From the Elon Archives: A strong, courageous, brave man
News of the death in March of Vietnam prisoner of war and former U.S. Sen. Jeremiah Denton P’73 brought back memories of his historical visit to campus 41 years ago for Elon’s Founders Day.
Denton spent seven years and seven months as a POW in North Vietnam after his plane was shot down in 1965. He was tortured repeatedly and kept in solitary confinement for four years. During his time as a POW in Hanoi, Denton struck a friendship with U.S. Navy Cmdr. Eugene McDaniel ’55. Denton’s son, Jim, was a student at Elon (he served as student body president), and the college became a common topic of conversation between the two men.
Jim started a petition his sophomore year to send to Hanoi officials asking for more humane treatment of American POWs. Jeremiah Denton's plight became personal to the Elon community and when it was announced in February 1973 that he would be among the first prisoners to be released as part of Operation Homecoming, many Elon students stayed up late to catch a glimpse of the man whom his son had described so many times as “strong, courageous, brave.”
About a month after his return home, Denton gave a dramatic address and news conference at Elon’s Founders Day ceremony surrounded by thousands of spectators and media outlets. He provided the first public account of the extensive torture U.S. prisioners endured during their captivity.
“After seven years separated from my son, Jim, I’m pleased with the obviously favorably influence this college has exerted on his development,” he said. “The mission of Elon and its students is not only educational but it’s the rollback of the forces of evil for the preservation of national and spiritual survival. Elon produces and influences leaders. We need national leaders who have both good minds and a full consciousness that they have souls.
“... I think Elon, and other schools similarly dedicated, are the hope of this nation.”
Click on the image to see a Flickr album with images from Denton's visit to campus.
Watch Footage of the film taken by Japanese journalists in 1966 showing Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton Jr. during his 91-month ordeal as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. While speaking on camera, Denton blinked in Morse code the word “torture.” To see the video, click on the “Contents” tab and select his entry under “Scenes from Hell.”
Denton was the first American POW to return from Hanoi during Operation Homecoming in 1973. Speaking on the tarmac, Denton said: "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."