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The deaths of 2 heroes: one military, the other literary

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Mar 31, 2014

This past weekend I learned—in one case very belatedly—about the death of two great men, from very different walks of life.

Senator Jeremiah Denton was a war hero before he became a US Senator. The bravery that he displayed while a POW in Vietnam was so striking that in its respectful obituary notice the New York Times barely paid attention to his later political activities, which were not generally in keeping with the editorial policies of the Times. A man of steely integrity, he was utterly unwilling to yield on matters of principle. In Vietnam he famously blinked out the word “torture” in Morse code during a televised interview, alerting the world to what was happening in the POW camps, knowing full well that he would pay dearly when his captors realized what he had done. In Washington he fought with equal vigor in defense of the family, incurring the wrath of liberal editorialists. He paid a high price for his principles, and by all evidence he paid it willingly. A true American hero.

Eugenio Corti, whose death in February only recently came to my attention, is the Italian author of The Red Horse, one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, and one of the least appreciated. A true epic work that rivals War and Peace, The Red Horse shows how the people of a peaceful Italian town were transformed, their way of life totally changed, by the rise of fascism and the bloodshed of World War II. His heroes have chilling encounters with both Nazi and Soviet brutality. In the aftermath of the war the survivors struggle to awaken their countrymen to the dangers of Communism as they rebuild a shattered society. A gripping story, The Red Horse also rivals War and Peace in its length: a hefty 1,000 pages. Now regrettably hard to find in print, this great novel remains available as an eBook, which is a whole lot easier to carry around for the week or more that it will take to read it.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: tlbruksch3782 - Apr. 01, 2014 7:14 AM ET USA

    Thank you for the note about Sen. Denton's death. I first heard of his story via a CD from Lighthouse Catholic Media in which Sen. Denton discussed his time as a POW and the power of prayer. If I recall correctly, he described his time in "the box" (the solitary confinement cells) as the happiest days of his life because of prayer. I suspect the "wrath of liberal editorialists" never made a dent. May he rest in peace.

  • Posted by: shrink - Mar. 31, 2014 7:40 PM ET USA

    Denton also penned a book. Although not a feat of literary genius, "When hell was in session" will give almost anyone pause to consider that, short of being tortured, few people ever endure the suffering that he did. At the time that I was reading it, i was slipping into a depression. It cured me on the spot.