This past Friday, the United States lost one of its heroes; and Thomas Aquinas College, an old, dear friend.
Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton was an Annapolis graduate, a rear admiral, and an aviator in the United States Navy who endured nearly eight years in North Vietnamese POW camps, four of those in solitary confinement. During that time, his captors singled him out for particularly cruel and inhumane treatment, owing to his leadership among fellow prisoners and his refusal to betray his country. Famously, in a 1966 NVA press conference, Admiral Denton blinked the word “torture” in Morse code into the TV cameras, thereby alerting U.S. forces to the abuse of American servicemen.
Upon returning stateside after his 1973 release, Admiral Denton was shocked by the moral degradation that had taken place in the country during his absence. He soon thereafter committed his life to restoring the United States so that it would once again be, as he liked to describe it, invoking the Pledge of Allegiance, “one nation under God.” In 1980 he became the first Catholic to be elected to statewide office in his home state of Alabama, which he represented in the U.S. Senate until 1987. He also founded an advocacy group, the Coalition for Decency, which was committed to protecting the family and defending the unborn.
Through the years Admiral Denton developed a close relationship with Thomas Aquinas College, serving as a member of the Board of Visitors and delivering the keynote address at the 30th anniversary dinner. He was additionally the College’s Commencement Speaker in 2000. “I am most honored to give a Commencement speech at this college, which I love and appreciate so much,” he told the graduates. God “has given you the special blessing of an education at Thomas Aquinas, and you are eminently qualified to take a part in what I am challenging you to take part in — a part in restoring His law, as the basis of the laws of this country, the leader of the Free World.”
The recipient of numerous decorations, including a Purple Heart and the Navy Cross, Admiral Denton also received the College’s highest honor, the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion, presented in recognition of outstanding leadership and fidelity in the service of Christ and His Church. “We are honored to count Admiral Denton, a good man and a national hero, among the College’s friends,” says President Michael F. McLean. “We are profoundly grateful for his service to our country and to our college, and we join his many admirers in praying for the repose of his soul and the consolation of his family.”
Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton, Commencement 2000
“When I first came here, since I am not a Catholic, I was nervous, because it’s a different culture for me, but people have been so friendly, so charitable. It is such a blessing to live in this community, where people care about you. You make strong friendships that last a lifetime.”
– Sanjay Adhikari (’18)