Former Alabama Sen. Jeremiah A. Denton Jr., a prisoner of war for more than seven years in North Vietnam, died on Friday in Virginia Beach. Mr. Denton was 89 years old.
His son, Jim Denton, told The Washington Post, which first reported the news, that his father died of a heart ailment.
Mr. Denton, a retired U.S. Rear Admiral, was shot down over the city of Thanh Hoa in Vietnam in 1965 and captured while leading a bombing mission.
He later wrote a book about his experiences.
Mr. Denton grabbed national attention in 1966 when he was forced to give an interview as a prisoner, and he blinked in Morse code with his eyes to spell out the word “torture.”
He later received the Navy Cross and other decorations for his heroism.
Mr. Denton won his seat in the Senate in the 1980 election, making him the first Republican since reconstruction to represent Alabama in the Senate.
Members of Congress mourned his passing.
Rep. Sam Johnson, who was held for nearly seven years as a POW in Hanoi, praised Mr. Denton, saying his friend “symbolized freedom.”
“His patriotism knew no bounds, and his bravery pushed every limit,” Mr. Johnson, Texas Republican, said. “I will always cherish the memories of our friendship forged in the fire as a gift from above. Generations to come will honor and celebrate his legacy of freedom and his leadership in Hanoi — and for America upon his return.
“Jerry, you will always hold a special place in my heart for your bravery, valor and service,” he said.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who also was held as a POW in North Vietnam for more than five years, said that he was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend and mentor.”
“As a senior ranking officer in prison, Admiral Denton’s leadership inspired us to persevere, and to resist our captors, in ways we never would have on our own,” Mr. McCain said. “He endured unspeakable pain and suffering because of his steadfast adherence to our code of conduct.”
Mr. McCain said that Mr. Denton “exemplified our POW slogan: ‘Home with honor.’”
President Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama sent their condolences to Mr. Denton’s family.
“The valor that he and his fellow POWs displayed was deeply inspiring to our nation at the time, and it continues to inspire our brave men and women who serve today,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “As senator, he served as a strong advocate for our national security. He leaves behind a legacy of heroic service to his country.”