Jeremiah Denton Quotes

U.S. Navy admiral and a former Republican U.S. senator
Denton spent close to eight years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam

from the autobiography
"When Hell was in Session"

"Although I had lived a far from perfect life, my heart and soul belonged to God, country, and family long before the Navy got hold of me."

"In fact I never had any doubts about my country. I remember carrying the American flag during a parade in Mobile and considering the assignment a great honor at the age of seventeen."

"In the darkest moments of the days ahead, the recollection of the band playing the national anthem would flow through my consciousness and comfort me. Even now, tears come to my eyes when I hear those pure, sweet strains. I wish every American could share the feeling of love and gratitude that I have for this country and her people, and the sense of urgent necessity to protect her."

"I was trying to muster the courage to die rather than reveal anything of military or propaganda value to them."

"The guard urinated in a gutter that ran along the outside door of the cell, so the place stank. Roaches and flies covered the walls and floor, and sometimes my body."

"My stomach hurt constantly from the snapped tendon, and there was the festering wound on the side of my thigh where the other end of the tendon had broken through the skin."

"I prayed. God became more than faith. He became knowledge, and I appealed to him. Then I became ashamed. Why hadn't I embraced him so thoroughly before?"

"Also becoming clear to me was the infinite difference between the heartless, mindless, and Godless nature of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the United States of America."

"Despite our countries faults, we have prospered and grown under the system designed by wise men two hundred years ago. The system has survived and strengthened through civil war, assassination, racial unrest, and a president's resignation, and has continued to bestow its benevolence on the world."

"In the long prison years ahead, the difference between our country and theirs would become more manifest. I was to become more disgusted with their cruelty, not only toward the American prisoners but toward their own people as well. They never considered the question of individual rights, and indeed, the individual existed only as a slave, to serve the State."

"In the loneliness of the cell, with my past flooding over me, my lips began to move in concert with those young voices: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

"Eventually, I would become the first military prisoner in North Vietnam to spend more than four years in solitary."

"It soon became apparent that they were trying to starve a confession from me. For three days and nights I went without food or water."

"My only firm and constant thought was that I would die of starvation before I would write a confession."

"I would be killed by an atheistic government which was trying to force me to renounce my God-fearing government. I was convinced that the next day would be my last on earth, and I felt no bitterness. God had given me a full life."

"I tried to keep my feet and appear impassive as their fists thumped into my body and face, but it was impossible. I reeled about the cell and fell down repeatedly. They kept pulling me to my feet and hitting me....."

"I was ready to lose my arms rather than shed my honor, and I wanted to get it over with."

"They lifted my arms behind my back by the cuffs, raising the top part of my body off the floor and dragging me around and around. This went on for hours."

"Finally, I had nothing left. My only desire was to be free of pain. I tried to shout but I could only whisper, Bao cao, bao cao, the words for surrender."

"I still hadn't recovered from the horrible experience in the Meathook Room, and I was trying to muster the strength to take more torture rather than attend the press conference."

"The reporter asked some routine questions about my background and then launched into a diatribe about the bombing. I didn't listen to what he was saying. I gazed dully around the room as though in a doze. The blinding flood lights made me blink, and I suddenly realized that they were playing right into my hands."

"I felt my heart pounding; sweat popped out of my forehead; the palms of my hands became slippery. I looked directly into the camera and blinked my eyes once, slowly, then three more times, slowly. A dash, and three more dashes. A quick blink, slow blink, quick blink. T...O....R... A slow blink... pause, two quick ones and a slow one; quick, slow, quick; quick. T...O...R...T...U...R...E..."

"While the Japanese droned on in a high-pitched voice, I blinked out the desperate message over and over. TORTURE...TORTURE..."

"The reported cleared his throat. The smile, which I thought had been glued on, left his face. "What was that you said?" "Whatever the position of my government is, I support it. I'm a member of that government, and it is my job to support it, and I will as long as I live.""

"Eventually, this information would get back to the Vietnamese and I would pay in blood for it. But it was worth it."

"Navy intelligence had picked up my torture signals. It was the first clear message that U.S. intelligence had received that we were being tortured."

"The ax still hadn't fallen two days after my brash performance, and I was told I would be interviewed again. I was appalled that my previous behavior had not dissuaded them from another interview, so this time I would make sure."

"The interviewer was another rotund writer, this one from Chile. I gave him a short shrift. He asked me if I had any message and I said, "God's will will be done." Then I got up, without permission and walked from the room."

"He strode into the room grasped me by my cuffs, and pulled me to my feet. He was holding a three-sided ruler in his hand, and he lashed out suddenly and struck me in the face with it. Then, very deliberately, he jabbed me in the kidneys and worked my face over with the ruler for five minutes or more until my lips, nose and the area above my eyes were bloodied. He sat me on a stool and shackled one ankle to the end of the traveling iron. With the help of two other guards, he crossed my legs and shackled the second ankle to the bar in an exercise that took more than twenty minutes. Then they cuffed my left wrist to the bar. It is one of the worst forms of torture. There is no way to describe excruciating pain in the ankle area without experiencing the rig."

"I said the rosary over and over again, slowly for the first few hours but faster and faster as the pain intensified. In the early morning hours, I prayed that I could keep my sanity until they released me. I couldn't even give in to their demands, because there were none. It was pure revenge."

"He made me copy a statement which said that I had many times led pilots to bomb the churches and schools of North Vietnam."

"I had no resistance left, and had to agree. I would write a paper full of ridiculous information. I figured they would accept anything, and during the next three days I wrote thirty-six pages of the silliest nonsense I could think of."

"The North Vietnamese could break anyone in giving them something, and some of the men were in deep despair because they had been unmercifully tortured into giving biographies and confessions. I passed the word for them to get themselves together. "The line is, if you are broken; don't despair. Bounce back as soon as you can to the hard line." Bounce back-- it became our way of life.

"During the long, hot, helpless days in cuffs and stocks, when I could only twitch the flies and mosquitoes off my body, I occupied my mind with thoughts of the past."

"My principal battle with the North Vietnamese was a moral one, and prayer was my prime source of strength."

"Another source was my country; no sacrifice was too great on her behalf."

"The nation is only as strong as the collective strength of its individuals."

"Founded on faith in God, the United States has been blessed as no other nation."

"Democracy and freedom are rarities; hard to attain, harder to preserve."

"The strength of our nation is more than a material strength. We are a strongly moral people, and our country is based on spiritual strength. Lose that and we lose everything."

"The Declaration of Independence has established certain moral confines, and governs in a manner consistent with the spirit under which our nation was founded: Love God; love thy neighbor as thyself."

"Such thoughts would carry me through the night...."

"The North Vietnamese wanted me to rewrite my confession and put it into a special form which they had devised."

"The next day two guards came to my cell and, after knocking me about began raising me off the ground by my arms, which were still tied behind me. They kept this up for what seemed like hours, and I don't know how my arms didn't pop from their sockets. The pain was so intense that finally I could take it no longer. I gave in and copied my confession onto their standard form. It was small comfort that it had taken them three weeks to get it."

"They were now spreading harrasment and torture over a longer period of time, trying to wear us down. I didn't like the method. If I was going to be tortured, I wanted it over quickly."

"It became evident that no one would be spared in the quest for biographies and confessions. They were now torturing badly injured men."

"He told me they knew I was inciting others to resist, and he lost his composure for the first time, threatening me with torture if I didn't cooperate."

"I refused, and a special rig was devised for me in my cell. I was placed in a sitting position on a pallet, with my hands tightly cuffed behind my back and my feet flat against the wall. Shackles were put on my ankles, with open ends down, and an iron bar was pushed through the eyelets of the shackles. The iron bar was tied to the pallet and the shackles in such a way that when the rope was drawn over a pulley arrangement, the bar would cut into the backs of my legs, gradually turning them into a swollen, bloody mess."

"The pulley was used daily to increase the pressure, and the iron bar began to eat through the Achilles tendons on the backs of my ankles."

"After five days and nights in the rig, I decided to give them something harmless."

"He was angered by my attempt to deceive him and determined to break me."

"For five more days and nights I remained in the rig."

"By the fifth morning, I was nearing despair. I offered myself to God with an admission that I could take no more on my own. Tears ran down my face as I repeated my vow of surrender to Him. Strangely, as soon as I made the vow, a deep feeling of peace settled into my tortured mind and pain-wrecked body, and the suffering left me completely. It was the most profound and deeply inspiring moment of my life."

"In the fifteen months that I had been in Hanoi, I had been through six major torture sessions, five of them in the last six months. I was exhausted, but for the first time I felt as though I had really beaten them. They had not gotten even a face saving gesture."

"To avoid the embarrassment that knowledge of their failure to break me would bring, they kept me in total isolation."

"The North Vietnamese thought that the Americans would be easy touches and when they were not the whole program of total subjugation was thrown into chaos. There wouldn't have been much point in torturing us to death. What they wanted was to subdue us and then win us over to the point where we would routinely due their bidding. They failed."

"The vast majority of American prisoners in North Vietnam upheld their country's honor, with enormous consequences for their nation's pride and prestige. If we had come out of there defeated and bowed, our country would have to."

"On Christmas Eve of 1966, George and I exchanged Christmas cards. As closely as I can remember, I tapped to George Coker: May the consoling peace of the Infant King unite you and your family on this Precious Night."

"There are some remarkable lessons to be learned under duress, and in seven and a half years, you learn a good deal more than you can remember."

"They would first attempt to impose on the prisoner a feeling of guilt. Punishment would follow. Then we were to apologize for our sins against them. Then we would atone by performing a service for them, a written biography, a taped confession anything they could use for propaganda."

"Propaganda had a high value for them, but the highest value was the destruction of our organization. And our highest value was the preservation of that organization. Without it, we were just a collection of individuals, doomed, eventually, to succumb. But we learned to outwit our captors even though they held all the cards, because our will was superior."

"There was an organization in practically every prison. Periodically it would be broken down and a purge would follow. But we would rebuild, knowing that we would be caught again and would have to pay another horrible price. We learned to live with it, and grow stronger, until their organization was under more stress than ours."

"They were now after new prisoners for operational military information and they were stopping at nothing to get it. They were not even worried about leaving scars. Some men died, and many barely survived."

"The Vietnamese were sparing no one, and screams of the tortured in the night were commonplace."

"I was still in punishment and was required to sit on a stool for several days and nights blindfolded and in rear cuffs. I kept falling asleep and waking up on the floor with a new bump on my head. My fever got so high that the doctor ordered me out of punishment. My life was in jeopardy."

"I had been in punishment for five days. It was now July, and I was approaching my second anniversary as a prisoner."

"The Vietnamese were pressing harder than ever to stop communications and to break our organization."

"The communications purge was now in full swing, and some of the prisoners were being hurt very badly."

"Frequently through the long days of early September I could hear other prisoners screaming and groaning as they were worked over."

"Others were beaten nearly to death. Air Force Lieutanant Colonel Norm Schmidt went to quiz in an angry mood, and in the context of the times I knew that was dangerous. He never returned, and his remains were brought to the States in the summer of 1973.."

"I blinked. My mouth fell open in disbelief. I was looking into the dark shadows of the tiniest, most barren cell I had ever seen.... it would be my home for more than two incredible years."

"Alcatraz meant solitude, filth, hunger, and despair and many other things that even now the ten survivors are sometimes reluctant to talk about."

"It was a badge of honor. Each man earned his way in."

"The cells were tiny: a standing 47 inches square, plus a raised pallet area the length of a man's body. There was no window, and the only ventilation was from a few small holes in a steel plate above the door and a six inch space under the door, which was recesssed."

"Actually, the first few months in our new home were not so bad. It would be worse later, but for the moment the pressure was off, and the terrible fear of torture was lifted. Although we we were getting cuffed about occasionally for various infractions of the rules, the principal objective seemed to be to leave each individual with the impression that he was completely isolated from his kind, the only American in camp. But of course, it soon became apparent that this was unrealistic, since we were constantly communicating."

"Christmas to us meant the rarest of treats, treats so humble that in days past we would have considered them absurd. Wee spent all of Christmas Eve composing greetings to each other, and the night was filled with the quiet tapping of trapped men wishing each other peace on earth, good will to all."

"Communication remained the heart of our existence."

"I kept my body in sound by running in place in my cell and kept my mind occupied with religion and with communicating."and uncomfortable, we were at least protected from the wind and rain and could survive. But as the weather turned warmer even our survival was at risk.

"It began to get hot, very hot and our tiny, unventilated cells began to throb with the heat as the unrelenting sun bore down on the flat, tarred, and unprotected roofs. As the humidity rose, the cells became like steam closets. We crept to our cell doors and sucked like animals for air, gasping for breath."

"Also, we began to hear statements over the camp radio by American prisoners critical of the war and the U.S. government, and we didn't believe they had been tortured for them."

"As the dreary days marched on into 1972, even some of the hardline veterans were losing heart."

"During the evening of December 18, I heard a distant roar and felt the ground shaking."

"The B52's laid multiple strings of 500- and 750-pound bombs on the railyards and bridges as tactical aircraft moved in to suppress the most extensive and sophisticated air defense system in the world."

"Our captors were stunned by the tremendous bombardment and as the B-52's continued the assault nightly, leading up to Christmas, the camp hierarchy began to lie low and play strictly by the rules with us. They began to defer to our senior officers and appeared badly frightened."

"In a few days, the planes had methodically smashed Hanoi's air defenses. Something that could have been done ten years previously was now successful. The North Vietnamese leadership caved in."

"On January President Nixon announced the end of America's longest war."

"Images of my family running across an airstrip, arms outstretched, swirled through my mind as we plodded through the last days of imprisonment."

"I remembered as though it were only yesterday the soft, deep voice singing Fly Me to the Moon, and the single word Agony being tapped out on the wall. The word exressed perfectly the events of seven and a half years." would be in the front ranks and then others in order of shootdown."

"But now it was almost over for us. As the thirteenth pilot to be shot down, I would go out with the first group as senior officer. The sick and injured."

"We were leaving it all behind, Heartbreak, New Guy Village, the Mint, Little Vegas, the Gate, Zoo, Alcatraz. And Ron Storz, Atterberry and others buried somewhere in North Vietnam."

"I felt stangely unfulfilled. I hadn't said quite all that was in my heart. Finally, unrehearsed words slipped from me: God Bless America! Land that I love."

"'Of all the emotions that I have experienced, nothing yet compares with my feeling of pride at the strength of character shown by my family while I was away and during my recovery period."

"I received a disproportionate share of the attention by the happenstance of being the first prisoner off the first plane, and still feel somewhat self-conscious , knowing that I was no more than a symbol for a group of men for whom millions had prayed, worn POW-MIA bracelets, and otherwise expressed their sympathy."

"In the first weeks, unhappily, I began to note some dark corners in America. I saw evidences of the new permissiveness, group sex, massage parlors, X-rated movies, the drug culture, that represented to me an alien element."

"I thought at one point that the title of this book should be Under God, Indivisible, because that was my view of the performance of most of the prisoners in North Vietnam. It was difficult to achieve because imprisonment tends to breed resentment, suspicion, jealousy, hatred, and disunity, and in Hanoi our captives fostered these emotions. But most of the prisoners, finding themselves in desperate circumstances, quickly rediscovered God and became indivisible in their resistance and with the understanding that our way of life, with all its imperfections, is incomparably greater than anything offered by Communism."

"Our laws and customs were constructed to reflect the Ten Commandments, not only to provide for a good life after death, but for a good life on earth. Christians believe Christs' order to Love thy God with all thy heart, thy whole soul, thy whole mind and with all thy strength, and love thy neighbor as thyself. We try to live by that Golden Rule in our public and private life. Unfortunately, the Commandments and the Golden Rule are being forgotten by our society; to achieve our rebirth, we must recall them. Only than we can expect to survive."

"The family is the engine that drives civilization. Throughout history, those cultures that have failed to found their rules and attitudes of society on the central importance of the family unit have decayed and disintegrated."

"Our coin bears the inscription: In God We Trust. And our Bible reassures us: The Lord is just and merciful. With the Lord thence our protector, whom or what shall we fear?"

Compiled by Thomas George