Jeremiah Denton

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Jeremiah Andrew Denton, Jr.

In office
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1987
Preceded by Donald Wilbur Stewart
Succeeded by Richard Shelby

Born July 15, 1924
Mobile, Alabama
Died March 28, 2014
(aged 89)
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) (1) Kathryn Jane Maury Denton
(married 1946-2007, her death)[1]

(2) Mary Bordone Denton
(married 2010-2014, his death)

Children Seven children from first marriage

Jeremiah, Sr., and Irene Steele Denton

Alma mater United States Naval Academy (Bachelor of Science)

George Washington University (Master of Arts)

Religion Roman Catholic

Military Service
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1946–1977
Rank Rear Admiral
Battles/wars World War II

Vietnam War

Awards Navy Cross

Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze Star
Air Medal
Navy Commendation Medal
Purple Heart Medal
Combat Action Ribbon
Prisoner of War Medal
World War II Victory Medal

Jeremiah Andrew Denton, Jr. (July 15, 1924 – March 28, 2014), was an American rear admiral and United States Navy rear admiral and aviator and prisoner of war in World War II and the Vietnam War who subsequently served from 1981 to 1987 as the first Republican United States Senator since Reconstruction in his native Alabama. Admiral Denton was also the first Roman Catholic elected to statewide office in Alabama.[2]

Military service

A native of Mobile, Denton endured nearly eight years of grueling conditions as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam after his plane was shot down in 1965. He was the first of the American POWs held captive and released in February 1973. Denton was compelled by his captors to participate in a 1966 televised propaganda interview which was broadcast in the United States. While answering questions, Denton blinked his eyes in Morse code to spell the word "T-O-R-T-U-R-E." This confirmed to Naval Intelligence that American POWs were being tortured by the communists.[3]

In 1976, Denton wrote about his time as a captive in his book When Hell Was in Session. In 1979, the actor Hal Holbrook portrayed Denton in a film about his experiences.[3] He was the subject of the 2015 documentary Jeremiah produced by Alabama Public Broadcasting Service.[4]

Political life

In 1980, Denton was elected to the U.S. Senate. First, he easily defeated Armistead Inge Selden, Jr. (1921-1985), a primary rival supported by the GOP establishment. Then Denton defeated Democrat James Elisha "Jim" Folsom, Jr. (born 1949), with 50.2 percent of the vote. Folson was subsequently governor for two years and the son of former Governor James Folsom, Sr. (1908-1987). Folsom had unseated the short-term Senator Donald Wilbur Stewart, who had won the seat in a special election in 1978 over fellow Democrat Maryon Pittman Allen (1925-2018), the widow of conservative Democratic Senator James B. Allen. He was aided in his election by the presence of Ronald Reagan heading the Republican presidential ticket against Jimmy Carter of neighboring Georgia, where Republican Mack Mattingly unseated Democrat Herman Talmadge.

In the Senate, he concentrated on family issues and worked for passage in 1981 of the Adolescent Family Life Act, often derided by critics as the "Chastity bill."[5] Denton established the Coalition for Decency, which proposed to clean up television by urging boycotts of sponsors that promoted sexual promiscuity.[2] He also focused on national security as the chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism.[6]

In 1986, a heavily Democrat year, he was narrowly unseated by then Democrat and later Moderate Republican Richard Shelby, who is retiring in January 2023.[2] In that same election, however, conservative Republican Harold Guy Hunt (1933-2009) won the governor's race, reversing a large defeat eight years earlier.

From 1978 to 1980, Denton was a consultant to Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network. During his time with CBN, both Denton and Robertson repeatedly expressed support for the Contra forces which fought the Sandinista communists in Nicaragua.[2]

Death and legacy

Denton died at the age of eighty-nine in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.[3] The USS Jeremiah Denton (DDG 129) is named in his honor.[2]


  1. Kathryn Maury Denton. Retrieved on October 27, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 DDG-129 USS Jeremiah Denton Arleigh Burke class Destroyer (, accessed October 27, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Jeremiah Andrew Denton Jr. (1924-2014) - Find A Grave Memorial, accessed October 26, 2021.
  4. Alabama Public Television Documentaries |JEREMIAH| PBS, accessed October 27, 2021.
  5. 'Teen-age Chastity Bill' designed to care for pregnant girls - UPI Archives, accessed October 27, 2021.
  6. Document - Statement by Senator Jeremiah Denton Before the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, February 2, 1983, Office of Justice Programs (, accessed October 27, 2021.