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Remembering Ex-Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas: The Gentleman Warrior

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and ex-Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, touch the casket of the late Sen. John McCain
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and ex-Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, touch the casket of the late Sen. John McCain. (Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

John Gizzi By Thursday, 28 May 2020 06:26 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

The BBC report from Hanoi on May 1, 2015 left this reporter incredulous, to say the least.

Forty years after tanks from Communist North Vietnam rolled into what was then South Vietnam, Premier Nguyen Tan Dung of a now-united (and Communist ruled) Vietnam charged the U.S. "committed countless barbarous crimes, caused immeasurable losses, and pain to our people and country."

Within hours of the report of Dung's remarks, Newsmax was in touch with Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas. Onetime Vietnam Prisoner-of-War Johnson, who still walked with a pronounced limp from his considerable time in leg irons at the notorious "Hanoi Hilton," was set to respond.

"As someone who spent nearly seven years as a POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War — with 42 months in solitary confinement — to hear Mr. Dung dismiss his country's role in that war where his country was the aggressor on South Vietnam is not surprising," Johnson told us.

"Huh?" I said to his press secretary. "That's all he has to say?"

Anyone who knew Sam Johnson (who died Thursday at age 89) was not surprised by this subdued response. Nothing, not even the mendacious claims of the representative of his former torturers, could make the courtly, soft-spoken Texan lose his temper and lash out.

Born in San Antonio and raised in Dallas, Johnson earned a degree in business administration from Southern Methodist University. But his love since childhood was flying, and immediately after graduation in 1951, he joined the U.S. Air Force.

Johnson saw action in the Korean skies, flying 62 missions in the F-86 Sabre jet. Returning stateside, he flew the F-100 Super Sabre with the Air Force Thunderbirds.

Reactivated for air combat in Vietnam, Johnson was shot down on his 25th mission in 1966. As quiet and gentlemanly as he was, Johnson was soon pegged a "troublemaker" by his captors and confined to "the Alcatraz Gang" — a group of eleven POWs assigned to a special facility a mile away from the "Hanoi Hilton" prison.

When Johnson and the other POWs came home in 1973, he promptly resumed his duties in the Air Force. While on duty, he earned a Master's Degree from the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and wrote a best-selling account of his years as a POW, "Captive Warriors."

Following his discharge in 1980, Johnson returned to Texas to launch a homebuilding his business. He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1984. Seven years later, when Republican Rep. Steve Bartlett resigned to become mayor of Dallas, Johnson jumped into the crowded GOP primary for his House seat.

The Republican run-off came down to Johnson and Tom Pauken, longtime conservative activist and former head of ACTION under Ronald Reagan. Both candidates were solid conservatives and both were Vietnam veterans, but, most observers believed, Johnson’s much-reported experience as a POW put him over the top with 52.6% of the vote.

Rep. Johnson gave his constituents what he promised. Whether it was a cultural issue such as abortion or the Second Amendment or economic issues such as opposing spending on more government programs, the Lone Star State lawmaker was a reliable conservative vote. He got a coveted seat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and chaired the conservative House Republican Study Committee.

In later years, Rep. Johnson almost seemed to be a visitor from another time when heroic figures were only read about. He was the last Korean War veteran in Congress and, after the death of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2018, the last Vietnam POW in Congress.

"Sam was a great warrior and leader under very trying conditions," Orson Swindle, Johnson's fellow Vietnam POW and later chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, told Newsmax. "He was a great American patriot, man, and friend. He will be missed, and few can comprehend what he endured for our country. To paraphrase President Reagan, 'Where do we get such men?'"

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Anyone who knew Sam Johnson, who died Thursday at age 89, knows no one could get the soft-spoken Texan lose his temper and lash out, Newsmax's John Gizzi remembers.
sam johnson, texas, house, gop, obituary, vietnam war
Thursday, 28 May 2020 06:26 PM
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