“From time to time, men and women are born into this world who are made of something special — individuals who seem to have an unlimited reservoir of strength and courage, who are made of sterner stuff. People who carry themselves with grace and dignity even as the weight of the world rests upon their shoulders. Jeremiah Denton was such a man.
A proud son of Mobile, Ala., Denton attended local Spring Hill College and from there graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, becoming a pilot and commander.
On July 18, 1965, Denton led a squadron of 28 jets on a bombing raid when he was shot down over North Vietnam. Captured by the North Vietnamese, he would be a captive in prison camps the next 7 years and 7 months.
During his time as a prisoner of war, Denton endured constant and excruciating torture.
Denton wrote a memoir, ‘When Hell Was In Session,’ recounting his time as a POW. Denton describes a torture session in which his captors placed a nine-foot cement-filled iron bar across his shins. Denton wrote that his captors ‘stood on it and… took turns jumping up and down and rolling it across my legs. Then they lifted my arms behind my back by the cuffs, raising the top part of my body off the floor and dragging me around and around. This went on for hours... They were in a frenzy alternating the treatment to increase the pain until I was unable to control myself. I began crying hysterically, blood and tears mingling and running down my cheeks.’
In May 1966, Denton would defy and outsmart his communist captors and display to the whole world the depth of American courage and ingenuity. His captors interrogated Denton for a propaganda interview. While answering their questions, Denton was simultaneously and repeatedly blinking out a message, letter by letter, in Morse code. That message was ‘T-O-R-T-U-R-E.’ It was the first official message informing Americans and the world that American POWs were being tortured by the North Vietnamese.
During the interview, Denton further displayed his unshakable resolve by boldly declaring to his captors: ‘whatever the position of my government is, I support it fully... I am a member of that government, and it is my job to support it, and I will as long as I live.’
North Vietnam’s most ruthless interrogators couldn’t break the iron will of this rock-ribbed Alabama native.
More than seven long years later, on Feb. 12, 1973, Denton would be freed as part of ‘Operation Homecoming’ following the signing of the Paris Peace accords. Denton was the senior officer of the first planeload of released POWs at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Denton brought tears to the eyes of a nation as he declared in his first official words upon release: ‘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.’
Denton earned the Navy Cross, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, three Silver Stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross, five Bronze Stars, two Air Medals, two Purple Hearts and numerous other campaign awards.”
Jeremiah Denton passed away in Virginia Beach, Va., on March 28. The country lost a true hero. Most of us will never experience the torture and pain that Denton went through in the service to his country. Nor can we ever imagine the exhilaration of having gone through all of that, and then being set free.
Freedom should be something we should never take for granted. We should be thankful for the freedom we can experience here in our “land of the free.” What an awesome gift to us as Americans.
But, not every American is truly free. Many people are not free from the effects of sin in their lives. They live under the burden of their past mistakes and experience no true promise for their future because they are slaves to sin.
That is what Easter is all about. For many, Easter is just a time when you might attend church with your family, enjoy a great meal and hunt Easter eggs will the children. But Easter is more than that. The true reason we can celebrate Easter is that Jesus died and rose again so that we could be set free.
Many think they are free, but they are not. Either they have been set free through a relationship with Jesus or they are slaves to sin.
Jesus came to set us free. But we must accept His gift to us. We must believe that He came to die for our sins, that He lived a perfect life, that He paid the price for our sin on the cross, and that He rose again and lives in Heaven with His Heavenly Father.
When we make the Lord the boss of our lives, when we give ourselves over completely to Him then:
1. We are free from the punishment of sin. Scripture tells us that “the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” That means that before we met God, we were going to spend an eternity separated from God. Now we can expect to go to Heaven when we die because He paid the wage.
2. We are free from the guilt of sin. When we give our all to Jesus Christ, our sin is forgiven and forgotten by God. He takes that sin and throws it as far away as can be thrown and then forgets it. God forgives our sin.
3. We have the promise of an abundant life here on this earth. Jesus tells us, “I have come that you might have life and live more abundantly.”
This gift truly set us free! Why don’t you go expectantly and joyfully to the church of your choice this Sunday? If you don’t have a church home, why not visit with us at Jasper’s First Baptist Church. We have a fun, family-filled weekend planned.
WALK WITH JESUS, AN EASTER EVENT FOR FAMILIES, will be Saturday, April 19, from 10:00AM to Noon. “Want your children to know there is more to Easter than eggs and chocolate rabbits? Bring them on a Walk with Jesus!
•You will move through five multi-sensory scenes with your family from the triumphal entry to the resurrection.
•There will be fun and engaging activities along the way. The event is free
•Invite your friends!
WORSHIP WITH US ON SUNDAY, APRIL 20.
•8:30 Worship Service with a more contemporary style
•9:50 Bible Study for all ages.
•11:00 Worship Service with a traditional style of music.
We are located at 1604 4th Ave. S., Jasper, AL 35501.
Come and celebrate the freedom we do have through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Dr. Dennis R. Culbreth is senior pastor of Jasper’s First Baptist Church, www.jaspersfbc.org