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The National Archives has a special exhibit on their website called "Eyewitness". It brings together eyewitness accounts in the form of text, paintings, photos, audio, and videos to illustrate significant moments and periods in history.

It's all in a single Flash application, so I can't link to individual items (you'll need to click the Contents tab) but here are a few of the topics, some renowned, some obscure:

  • George Washington on the threat of biological warfare during the Revolution
  • Thomas Jefferson, writing from Paris, on the storming of the Bastille
  • Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower on a 1919 transcontinental convoy: This experience, and his encounter with Germany's autobahns during WW II, inspired his push for an interstate highway system.
  • Herb Morrison's radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster

The site includes a film I've heard about for years, but had never before seen. Cmdr. Jeremiah Denton, Jr., later an admiral and U. S. Senator from Alabama, was a Navy pilot who had been shot down and held prisoner in Vietnam. He was required to be interviewed by a Japanese reporter. As he spoke, he sent a coded message with his eyes. He blinked out the Morse code for the word "torture" over and over again, providing U. S. intelligence with the first confirmation that POWs were being tortured by their North Vietnamese captors.

Robert Stephens of Alphabet City has transcribed some of Denton's description of the event, of the torture he endured, and of God's sustaining grace during that torture, as he recounted it for the film Return with Honor:

DENTON: One night was very memorable to me, it may have been two two thirty in the morning quiet and uh, the guard was a pretty decent guy I thought, a kid named Smiley about eighteen years old. He did his duty, but I don't think he liked it too much. And obviously the Camp Commander had told him to come in there and break me. was telling the guy going more, more, more and I said lord, I -- I've thought of every prayer that I know by heart, I've thought of everything that just sort of uh, uh, expresses my will and -- and beg you to help me and I -- I -- I've run out of things. I'm totally without resources for even prayer. It was the first time I'd ever said okay God, you've got it, I'm just gone. . And at that instant, I -- I breathed that total surrender I was relieved of all pain. And I had felt as if a blanket had been placed over me. A warmth and comfort I had absolutely not only no fear but the greatest feeling of comfort and total confidence that nothing could happen to me bad the rest of my life in this condition I was in. And that's when Smiley looked at me as he was pulling and I looked at him and my face must have said well Smiley what are you doing? You're not hurting me. I -- you can't break me. And at that point his face just broke and he -- tears started coming down his face. He let go of the line. Went out and started screaming at the Officer.

DENTON: Having tortured me for my confession they were going to hope they could carry over to an interview in which I would say the words they wanted me to say. But I decided I'd -- for -- for what it was worth, just say the opposite of what they briefed me on. And uh, saw the lights of the TV cameras. . And -- and I saw the lights, I decided I'd blink my eyes in -- in Morse Code and -- and -- and spell out the word torture over and over again. In case they fitted words into my mouth, that were apologetic on my part. In other words, faked it. I would at least let them know I'd been tortured by the T-O-R-T-U-R-E.

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Denton's story is absolutely amazing. The concentration required to blink "torture" while being asked questions, and responding, speaks volumes.

I'd never heard that testimony of his. Remarkable; thanks for sharing it, Michael.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 5, 2009 11:28 AM.

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