POW Soldier Who Blinked “TORTURE” in Morse Code on TV


Imagine – you are a prisoner of war. Your
plane was shot down, and you have been held for so long that the days and nights begin
to blur together. You’re kept in a small cell in solitary confinement, and the only
times you see the sun are when you’re taken out to be beaten and tortured by your captives.
You don’t even know if your government knows that you’re still alive. Now your captors have a mission for you. They
want you to make a propaganda broadcast, telling your country that you’re being treated well
and condemning the war. You need to get the message out about the truth, but you know
that one wrong step could mean more torture – or worse. For Naval Aviator Jeremiah Denton
during the Vietnam War, this was reality, and he found an incredible way to communicate
the truth. Jeremiah Denton wasn’t your average prisoner
of war. While many were young privates, often draftees, he was a seasoned Navy man with
over twenty years of experience behind him. He had enlisted in the Navy with World War
2 still raging, and went on to serve as a test pilot, a flight instructor, and a commanding
officer of an attack squadron. He even revolutionized the Navy’s nuclear war tactics at the height
of the Cold War in 1957, pioneering the “Haystack Concept” that made it easier to hide aircraft
carriers from enemy planes. But none of that prepared him for the harrowing ordeal that
awaited him when he was shot down over North Vietnam. It was July 18th, 1965, and Commander Denton
was leading the US 6th fleet into battle. They launched from the USS Independence in
the South China Sea and flew into North Vietnam. By his side was his navigator, Lieutenant
Bill Tschudy. Their bombing raid quickly spiraled out of control as anti-aircraft guns fired
on them. Hit multiple times, their plane began spiraling down towards the guns below. With
only seconds to react, they hit the eject buttons on their seats and parachuted into
enemy territory. They landed in the village of Thanh Hoa, near Hanoi, and soon found themselves
surrounded by enemy soldiers. Outmanned and outgunned, they had no choice but to surrender,
and Jeremiah Denton became one of the highest-ranking prisoners of war in the Vietnam War. Denton and Tschudy were held in the notorious
prison camp known as “The Zoo”, one of the most feared prisons in the war zone. From
the beginning, conditions were designed to break them down and get the prisoners to share
information on US military operations. Denton was held in solitary confinement, often in
darkness. Prisoners were regularly shackled with leg irons and beaten with bamboo poles
and rubber whips. Denton would be frequently interrogated by his captors, but stayed steadfast.
He would give them nothing but his name, rank, and serial number, as he had been taught in
military training. Denton’s resistance in the face of the abuse gave courage to his
fellow captives, and he quickly became a leader among the other American POWs. Increasingly
frustrated, the North Vietnamese prison guards decided on a show of force to break their
captives down. They would hold a press conference where the captured soldiers would be used
as propaganda against their own country – and the stubborn Commander Denton would be the
star attraction. It was May 2nd, 1966 when Denton and several
of his fellow soldiers were hauled out of their cells and brought before a visiting
Japanese reporter, who asked them questions about their treatment. The North Vietnamese
soldiers were on site, watching their every word. The reporter prodded Denton to give
his opinion on his government’s actions, but Denton defied his captors and stated that
he stood with the United States. He knew the interview was drawing to a close and he would
likely face more torture for his defiance. This might be his last chance to get a message
out to US command, but saying the wrong word would end the interview and risk his life.
But the North Vietnamese didn’t know Denton had a secret weapon – he knew Morse Code. Thinking fast, Denton remembered the rudimentary
system of dots and dashes used to encode text characters. Without missing a beat in the
interview, he translated that code into a series of blinks – quick blinks for dots,
longer blinks for dashes, and sent out a one-word message he hoped someone back home would figure
out. A long blink – T
Three long blinks – O A short blink, a long blink, and a short blink
– R A long bink – T
Two short blinks, followed by a long blink – U
A short blink, a long blink, and a short blink – R
A short blink – E Torture. This was the first communication
from the prisoners of war to the world that they were being tortured, and Denton was lucky
that his captors did not figure out what he was doing. The message was broadcast across
the world, and US Navy personnel quickly figured it out. The word was out and pressure was mounting
around the world for the release or better treatment of the prisoners of war, but the
hard times were just beginning for Jeremiah Denton. His defiance during the interviews
was harshly punished, but he remained steadfast against the abuse by the guards. Extended
sessions of solitary confinement became more common, and he was transferred from one notorious
prison to another. Two months after the interview, he and his men were forced to participate
in the infamous Hanoi March, where dozens of prisoners of war were marched through the
streets of Hanoi. They were met with thousands of enraged Vietnamese civilians who pelted
them with bottles and stones and beat them with sticks. Denton and his men barely escaped
with the ir lives. The Hanoi March was filmed by European journalists
and added to the mounting outrage against the North Vietnamese. Under global pressure,
the torture stopped. Denton spent years more in prison, but he and his fellow men didn’t
have to fear extreme abuse every day. He didn’t know that his blinked message had gotten out
until February 12th, 1973. After almost eight years in prison, Denton and Tschudy were released
as part of Operation Homecoming, the release of POWs that ended the Vietnam War. As a reward
for his heroic conduct during years in captivity, he was promoted to the rank of Rear admiral. Jeremiah Denton would go on to wear many hats
in his post-captivity career. He would be the commandant of the Armed Forces Staff College,
and a special assistant to the Chief of Naval Education. He would serve a term as Senator
from Alabama, and write a memoir, “When Hell was in Session” that would be turned
into a TV movie. But he would always be remembered best as the iron-jawed prisoner of war who,
with seven letters and fifteen blinks, exposed the truth about the torture of American captives
to the world. Could you send a secret message if you were
being held prisoner? You won’t need to escape when you’re watching The Infographics Show,
with hundreds of topics to enjoy. For more about the Vietnam War, check out this video,
and for more about prisoners of war, watch that video. Thanks for watching, and don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

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