Saturday, October 4, 2008

When Hell Was In Session by Jeremiah A. Denton Jr.

When Hell Was In Session by Jeremiah A. Denton Jr.
Traditional Press, Copyright 1976

I took "When Hell Was In Session" off the bookshelf and started to read again the account of Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton's years imprisoned in North Vietnam. Denton spent over seven horrifying years as a POW in Hanoi. A powerful memoir, that was tough and disturbing for me to read. I still find myself having to put it down to take a breath, before continuing on.

Denton and fellow POWs (which included James Stockdale, James Robbie Risner, Larry Guarino, and others) endured years of brutal harsh treatment, which included extreme torture, starvation, solitary confinement, any possible way for their captors to break them. Some of the torture was so inhumane, that a few Viet Cong who had to deliver it had tears rolling down their cheeks. But these men held on with spiritual strength and they believed if they lose that, they would lose everything.

Denton himself was in solitary for over 4 years, the other time he was able to have some contact with fellow POWs. You wonder how he could mentally and physically deal with these conditions. Sitting in that dark damp cell with nothing, and able to tap communications with the others as the only means to maintain a frail grip with any form of human contact. Your eyes will water reading it. The only thing waiting for him is despair and pain. You may remember Denton as the POW that was forced to be questioned on camera and blinked his eyes in Morse code, spelling out the message T O R T U R E, informing Navy intelligence that American POWs are being tortured. Denton relives his days in hell and we get a picture of what it was like, but there is no way we could experience what it was like to go through this hell.

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

In the end, it's a story of the American spirit, love of family, and prayer. A man's belief in God, because he was in hell and was strong enough to get through it. And he got through it with courage, honor and love of country. Today we use the word "hero" loosely, you won't in this book. These are brave and honorable men, no doubt about it. At times when I'm looking in the mirror, I wonder if I could endure what these men went through. I'm sure it's a question all readers have when they read Jeremiah Denton's memoir.

Few men are tested like this, the door of pain and death was next to Jeremiah Denton for close to eight years. Through his inspirational memoir, the reader realizes we are fortunate to live in this country and the importance of the freedom we hold here.

"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."

Denton's Major Military Decorations:

Navy Cross
Dept. of Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Three Silver Stars
Distinguished Flying Cross
Five Bronze Stars
Two Air Medals
Two Purple Hearts
Combat Action Ribbon
Numerous combat theatre, campaign, occupation awards.


David Cranmer said...

Just the passage you have here: eat through the Achilles tendons is horrifying. What an amazing hero!

August West said...

The National Achieves has the video on their site of POW Denton blinking his eyelids, sending the TORTURE message in Morse Code.

When you enter the site,click on CONTENTS, then SCENES FROM HELL-select Comdr. Jeremiah A. Denton Jr. 1966. You can then click on the video link at his site.

David Cranmer said...

I just checked out the video. Very powerful stuff! Thanks for bringing us this post. I had a brother who served in Vietnam but because of my age, I missed alot of the history, and though I pride myself in being a history buff, I knew very little about Jeremiah Denton. Thanks.

sarge1dog said...

Not having heard of Jeremiah Denton,I will not buy the book.I forget nothing of Vietnam and what he went through does not surprise me.You were a very strong and determined individual to survive what went through.I salute you,Jeremiah A.Denton.(Robert Clinton)