prison, the Women Who Fought for Them, and the One Who Never Returned" – are particularly poignant at this time when Americans are called to observe annual National POW/MIA Recognition Day (the third Friday of September by act of Congress.)
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The Alcatraz 11 comprised all combat pilots who were shot down in Vietnam and endured, resisted and ultimately overcame unspeakable torture as POWs. While there were many others who equally resisted their communist captors – legendary POW resisters like George "Bud" Day, Robinson Risner, Leo Thorsness, Sen. John McCain and Orson Swindle – the communists identified the 11 as the "worst criminals" and segregated them from other POWs, and from each other, by confining them to solitary cells in a separate area so awful that the communists themselves called it the "bad place." The POWs called it "Alcatraz."
The 11 who were left to rot there in solitary confinement are: senior officers James Bond ("Jim") Stockdale, who would receive the Medal of Honor; Jeremiah A. Denton, who would receive the Navy Cross; Harry Jenkins; Howie Rutledge; Congressman Sam Johnson; Jim Mulligan; Bob Shumaker; Nels Tanner; George Coker; George McKnight; and Ron Storz, who, tragically, is the "one who didn't return," hated and savagely beaten and tortured by the communists because "he refused to bow," as described in "Defiant." The book is laden with footnoted facts but reads as smoothly as a novel.
Jeremiah Denton was the father of five young boys and two girls when he went off to war and was shot down July 18, 1965. His beloved wife, Jane, would raise those seven children alone for almost eight years. She and the family, like the other POW families, lived most of that time with the pain of not knowing if their father was alive or dead, would ever return, or, if alive, would return in what condition. The POW families were prisoners in their own way. The MIA families of the 83,189 Americans still missing in action from World War II through Iraq remain in that purgatory of "not knowing" to this day.
Denton's oldest son, Jerry, 17 when his father became a POW, would grow up, enlist in the Army as a warrant officer, volunteer for a tour in Vietnam and ask for and receive an exemption so he could fly Cobras attack choppers in the war zone. He came home as a seasoned war veteran, before his Dad would return.
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Another son, Michael, would deliver a very moving speech on what his and other POW families went through, a kind of agony of unknowing and fear of the worst, at ceremonies held on National POW/MIA 2008 when California American Legionnaires and the Thomas More Law Center joined together to dedicate a plaque honoring Adm. Denton beneath the Cross at the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, Adm. Denton being then an American Legionnaire and chairman of the TMLC Advisory Board. (WND published Michael Denton's speech on National POW/MIA Day in 2012.)
Once home on Feb. 15, 1973, after almost eight years as a POW, Denton continued his remarkable life of service to God and country. He continued in his Navy career and retired as a rear admiral. He was a loving husband to Jane, who would predecease him, and a loving father to his seven children, who loved him in return. As stated in the American Legion Resolution, Adm. Denton "served as a United States Senator [Alabama]; was a statesman and humanitarian whose work continues worldwide through the Admiral Denton Legacy Initiatives (formerly the Admiral Denton Foundation) he led [until] his death; was author of the now classic book on the horrific torture endured by American POWs by their communist captors, "When Hell Was In Session" (a new and updated edition of which was published by WND Books); and was an American Legionnaire who lived a heroic life in war and in peace, which is an extraordinary and inspiring example of selfless service to duty, honor, God and Country, which is the American Legion creed."
The American Legion Adm. Denton Resolution, which I had the honor to write, is available in full at www.Legion.org.
After Adm. Denton's death on March 2, 2014, at age 89, there was an outpouring of tributes from all across the country, literally thousands of editorials and commentaries in print and broadcast media, universally recognizing him as a true American hero in war and in peace, and as that rarity – a great man who was also a good man.
On July 22, 2014, he was interred at Arlington National Cemetery, alongside his wife. Among the many who came to pay their respects were members of the Alcatraz 11 who served with and under him.
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Among them were Jim Mulligan with his wife, Louise. She raised their six children while he was locked away as a POW. Louise was the chief organizer in the East of what would become the National League of POW/MIA Families, as Sybil Stockdale was the primary organizer in the West. Alvin Townley's "Defiant" is not just about the POWs, but also about "The Women Who Fought for Them." Theirs is a remarkable story of true grit and determination that is little-known in America, but should be. It was the valiant action of these women, Louise Mulligan, Sybil Stockdale, Jane Denton and so many other wives of POWs who rose up, went public and exposed communist torture and violations of the Geneva Conventions, nationally and internationally, causing the communists to back off their policy of torturing POWs. The heroic story of these women is told by Townley in detail in "Defiant."
Jim Mulligan, who survived unspeakable torture himself, wrote and signed the request of the Alcatraz 11 to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, dated June 4, 2014, "… to name a U.S. Navy combat vessel in honor of Rear Adm. Jeremiah A. Denton Jr." It was submitted "via Congressman Sam Johnson, Texas 3rd," also one of the Alcatraz 11 who survived and overcame hideous torture, which maimed him for life.
Mulligan cites in support of the request Denton's outstanding achievements as a Naval officer in peace and in war, and his extraordinary leadership of the "resistance effort" as a POW. He cites, among other things:
"In late spring of 1966, Denton was severely tortured and forced to make a public TV interview appearance. He blinked his eyes spelling out 'TORTURE' in Morse code while stating that 'he didn't know what the United States policy was on the Vietnam war, but whatever it was, he supported it fully.'" (For that statement, Denton was so savagely tortured that he was at the point of death, as described in detail in "Defiant.")
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Mulligan's request letter cites also that, as a result of Denton's leadership of the resistance, "… he was one of the 11 diehards identified as leaders and troublemakers who were exiled to the bad camp named Alcatraz. Isolated from the rest of the POW community, they were kept in solitary confinement, leg irons and on short rations for 26 months."
Mulligan attests also: "In April of 1970, Denton personally led and called a camp hunger strike, which was successful in obtaining the release of Maj. Sam Johnson from 36 months of continuous solitary confinement."
Mulligan further cites the moving and now iconic words and acts of Denton when he and the other POWs were finally released after almost eight years of captivity, four of those years in solitary confinement for Denton, and near that for Mulligan and others of the Alcatraz 11:
"Upon release in February 1973, CDR Denton was the senior officer in the first aircraft to arrive at Clark AFB in the Philippines. Speaking for the POW community, he made the following statement for the whole world to see and hear on TV: '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 our nation for this day. God Bless America.'"
Congressman Johnson supported the Alcatraz 11 request for a Navy war ship to be named for Adm. Denton by a letter of his own to Navy Secretary Mabus dated June 26, 2014.
The cause of the Alcatraz 11 to have a Navy combat ship named for Adm. Denton is growing in support as it becomes known. Among others strongly supporting the effort is Lt. Col. Orson Swindle (USMC, ret.), a POW in Hanoi from Nov. 11, 1966, to March 4, 1973, and legendary among POWs for his stalwart resistance. He states:
"I came to know Adm. Jerry Denton through our covert communications system in Hanoi's Hoa Lo Prison. His leadership, compassion, integrity and courageous resistance spread throughout our POW organization. I could not have admired him more had I met him face to face, a wonderful occasion that would not take place for over six years upon our repatriation in 1973. He inspired us all. His remarks to our beloved countrymen upon first landing on American soil are ingrained in my heart and soul forever. Jerry Denton was a remarkable man, Naval officer, patriot, leader and friend. Naming a major combat vessel for Adm. Denton would seem an appropriate statement by an appreciative U.S. Navy and United States of America – a much deserved recognition. Such a ship and Adm. Denton's legacy will inspire generations to come."
Maj. Gen. Patrick H. Brady (USA, ret.) a Medal of Honor recipient (Vietnam), who is considered to be America's most decorated living veteran, has also expressed his support for naming a ship for Adm. Denton and noted the special kind of courage Denton and other POWs had to possess to endure years of unrelieved confinement and torture and yet continue to resist. He writes:
"I have the greatest respect and admiration for Adm. Jeremiah Denton, and fully support the call of the Alcatraz 11 POWs for a Navy ship to be named in his honor. Real courage is enduring and repetitive, decision after decision to ignore fear and do what is right. That is what is so remarkable about the POWs. Day after day they made decisions to be courageous. Experience with panic/fear and the threat of facing it again and again takes a particular kind of courage. That is the kind of courage displayed by the POWs. Those who held up, not the traitors, should be at the top of the pyramid of courage."
Jim Mulligan, author of the original Alcatraz 11 request to the secretary of the Navy, expressed appreciation for support being received for the proposal to name a ship for Adm. Denton and spoke of its appropriateness in a telephone interview on Sept. 17, Constitution Day. He also had high praise for Alvin Townley's "Defiant," as accurately telling the true story of what the POWs, and their families, experienced. Among other things, Mulligan told me:
"We would really like to see this happen. I was so glad that the American Legion got involved. We really appreciate it. That's really great. Jerry Denton really deserves it. He's a born leader. As a junior officer back in the '50s, he was responsible for changing the tactical formation for the entire carrier force to make it harder for the enemy to find them on radar. His concept is still being used today. As a POW with us, he set the hardline policy of resistance. There were other officers senior to him, but he actually led the resistance. He was in solitary confinement for over four years. He earned the respect of all the guys, and was admired by everybody.
"As POWs, we had one rule – we were still in combat. And we did the best we could. We may have lost all the battles as POWs, but we won the war. We outlasted them. And we came home with honor.
"Jerry Denton had a lot to do with that as our leader. He was a wonderful Naval officer. The least the Navy can do is name a ship after him. He has earned it."
Jim Denton, informed about the American Legion resolution, said on behalf of the Denton family:
"The Denton family is enormously grateful to learn that the American Legion recently passed a resolution at their national convention to support the 'Alcatraz 11' POWs' efforts to name a U.S. Navy warship after our Dad. This is indeed an appropriate way to pay tribute to Adm. Denton's heroism and to honor and perpetuate his legacy. We thank our friends in the 'Alcatraz 11,' and the American Legion's California Department and the National Organization for their resolution in support of this initiative. We fully endorse it."
It is hoped that support for the request of the Alcatraz 11 POWs to the secretary of the Navy will continue to grow and that the administration or Congress will act to cause a Navy warship to be named in honor of Adm. Jeremiah A. Denton. The reality is that in honoring Adm. Denton, the Alcatraz 11, all the resisting POWs and their families will be honored. They all deserve it.
Moreover, Americans are once again being called to defend freedom against the menace of a fanatical enemy determined to impose its totalitarian ideology on the world as once did Marxist communism in the Vietnam War era. Therefore, this and future generations deserve and need to know what Jeremiah Denton, the Alcatraz 11 and other resisting POWs did, the lessons of their lives, their example of American courage, duty, honor, patriotism, faith, love of God, country and family, an example ever to be emulated, never to be forgotten.
As author Alvin Townley concludes in his magisterial, must-read book "Defiant":
"These eleven men – these Alcatraz 11 – had come to Vietnam with a uniquely strong constitution; the married among them had wives with equal mettle. Their shared trials only fortified their devotion to one another, their nation, and their mutual cause. Together, they overcame more intense hardship over more years than any other group of servicemen and families in American history. We should not forget."