After college, Denton joined the U.S. Navy and attended the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1947. He served on a variety of ships and aircraft, including blimps, and was a test pilot, flight instructor, and commanding officer of an attack squadron flying the A-6 Intruder. He was flying one of those aircraft in 1965 when he was shot down over Vietnam; he was captured by the North Vietnamese and held as a prisoner of war, starting in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”. Denton, a Commander, was allowed by his captors to be interviewed by a Japanese TV reporter in 1966. “The blinding floodlights made me blink and suddenly I realized that they were playing right into my hands,” he said later. “I looked directly into the camera and blinked my eyes once, slowly, then three more times, slowly.”
It wasn’t the lights, and it wasn’t nerves: it was Morse Code: he blinked out a single word again and again — “T-O-R-T-U-R-E”. The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence picked up on it, getting confirmation for the first time that American POWs were being tortured by the Vietnamese. But he refused to “confess” to “war crimes” — and was tortured anew once the reporter left. Denton was one of the first POWs freed, in 1973, after eight years of captivity. He went back to active duty, and retired in 1977 as a Rear Admiral. Denton went on to get elected to the U.S. Senate, the first retired Admiral to hold the office, where he served for six years before being defeated in reelection. Adm. Denton died in hospice on March 28, from heart problems. He was 89.