Arleigh Burke-class destroyers built by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula include the USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110), shown. (Ingalls Shipbuilding photo) (Ingalls Shipbuilding)
The U.S. Navy will name a Mississippi-built destroyer in honor of Jeremiah Denton, the Mobile native who was shot down over Vietnam, who became legendary for blinking out the word TORTURE in Morse code when paraded on TV by his captors and who went on to serve as a U.S. Senator.
“Admiral Denton’s patriotism, sacrifice, and noble service to Alabama and our great nation will never be forgotten,” U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said in a Friday news release celebrating the decision. “He is very worthy of this honor, as his legacy merits this level of recognition.”
Shelby’s release quoted Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer as saying, “Admiral Denton’s legacy is an inspiration to all who wear our nation’s uniform. His heroic actions during a defining period in our history have left an indelible mark on our Navy and Marine Corps team and our nation. His service is a shining example for our Sailors and Marines and this ship will continue his legacy for decades to come.”
The ship in question is a future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer that will be build by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula. Shelby’s release noted that the shipyard is near Denton’s hometown of Mobile and employs numerous Alabama workers.
Denton died at 89 in March 2014 after a life featuring many distinctive accomplishment. A Navy aviator, he was the commander of a Navy attach squadron when he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1965. As a prisoner of war he was held in several sites, including the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” where he and others were subjected to prolonged and brutal abuse.
When paraded before cameras, he subverted the propaganda effort by blinking out Morse code. The message slipped by his captors and made him a legend. He remained imprisoned for seven and a half years, much of it in solitary confinement to prevent him from serving as a leader of resistance among the American prisoners. Afterward he rose to the rank of rear admiral and represented Alabama in the U.S. Senate as a Republican from 1981 until 1987, when Shelby (then a Democrat) successfully ran against him.
Denton’s book about his POW experience, “When Hell was in Session,” was made into a television movie of the same name. His wartime experiences also were the subject of “Jeremiah,” an Alabama Public Television documentary that premiered in 2015.
That film can be viewed on YouTube.
The Arleigh Burke class is one of the mainstays of the modern U.S. Navy, with more than 60 such ships put into service since 1991. According to the Navy at least a dozen more will be built, with upgrades and modernization plans to ensure that the ships will maintain their effectiveness for decades to come.