July 22 started as a bleak and overcast day, somehow fitting for the funeral of Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton, the great Catholic Vietnam War hero, who endured many a bleak and dreary day during seven years and seven months of torture at the hands of the Communist North Vietnamese.
His life was filled with service and commitment and the military repaid him by a magnificent ceremony full of honor and precision. Admiral Denton, who died on March 28 was finally laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. His body was brought to the Old Chapel where a service was held during which his extraordinary life was recounted. He was a great military leader, even when he was in the Communist torture camps. He kept up the morale of his men and, through constant prayer to Our Lady, was able to endure those long and painful years. When he became a U.S. senator after the war, his stances on abortion and other moral issues called for great moral courage, and he did not shrink from his duty.
Rear Admiral Denton was also a family man. He stayed devoted to his wife, Jane, and children, Jerry, Bill, Don, Jim, Madeleine, Michael and Mary. After Jane’s death in 2007, he married his second wife, Mary Belle, who survives him.
After the chapel services, the American-flag draped coffin was taken to a waiting caisson by the Navy body bearer guard. The caisson, which was drawn by six white horses, was preceded by the Navy Band, which played patriotic and Catholic hymns, and a detachment of riflemen with fixed bayonets. The one-mile march to the burial site then commenced with mourners following in close proximity to the military procession.
As the coffin passed slowly through the rows of grave stones, a twenty-one gun salute was sounded by three canons. The resounding retorts of the cannons filled Arlington with thunder cracks. Finally, the procession reached the spot where Admiral Denton’s body was to lay.
The Navy body bearers then took the coffin from the caisson and marched solemnly to the grave site where his wife and family were seated. After he was laid on the spot where he was to be buried, two F-18 fighter jets made a low fly-by in honor of Admiral Denton’s years of military service. The ceremony continued with another twenty-one gun salute with rifles followed by “Taps.”
The folding of the American flag over the body of the fallen is probably one of the most sublime acts of honor and respect found in military funerals. The flag was held over his body then folded with exact, slow, and precise movements into the familiar triangle form. The flag, thus folded, was then given to Mrs. Denton with words that include “on behalf of a grateful nation.”
Admiral Jeremiah Denton was, without a doubt, a representative character. He was a person who represented the ideals and principles that made America a great nation. America needs more men like him, men of honor and sacrifice who are willing to give their all for a great ideal.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.