On the evening following the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, September 15, 1996, the Crisis Partnership honored Admiral Jeremiah and Mrs. Jane Denton or service to God, Church, and country at a dinner held at The Carlton in Washington, D.C.
In 1996 the Dentons celebrated fifty years of marriage and the fiftieth anniversary of the admiral’s graduation from the Naval Academy, which also honored him this year. Admiral Denton’s many military honors include the Navy Cross, a decoration awarded for exceptional heroism in action.
Denton spent nearly eight years of the Vietnam War as a prisoner of war. Four of those years were spent in solitary confinement. Denton was released from captivity on February 12, 1972. His years of imprisonment are unforgettably recounted in his book, coauthored with Ed Brandt, When Hell Was In Session, soon to be reprinted by Crisis.
In 1977, Denton retired from the Navy and returned to Mobile, Alabama, where he founded the Coalition for Decency. In 1980, Denton became the first Republican ever elected by popular vote to the U.S. Senate from Alabama and the first Catholic to be elected to statewide office. His term in the Senate was distinguished by his efforts to defend the rights of the American family, to strengthen national defense, and to defeat communism worldwide. After his Senate career, Denton continued his work with the National Forum Foundation, which he founded in 1983.
During the admiral’s captivity, his wife, Jane Denton (nee Maury), not only took care of their seven children, but she also became so successful an advocate for the Vietnam POWs that she met regularly with Henry Kissinger and Gen. Alexander Haig.
Later, during his Senate term, Jane represented the National Alliance for the Mentally III (1984-85). She continues to serve on the board of the Mental Health Association of Southwest Alabama.
We are proud that Admiral Denton has agreed to serve as honorary chairman of the Crisis Partenership.
Award Presentation Tribute
Distinguished Friends of Crisis:
It has always been true: He who suffers well, for a just cause, is co-heir to a peace that passeth all understanding. Such a man is the conqueror of himself, indeed, a lord of the world. She who loves the Lord with all her heart, and with all her soul, will love her husband and her children as she has been loved by the Lord. She it is who, for the sake of the Lord, will make straight the path for her beloved family. If Providence brings together, on the soil of a free country, such a man and such a woman, then let it truly be said: Blessed be that country. For such a nation shall raise up steadfast patriots, even heroes and heroines, whose children, and their children’s children, shall give birth again to worthy countrymen.
In the breath I have just drawn, the names of Jane and Jeremiah Denton have not escaped my lips. And, of course, all here know whereof I speak. But which of us has seen into their souls so well as their children? Spread to the seven winds, the Denton clan is able to set before us a true testimony. Michael Denton tells us of his mother and his father: they were, he says, “both descendants from early American Christian leaders blessed with a home that gave them faith in Jesus Christ and his apostolic teachings through the Roman Catholic Church…. Their deep love of country was founded upon these same Christian principles….”
Madeline Denton contrasts the fifty years of the enduring marriage of her mother and father with the dissolution of marriage in contemporary no-fault divorce laws, confiding to us that “although my father was away from home for many years, I watched my mother stay as true to him as if he were in our home always.” Don Denton ignites my soul when he writes: “My mother gave me my conscience … both of my parents are the highest measure of my aspirations….”
And from Jim whom I do remember well from my days in Washington, I read “My mom’s love and faith were part of our everyday life…. Like her husband, a world away, she understood and cared about her duty to her family and to her country.” Mary Denton Lewis writes us that “I am truly blessed to have such courageous, moral, and loving role models, and it is fitting that they be honored together.”
Admiral Denton, in captivity, wrote these lines of Our Lady:
… Her face shows grief, but not despair
Her head though bowed has faith to spare
… Her life with Him was full of signs
That God writes straight with crooked lines….
The admiral’s poem could have been written of Jane Denton.
When men and women gather to pay tribute to great Americans, it is difficult to say neither too little nor too much. This is especially true of one like me, who does not know the Denton family so intimately as many seated in this room. But for my friendship with Jim and the senator while I was in Washington, I might only know and admire the admiral and his devoted wife from afar. You will then understand, I hope, when I say that I am deeply honored to have been asked to speak the things I do know, painfully aware that there are here so many friends able to say so much more, so much better.
At Crisis, we honor Admiral and Mrs. Denton because each is indisputably heroic. If our tribute were for this virtue alone, we might have chosen General Schwarzkopf or even, more obviously, Mother Theresa. But for this special tribute, these others have rightly been passed over in favor of a sublime marriage. So I shall try, in a few words, to fathom the deep mystery that gives rise to great American families. This it is mete and necessary to do, I believe, because our country is like no other country of history. Encompassing a vast frontier territory, ours is not a heritage grounded in ancestral links to the land. Neither are we joined together by fine blood and ancient patrimony.
Who will deny that ours is a nation of immigrants, most of whose humble forefathers inhabited far away foreign soil on that epiphany of July 4, 1776, while the blood and treasure of the men of the Revolution was being spilt on the shores of the Atlantic, that a new nation might be born? America was, and is, unique, but not in virtue of blood ties, nor of patrimonial links to its vast properties. But because, unlike every other nation and empire, it was founded, indeed, it was raised up, on a principle—a universal principle that, as Mr. Lincoln observed, was true for all time and in all places. And that principle, the American proposition, was this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain inalienable rights,” that among these rights are the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is what the founders said, and this is what they meant. Mr. Jefferson reminds us, in the same Declaration of Independence, that the first principles of a just community must be grounded in “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” With such laws, the American experiment was inaugurated.
I linger on these words of the Declaration, because we Americans, perhaps alone, contend for the highest of earthly prizes, of which our tribute to the Dentons is a profound reminder. And the prize is this—whether any nation on earth, so conceived and so dedicated to the laws of nature and of nature’s God, can long endure?
This is but the main question, put to us by the greatest American who ever lived…. We should have an answer for him. And there is, I think, only one. The inalienable rights of our fundamental law, without which ours is but one more territory for vain aggrandizement of wealth and power, are not mere preferences. America will endure so long as the men and women of our country, mindful of its first principles, form themselves into traditional families, open to many offspring, embracing Church and vocation—ennobled by work, duty, sacrifice. These are the indispensable institutions and the necessary virtues which raised up thirteen impoverished colonies by the sea to the greatest empire of liberty the world has ever known. These are the rules of life by which Admiral and Mrs. Denton have governed their family.
If America is to last, until that day when the four horsemen appear on the horizon, it is not sufficient that our country produce talented warriors, celebrated athletes, even glorious saints. It is also necessary that our citizens, that our families, that our courts abide by the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.”‘ For if we lose this first principle of our nationhood, itself the singular animating spirit of our laws, we may continue to call this territory America, but it shall be an empty vessel, doomed to a destiny unhinged from the Declaration of Independence.
We will not, we cannot let this happen.
That is why we gather to pay tribute to Jeremiah and Jane Denton. By their example, they hold up for us an exalted commitment to our Lord and to his immaculate bride. They aim at the triumph of the cross. As they have lived their lives, they have shown all Americans,—even in the Age of Aquarius—that faith, family, freedom, fidelity to the flag of the Republic are the true standards which must be the touchstone of American citizenship.
On a subject so edifying as the Denton family, I am loathe to close. It is fitting, I think, that I invoke the first Jeremiah to do so:
The word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah saying, “before I formed thee in the womb, Jeremiah, I knew thee, and before thou wert born I consecrated thee; I appointed thee a prophet to the nations…. To all to whom I send thee, thou shalt go, and whatever I command thee, thou shalt speak. Be not afraid . [Jeremiah], for I am with thee, to deliver thee.”
Thus, three thousand years ago the words of the first book of Jeremiah…. Today, thanks be to God, the second book of Jeremiah and of his family is not yet finished.
Oh my Lord, I firmly believe that You are here, that You see us, that You hear us.
May God bless America. May God bless Admiral and Mrs. Denton.