Fred Barnes on an unforgettable hero.Aug 4, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 44 • By FRED BARNES
Jeremiah A. Denton Jr. had three careers in the course of his 89 years. He was a Navy pilot. He was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for seven years and seven months. And he was a U.S. senator from Alabama.
He excelled in all three, but it was as leader of the POWs at the Hanoi Hilton that he should always be remembered. He spent four years in solitary confinement and was brutally beaten many times. Yet he defied his captors year after year and suffered as much as the POWs he led.
When he and the others were released in 1973, he was the first off the plane. He was smiling. He offered no complaints about a policy that led to their imprisonment. His statement was terse. “It was one of the most remarkable scenes in American history,” said Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, who spoke at Denton’s funeral and burial at Arlington National Cemetery last week.
Here’s what Denton said 41 years and six months ago: “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.”
I knew Denton through my wife’s family, close friends of the Denton clan for more than a half-century. Like many others, I referred to him as “Admiral Denton,” never “Senator Denton.” His term in the Senate (1981-87), while important, was not what made him a great man. His actions as a POW did.
It was my father-in-law, Dr. Ralph Beatty, a physicist for the Center for Naval Analysis, who first met Denton when he was a young lieutenant with the Sixth Fleet staff in the Mediterranean in the 1950s. The two developed a strategy for deploying the fleet that revolutionized Navy practice. It was designed to prevent a single Soviet nuclear attack from wiping out a carrier battle group. And the two very different men—a scientist and a Navy flyer—became lifelong friends.
I met the Dentons shortly after my wedding in 1967. Jerry Denton wasn’t there. His A-6 Intruder had been shot down as he led a bombing raid in 1965. He was in Hanoi.
What he did there, along with James Stockdale, John McCain, and others, still amazes me. He was a firm leader. He insisted the lines of authority be followed. The POWs communicated by tapping on the walls of their cells. When Air Force pilot Sam Johnson arrived at the prison, he got his orders from Denton. “I’ll teach you to tap code,” Denton said. “Yessir,” replied Johnson, now 83 and a congressman from Texas. “I salute you,” Johnson said at the end of his eulogy for Denton at the funeral. Then he saluted.
In 1966, Denton was interviewed by his captors for a propaganda film. What did he think of the American bombing campaign? “I don’t know what is happening [in the war], but whatever the position of my government is, I believe in it . . . and I will as long as I live.” As he spoke, Denton blinked “t-o-r-t-u-r-e” in Morse code, confirming suspicions American prisoners were being tortured. For his defiance, Denton was thrown into a concrete cell in a remote prison called Alcatraz.
Last week, his body was taken to his burial plot by a horse-drawn caisson. Navy jets did a flyover in his honor. The Washington Post ran a fine story (with four pictures) the next day, headlined “The defiant POW is free.”
Eleven former POWs attended the services and I talked to four of them. What I learned was surprising, but it shouldn’t have been. Studies found that nearly a third of Vietnam veterans have suffered from PTSD, a lingering psychological effect of war duty. But only a small fraction of POWs have.
What’s the explanation? It’s not just that extreme misery—the constant beatings, the isolation, the purposely broken bones—brought them together. The larger reason is strong and resourceful leadership, a chain of command in which every prisoner had a place. And one more thing: The POWs were singularly brave men, committed to their mission and their country. Long imprisonment and torture couldn’t shatter that.
The honor given to Denton left me with a worry. The Korean War has been called the forgotten war. Now I fear the Vietnam war faces the same fate, remembered more for the photo of Jane Fonda sitting on the barrel of a North Vietnamese gun than for the courage of hundreds of POWs hidden from cameras. I think the leadership, honor, and unbroken spirit of our POWs transcends the war itself.
An epilogue: Republicans had encouraged another candidate when Denton decided to run for the Senate in 1980. He got the nomination, though some feared he couldn’t win. Denton said God had told him to run, but didn’t say he had to win. He won by 40,000 votes.
Fouad Ajami, 1945-2014.Jul 14, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 41 • By LEE SMITH
Hardly a day passes that I don’t think it’s a good time to go back and reread Fouad Ajami. As events unfold in the Middle East, he always offers some insight or information, or better yet one perfect and memorable sentence or phrase, that points at an answer to the whole puzzle. And now I want to read it all again—the books, the countless essays and newspaper columns, transcripts from interviews and TV appearances—all at once, as if to fill the hole left by his death in late June.
Tony Gwynn, 1960-2014.Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By JEREMY ROZANSKY
The Hall of Famer Greg Maddux once explained his pitching success by pointing to a road a quarter-mile off. At that distance, he observed, you couldn’t tell whether a car was traveling 55, 65, or 75 miles per hour. So it was in pitching. Unless the batter is tipped off by a hitch in the delivery or an anomalous spin, he’s left guessing at whether the ball will come at 80, 85, or 90 miles per hour. “You just can’t do it,” Maddux explained, “except for that [expletive] Tony Gwynn.”
May 19, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 34 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook cited Gary Becker last week, in a list of outstanding recipients of the Bradley Prize. We’re sorry to have a sadder reason to mention his name this week: He died May 3, at the age of 83. “He was perhaps the greatest living economist,” George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen eulogized. Becker’s influence is felt far beyond his own field, however. If the basic lesson of economics is that incentives matter, Gary Becker taught the world that incentives matter everywhere.
Fred Barnes remembers Ken TomlinsonMay 19, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 34 • By FRED BARNES
My first contact with Ken Tomlinson was a phone call. He was a top editor at Reader’s Digest, and I was a political reporter for the Baltimore Sun. He wanted me to write a piece on the least savory provisions of President Reagan’s tax-cut legislation. It must have been late 1981, after the bill had been enacted and become part of the Reagan legend.
May 12, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 33 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
We're sorry to report the death last week of Werner Dannhauser, whom we had the honor of occasionally publishing in these pages. He was a serious thinker and a graceful writer, dealing with a wide variety of topics with an unusual combination of elegance and directness, and of power and irony. As generations of students at Cornell, Michigan State, and elsewhere can attest, he was also a superb teacher of the great works and fundamental questions of political philosophy.
Kelly Jane Torrance on The Most Interesting Man in D.C.Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By KELLY JANE TORRANCE
The last time I heard from Alex, he emailed from Kabul. “Our lengthy discussions about your trip to St. Petersburg were apt, because you are like Russia: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” As was not uncommon with an email from Alex, I didn’t quite know what to say, so I didn’t respond right away. Then I lost the chance. Two days after he sent the note, Alex was dead. And I soon realized that Churchill’s famous words applied quite aptly to the man who’d quoted them.
Matt Labash appraises a Blockbuster ending.Nov 25, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 11 • By MATT LABASH
Though four decades shy of being an octogenarian myself, I’m starting to know how they feel. For at the hurtling speed of change these days, even a casual observer of the scene is unwittingly turned into a perpetual obituarist, forever marking the loss of old friends. So it was again last week, when news broke that Blockbuster was shuttering all of its bricks-and-mortar video stores.
Nov 11, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 09 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Believers in limited government and privatization lost one of their unsung heroes with the death of distinguished economist Ed Clarke on October 10. Clarke conceived of an idea he called revealed demand, a notion that helped make the case for having the market allocate goods and services formerly thought to be the sole province of governments.
Joseph Bottum, Der GummibärchenkennerNov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
Herr Riegel’s father vas a candy maker. Was, I mean. Was a candy maker. This morning, over the phone, a friend made some passing reference to German economic policy—speaking, unfortunately, in that exaggerated German accent that used to be a standard of American comedy. You remember? Sgt. Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes, Arte Johnson on Laugh-In. And the trouble is that once that voice gets into your head, it hangs around for days.
Scott Carpenter, 1925-2013 Nov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08 • By JOSHUA GELERNTER
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union opened the space age by orbiting Sputnik, history’s first artificial satellite. Four months later, the United States launched its own first satellite and began hiring astronauts in the hopes of beating the Soviets to a manned space flight. President Eisenhower wanted his astronauts to be test pilots, and 500 applied. Sixty-nine of them were invited to Washington for interviews, IQ and aptitude tests, and a notoriously thorough set of medical exams.
Ronald Coase, 1910-2013. Sep 30, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 04 • By ANDREW B. WILSON
Though I never met the man, I feel a debt of gratitude to Ronald Coase, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who died on Labor Day at age 102. Reading his “Nature of the Firm,” one of the most cited essays in all of economics literature, encouraged me to start my own business.
Jean Bethke Elshtain, 1941-2013 Aug 26, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 47 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
Jean Bethke Elshtain may have been the busiest woman many of us had ever met. Shuttling back and forth between her regular teaching appointment at the University of Chicago and her settled home in Tennessee, she wrote and wrote—and wrote and wrote. Essays, talks, books, memos to fellow directors on the almost endless number of boards on which she served. Letters, emailed comments about her friends’ latest work, notes on current theological and political issues: a ceaseless flow of words.