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Today we remember the birthday of former U.S. Senator from Alabama and Vietnam POW hero Jeremiah Denton. Alabama Public Television's documentary on his wartime service, JEREMIAH, is this year's winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best News Documentary. JEREMIAH also received four Southeast Region Emmy Awards and the Alabama Broadcasters Award for Best Documentary.
On July 18, 1965, U.S. Navy Commander Jeremiah Denton took off from the aircraft carrier USS Independence leading a 28-plane mission over the city of Thanh Hoa in North Vietnam. Denton’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire during the attack, and for the next eight long years, he would battle the North Vietnamese as a prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. As the senior American officer at the prison, Denton was forced by the North Vietnamese to participate in a press conference and told he must say the POWs were being treated well. Looking haggard, weak and beaten from the severe punishment he had undergone, Denton took advantage of that opportunity however, to send a secret message home, blinking out the letters T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse code.
In this new APT original film, JEREMIAH, family, friends, and fellow POWs help tell the story of this American hero who led the way for prisoners in Hanoi and returned from Vietnam to become a U.S. Senator from Alabama. Six of Denton’s children are interviewed: Jeremiah III, James, Don, Mike, Mary and Madeleine. Robert Shumaker, James Mulligan and George Coker were part of the Alcatraz Eleven, a group of hardline resistors including Denton that the Vietnamese removed from the Hanoi Hilton and sent to a worse prison that the POW's named Alcatraz. Other interviewees include Senate staffer Joel Lisker, who worked for Denton; Alvin Townley, author of Defiant; and Heath Hardige Lee, who is writing a history of the POW wives and the POW/MIA movement.
JEREMIAH also tells the story of what was happening back home to Denton’s wife, Jane, and their seven children, who wondered if he would ever return as they faced the turbulent social changes of the 1960’s. Jane Denton managed to overcome her grief at her husband’s imprisonment by becoming an activist and helping to start the POW/MIA Movement which was partially responsible for the Vietnamese ending their program of torture.
JEREMIAH explores the power of faith in unbelievable circumstances, and the qualities of leadership Jeremiah Denton brought to the difficult task of guiding fellow POWs to survive years of imprisonment and torture. In the end, it leaves no doubt that Denton was “a hero among heroes.”
MORE ABOUT JEREMIAH DENTON
As part of an educational outreach campaign in coordination with the release of the film, Alabama Public Television mailed 1000 copies of the book Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr.| Vietnam War Hero, by Anne Chancey Dalton, to elementary and junior high schools in Alabama. The book is part of the "Alabama Roots" biography series for young people published by Seacoast Publishing in Birmingham "to allow readers to better know the men and women who shaped the State of Alabama."
Older students and people of all ages may be interested in reading these other books by and about Jeremiah Denton:
- When Hell Was in Session by Jeremiah Denton, Jr. with Ed Brandt
-Defiant by Alvin Townley
- Honor Bound by Stuart Rochester and Frederick Kiley
- The Hanoi Commitment by James Mulligan