Review: When Hell Was in Session

RAY NOTHSTINE

World Net Daily Books has republished the classic When Hell Was in Session, the chilling account of Admiral Jeremiah Denton's almost eight years as a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese (1965-1973).

Retired rear admiral Jeremiah A. Denton Jr. addressing the National POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony at the Pentagon on Sept. 18, 2009.

The book, cowritten with Ed Brandt, was reissued in November 2009 with a new epilogue. A naval aviator, Denton and his navigator Bill Tschudy were shot down over North Vietnam in 1965.

One of America's greatest heroes, Denton became the face of the prisoners because of two events: he spelled out the word torture in morse code through eye blinks in a North Vietnamese propaganda film; He was also the first POW off the first plane upon their 1973 release. As he stepped off the plane at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, he spoke for all the former prisoners:

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.

"Under difficult circumstances" was an understatement. Denton and his fellow military captives faced extreme torture and brutal beatings because of their insistence on following the military code of conduct and not giving in to their captors. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his hard line defiance against the North Vietnamese propaganda machine and his courageous leadership despite prolonged physical and mental agony.

Denton's account is more than a record of his imprisonment and torture, it is a deeply spiritual chronicle about his unshakable commitment to America and its ideals. He wonderfully contrasts this with the evils of atheistic communism. It is also a window into his own heart, as he depicts his faith in God despite extreme suffering. Denton spent over four years of his captivity in solitary confinement, with his hands and feet in chains during much of that time. During one heinous torture session Denton declared:

When Hell Was In Session
by Admiral Jeremiah Denton with Ed Brandt

I was nearing despair. I offered myself to God with an admission that I could take no more on my own. Tears ran down my face as I repeated my vow to surrender to Him. Strangely, as soon as I made the vow, a deep feeling of peace settled into my tortured mind and pain-wracked body, and the suffering left me completely. It was the most profound and deeply inspiring moment of my life.

Denton talks about how many of the prisoners embraced their faith and it was what sustained them in their captivity. It has been chronicled on the PowerBlog before in a review of General Robinson Risner's The Passing of the Night.

The obvious reason that makes this account such a tremendous defense of freedom is because of the extreme price that was paid for defending it. But with words, Denton too is skilled in discussing the rarity of freedom and the significance of the American experiment. The updated epilogue discusses his work with President Ronald Reagan as a United States Senator from Alabama in defeating Marxist dictatorships in Latin America. In 1980 Denton was the first Republican elected to the Senate from Alabama since reconstruction and also the first Roman Catholic. In the new epilogue Denton offers a defense of the founding principles of the nation and laments the moral decay and secularization of America. He calls these factors a situation that is making America's survival "extremely perilous."

In his book there is another contrast that depicts his shock about the moral and cultural decline of America. After he left the Navy much of his work has focused on defending religious liberty and working to deliver global humanitarian aid through the Admiral Jeremiah Denton Foundation. 85 years old now, Denton spoke at The National United States Marine Corps Museum in February of this year, where he quoted the Marine motto "Semper Fidelis," in telling the assembled to stay faithful in the fight for the future of this country.


 

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Ray Nothstine. "When Hell Was in Session." Acton Institute Powerblog (March 29, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of the Acton Institute.

photo: DoD photo by Cherie Cullen

THE AUTHOR

Ray Nothstine is Associate Editor at the Acton Institute, and Managing Editor of Religion & Liberty. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford. Before coming to Acton, Ray worked as a free-lance writer for several organizations, including the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He gained ministry experience in churches in Mississippi and Kentucky. After college, he also served on the staff of U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss) in Gulfport in 2001-02. The son of a retired Air Force pilot, Ray has also lived in Okinawa, Philadelphia, New England, Hawaii, and Egypt.

Copyright © 2010 Acton Institute




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