It is a time to remember all those who have suffered as prisoners of war in defense of American freedom, and all those who remain missing in action.
It is a time to remember also America’s resolve never to forget them, and to ultimately account for them and thus bring closure to their still grieving families.
This National POW/MIA Recognition Day, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, the National League of Families’ POW/MIA Flag, symbolizing that resolve, will fly over the Capitol, the White House, government buildings, veterans memorials, the
Posts of The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Affairs, and other veterans organizations, many of which will hold special ceremonies remembering POWs and MIA’s, and their families.
The POW/MIA Flag is the only flag which Congress has authorized to be on display in the Capitol Rotunda. It remains there as a constant reminder of their suffering, the suffering of their families, and the need to account for them.
The Department of Defense Prisoner of War-Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) reports that there are still 83,417 Americans missing in action. That includes some 73,681 from WWII; 7,947 from the Korean War; 126 in the Cold War; 1,657 from the Vietnam War; and six from Iraq and other conflicts.
The search for evidence to account for the missing in action continues. The DPMO website reports on the “Recently Accounted-For.” It shows that as late as July, 2012, newly discovered evidence has accounted for American MIAs from as far back as WWII.
The families of prisoners of war and missing in action share a common a common agony and emotional pain, that of not knowing what has become of their loved ones, whether they are alive or dead, and if alive, in what condition. For the families of the POW’s, that pain of not knowing is ended only if they have come home. For the families of the missing in action, that agony of not knowing never ends.
The suffering of POW’s has been brought home in the books written by and about them, including the horrendous tortures they endured in all those wars.
However, it is sometimes not fully recognized that while the POW’s suffered greatly in captivity, their families at home, like the families of the missing in action, suffered, too, never knowing the fate of their loved ones.
One of the most powerful books revealing the inhuman torture inflicted on American POW’s by their communist captors in Vietnam – and revealing also how those POWs retained their humanity, most often by faith and family – is Rear Admiral Jeremiah A Denton’s memoir, “When Hell Was In Session.” (A new edition of which has been published with an afterward by WND Books.)
Admiral Denton suffered unspeakable tortures in that hell for seven years/seven months as America’s second longest serving POW in the Vietnam War. Somehow, he returned home to a loving family with his humanity intact. He went on to become a U.S. Senator, representing Alabama. He remains today deeply involved in humanitarian work.
But what of his large, young family in those seven years, seven months of not knowing what he was enduring, or whether he had endured.
On POW/MIA Recognition Day, September 19, 2008, the wartime veterans of the American Legion Department of California, honored their comrade Admiral Jeremiah Denton by establishing a plaque for him at the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial in San Diego, beneath the cross there honoring the selfless service and sacrifice of veterans, including those who have given their lives.
In the ceremonies at Mt. Soledad, Michael Denton, one of Admiral Denton’s sons, who was a young boy when his Navy pilot father was shot down on July 18, 1965, and remained a prisoner of war for almost eight years, delivered an eloquent, poignant, and moving speech honoring his father.
Michael Denton spoke, too, on the impact on the family, not knowing, for days, weeks, months, and then almost eight years, the fate of their father, an experience shared by so many families of prisoners of war, and missing in action.
Therefore, in recognition, respect, and appreciation for all of those POW and MIA families on this National POW/MIA Recognition Day, 2012, Michael Denton’s tribute to his POW father is provided in its entirety (below)
[Rees Lloyd, a longtime California civil rights attorney and veterans activist, is a member of the Victoria Taft Blogforce.]
[Editor’s Note: The following is the tribute speech delivered by Michael Denton at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial in dedication ceremonies on National POW/MIA Day, Sept. 19, 2008, of a plaque honoring his father, former POW for seven years/seven months in Vietnam, Rear Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton, who authored the now classic memoir, “When Hell Was In Session.”]
MT SOLEDAD MEMORIAL DEDICATIONGood afternoon. My name is Michael Denton. As the sixth of seven “navy juniors” born to Jeremiah and Jane Denton, I am a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, a US Navy veteran and now an investment advisor in Richmond, Virginia. My wife Katherine is here with me today as a brat of the US Air Force, born while stationed in Athens Greece, and most importantly the mother of our two children. Our dad, my seven siblings, sixteen grandchildren, three great grandchildren and eight spouses comprise our Denton family today. This entire clan sincerely appreciates your presence to honor our patriarch's personal courage, steadfast dedication to duty and complete faith in God and Country.I should fit us into the context of our father’s Vietnam service. When my father was shot down in 1965, our eldest brother was eighteen years old and our youngest sister was eighteen months new. They are both attorneys now. I was five when dad left and thirteen when he returned. From forty years of conversations since, I learned there is no good time to lose your father for any reason, but youth protected me much more than my elder teenaged brothers. Of course, I am very different person from the experience. Although I still don’t fully understand those differences, I have learned to build upon them.Of course, all military families face varying degrees of family separation deserving of our deep respect. Indeed, my family is acutely aware that we have received far more notoriety than most veterans – in particular, Vietnam veterans. In our case, the whole family catapulted into the lime light upon dad’s celebrated return. We were neighbors enduring real tough times supported by many dear friends who gained instant fame after dad’s “return with honor” when a three sentence speech shocked the American heart back to beating more with veterans. Still though, quoting the POW slogan, “We Have Not Forgotten” in the Denton family that some Vietnam vets never came home and tragically few returning Vietnam vets got the honors they deserved. Hopefully that is finally beginning to change.Coming to the present, after the blessing of 81 years of heroism, strength, and unconditional love, we lost our mother just last Thanksgiving Day to post heart surgery complications. Her caliber as a wife and mother made possible most of what our family has accomplished. She proved that “it takes a village” is a secular myth, when in truth: “It takes a FAMILY!”Today my dad faces different challenges at 84 that prevent a cross-country trip for this event, but let me tell you where he is. After decades of service as a "Warrior, Statesman and Humanitarian" Jeremiah Denton now lives nearly within sight of Jamestown Island, the first permanent English settlement in America, along the James River in Virginia. There, recently rebuilt on the original foundation, is the largest building from that settlement - a 400 year old Christian church. Just up river in Richmond is where Patrick Henry thundered that the defense of freedom is worth life itself. This liberty or death speech was made in the largest building west of Williamsburg to a crowd literally overflowing out the windows. Many people chose to be buried where they listened that day. That building was a Christian church that still stands today. And just down river from dad’s house, the sun rises on a powerful naval force of freedom in Norfolk before setting on that same protection here in California. And so, Jeremiah Denton resides today among powerful symbols of his deep beliefs.To fully appreciate his service, one must understand that Jerry Denton’s intense beliefs inextricably forge together Faith & Freedom into a single steeled force, each vital to protect the other. He knows the personal sacrifice that force requires, he gave more than his measure for decades on end, and he calls upon all Americans to do the same - whether in combat, in the sanctity of a quiet church pew or in a private voting booth. Knowing this about our father, you can understand just how personally meaningful it is to have this plaque in this place - here among so many heroes and beneath the cherished Mt Soledad Cross.Having mentioned this cross, so emblematic of vital struggles to preserve our freedom OF religion not freedom FROM religion, I must speak directly for my father. For their victorious preservation of the Mt Soledad Cross, Jeremiah Denton offers his highest salute to: Congressman Duncan Hunter of this district; US Senator Jeff Session of Alabama; the vitally important combatants of The Thomas More Law Center lead by Richard Thompson, Brian Rooney and Charles LiMandi; the indomitable Rees Lloyd of the American Legion California; and to the Mount Soledad Board of Directors. Quoting dad directly here: “When I said: God Bless America in front of the world upon release from prison, you may be certain that I included in the context of that prayer, movements like the effort to save the Mount Soledad Cross which are vital to preserve this country as One Nation Under GOD. The threat to formally discard that title and disguise that reality is correctly seen by you and the majority of Americans, as the greatest threat to the survival of these United States of America. May you and those like you prevail in your glorious cause!”Regarding the plaque being dedicated today in dad’s absence, I express our family’s heartfelt thanks to all those involved in this honor, most especially Rees Lloyd who lead the effort, Brian Rooney who made two trips on its behalf, Ralph Husky of the American Legion here in San Diego, the staff of Mt Soledad including Joanie Miyashiro-Brennen & Charles Emery, as well as the distinguished guests present today.I will close with a current event note and a past intimate family insight. You can actually see a video of my father’s action that earned him the Navy Cross in an online exhibit by National Archives entitled EYEWITNESS which chronicles 25 gripping images that shaped American history.Finally, let me take you back to our family’s experience of that late night Vietnam POW release. The family remained in Virginia Beach, rather than take our large crew all the way to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines without knowing for sure whether he would actually make it out then or ever. We certainly had no idea that he would be the very first to return until he suddenly stepped through the hatch. As will happen in gathered families, several hours of sibling agitation had driven me to a room across the house where for some reason I started a tape recording. When called back into the den for the arrival event, I left the tape running. As a result, you can now hear our family’s roar of shocked jubilation when dad was the first officer out of the first plane. He was asked just a short time before as the senior officer aboard to say a few words to the welcoming crowd. Back home we hadn’t even taken a breath from his appearance before we saw him gestured toward the microphone! I repeat his words in closing, because this powerful statement, written just beforehand, eloquently captured both that moment and the essence of his entire life long service as a force of Freedom & Faith. At just the moment when our nation desperately needed such reassuring validation he 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.”The Denton family could not be more proud of all veterans who have fought for Faith & Freedom or more sincerely appreciative for the honor of this plaqueat Mount Soledad. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.