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Remembering a Patriot – Sam Johnson (USAF)

Posted on Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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11 Comments
Sam Johnson, official 109th Congress photo

What does it mean to be a patriot, a conservative, an American who is ready to lay down his or her life for another, who resists oppression, models faith, limits government, is uncomfortable spending other people’s money, and is decent and kind by nature? Answer: Sam Johnson. May we never forget…

Fifty-one years ago this month, this unique Korean War and Vietnam fighter pilot, USAF Colonel who was held for seven years as a POW in Hanoi, of that three and a half in solitary, was finally released.

As he wrote in his self-effacing Captive Warriors, he ejected on April 16, during his 25th combat mission over Vietnam, a war he joined after 62 missions in Korea. His F-4 was hit trying to penetrate what one of his Silver Star citations describes as “a curtain of flak,” to drop ordinance into “devastating groundfire.”

When his chute finally put him down, he had a broken back and arm. Thus began what should have been a death sentence, more because he bucked the communists at every turn, and earned separate treatment, and torture for resisting. He would later walk with a limp, with no use of one arm. But that was Sam.

Father of three, and husband to Shirley in Dallas, Sam was a fighter of the stoic, unsung cut, with no interest in special attention, unless it took pressure off others, but never one to step back or down, all honor.

He was that way all his life, an extension of his Methodist faith, which he held dear. When he got shot down, reports saw only one chute deploy, which typically means the back seater. Sam was the pilot.

When men from the USAF arrived at Shirley’s door in service dress uniforms to deliver the bad news, she responded with confidence. When they left, despite what they had told her, she knew he was alive.

For two years, filled with faith, she went outside every night, looked up at the stars, and prayed for Sam; she said she knew he was alive, but could not see the stars, so she saw them for him. He was, at that time, in solitary – presumed dead by everyone else.

When word got out, two years into his seven-year POW term, she knew – had known all along, he was alive. She would be there for him when he got back, and she was. What he went through is indescribable, yet he never lost faith, attitude, and the conviction that he would get back.

Later, after his return, he would build homes for others and eventually serve – again stepping up, since after all someone had to and he knew the world – to be a Congressman from Texas.

After 29 years in the USAF as fighter Weapons School director, flying with the Thunderbirds, he spent 14 congressional terms fighting nonsense, working to get America back to basics, cut spending, and secure.

Thinking on this Congressman, a conservative, patient, calm, kind Ways and Means Chairman, memories of a good man flood back. Working on the Hill during his tenure, often in his presence, the sense that drifts over me – just looking back – is that we do have noble souls who step up, and he was one.

When his lifetime friend from flight school Buzz Aldrin, Gemini 12, and Apollo 11, flew around the earth in November 1966, he did not know if Sam was alive. When he later orbited in 1969, Buzz consciously thought about Sam again when passing over Southeast Asia, 150 miles up, knew he was a POW, and prayed.

No surprise, the two remained lifetime friends, both decorated Korean War fighter pilots, both USAF, both committed to this country with every ounce of their being. They would sometimes meet, and between them would pass unspoken knowing, the bond you infrequently see, wish you saw more, a kind of shared respect for stepping up, taking whatever God delivers, living by the code, and with honor.

So, as time passes, these names get further back – Buzz is a healthy 94, filled with enthusiasm for life and love for America. Sam took his final leave – his last flight – in May 2020, now perhaps he looks down.

In all events, remembering these real patriots, people like Sam Johnson, those who walked the walk, talked when needed, kept stepping up over and over – who set the bar high – seems fitting now.

We need their example. Remembering Sam on the anniversary of his release, after seven years a POW, on what must have been – for all the hell – one of his happiest days, seems timely. He had 10 grandchildren and lived a long life. By his legacy, he keeps giving. May we … never forget.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
1 month ago

Great tribute to Sam Johnson , U.S. Air Force pilot, Congressman , and noble , honorable American citizen , May his soul and spirit fly in freedom , He is an example of the good character that gives genuine meaning to the heroic duty he performed – in the defense of freedom. With respectful mention of his wife Shirley too. With respect .To remember with reverence . All praise to Sam Johnson . Great story about a great American . This is appreciated ,very much. God bless America , land of the free and the home of the brave. Well Done Robert . With respect.

Jimmy P
Jimmy P
1 month ago

I couldn’t carry this gentleman hero’s water bottle. RIP.

John Bass
John Bass
1 month ago

Great story, we need more men like him. Sadly, now days it seems like they’ve all but vanished. I hope and pray for the sake of this great country there are still many more like him just waiting in the shadows.

Melinda
Melinda
1 month ago

Thank you, RBC, for this inspirational story. I don’t understand how people like Sam Johnson are created (being a timid soul myself), but it’s a blessing that they are. Our younger generation should know about him.

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
1 month ago

ALL living POWs from Hanoi Hilton should tell stories to ALL
Docuserial, documovie
Needed

Philip Seth Hammersley
Philip Seth Hammersley
1 month ago

Sam Johnson, unlike a certain son of an admiral, did not preen for the media and inject himself into every issue! RIP, statesman and hero!

Steven Zaspel
Steven Zaspel
1 month ago

Greatest Congressman my district has ever had. I got a chance to visit the Hanoi Hilton about 2 years ago and it was horrific. I cannot imagine spending 7 years there without losing your sanity.

Philip Seth Hammersley
Philip Seth Hammersley
1 month ago

Take your daily meds, Freddy!

Ground game
Ground game
1 month ago

Well Sam you look better in the ground then the air let me tell you lol

An older blonde women laughing in the kitchen with a grey haired man.
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