"30 seconds and his world changed."
That's how Alvin Townley, Atlanta-based author of "Defiant: The POWs Who Endured Vietnam's Most Infamous Prison, The Women Who Fought for Them, and The One Who Never Returned," describes the moment naval aviator Jeremiah Denton ejected from his A-6 Intruder jet after it was hit by enemy fire and landed in a village in North Vietnam in 1965. He was quickly captured, taken prisoner and tortured for eight years.
Townley visited Delta this week in time for Veterans Day to share the story of Jeremiah and other American POWs' captivity and survival, and why their lessons of devotion, honor and perseverance can be carried throughout Delta every day.
"After being shot down, all Jeremiah Denton had left was his name, honor, and character; he'd lost everything else," said Townley. "In Hanoi, he helped develop a powerful vision statement for the POWs: 'Return with Honor.' Those three words would govern their actions during captivity, keep them united and ensure they returned home together."
Not only notable for his leadership among the other captives, Denton became well known among his captors for his defiant and resilient spirit throughout his suffering in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." He became famous during a 1966 staged press conference where he took the opportunity to send a distress signal to the U.S. military, blinking out "T-O-R-T-U-R-E" in Morse Code during the interview.
Upon release in 1973, Denton said at his next press conference, "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 was later elected to the United States Senate representing Alabama.
Townley said Delta's core values of honesty, integrity, respect, perseverance and servant leadership detailed in the Rules of the Road were all characteristics the POWs exhibited throughout their captivity.
"These men were tremendously devoted to a cause, to each other and to their families. Those five Delta values made them successful as a unit, just like they make Delta successful as a company."
Chief Financial Officer Paul Jacobson, who introduced Townley at the event, said it was fitting he spoke to Delta people immediately after the U.S. Election Day and leading up to Veterans Day.
"The stories of our veterans and prisoners of war are incredibly moving. It was humbling to hear Alvin share Jeremiah Denton's story of extraordinary selflessness, perseverance and defiance, especially as we celebrate our service members around the world," he said.
Header photo: Alvin Townley, Kurt Robinson (President, Veterans Employee Group), and Paul Jacobson
Body photo: Jeremiah Denton, shortly after his release as a POW in 1973 (courtesy of defenselink.mil)