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Heroes Among Us Return With Honor

Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Poe) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Rep. Ted Poe

legislator photo

Mr. Speaker, it was dusk when he left Thailand and entered Laotian airspace. Soon he was flying into North Vietnam as darkness came over the horizon. It was his 25th mission into North Vietnam flying an F-4 Phantom jet.

The date was April 16, 1966. The pilot was Sam Johnson, United States Air Force colonel, and he was doing his second tour of duty in Vietnam. He was flying with the fighter squadron called Satan's Angels. He was a career pilot who had already flown 62 combat missions during the Korean War flying an F-86 Sabre jet. Colonel Johnson also flew with the famed Air Force Thunderbirds.

This is a photograph of Colonel Sam Johnson, United States Air Force.

But this day of April 16th, 1966, Colonel Johnson was shot down by ground fire from the North Vietnamese. He was captured, he was put in a prisoner of war camp, and, Mr. Speaker, he was in that POW camp for 7 years.

Because of the way that he would not give in to the torture and to the interrogation, they moved him to the famous ``Hanoi Hilton'' and a place called ``Alcatraz.'' Alcatraz was where 11 POWs were put because they were the most obstinate POWs, leaders of the other POWs. They were hard-nosed and they had to be segregated, and they called themselves the ``Alcatraz gang.'' They were defiant, and the North Vietnamese called this man right here ``Die Hard.'' They tortured him, but they got no information from him.

During those 7 years he was beaten and tortured, but he never broke down. So then they put him in solitary confinement for 4 years in a cell 3-feet-wide by 9 feet, and he was there for 4 years. During that 4 years, all that was in that cell was a lightbulb that they kept on 24 hours a day. During the nighttime, they put him into leg irons, and during that 4 years, he never saw or talked to another American.

While in the POW camp, he and the other POWs communicated with each other with a code by tapping on the wall, and during that time he memorized the names of 374 other POWs. He kept that memory going so that when he got away or was released or escaped, he would be able to tell their loved ones who they were and where they were.

The torture continued every day. One example was this: One morning the North Vietnamese took him out of his cell and lined him up to shoot him. They told him they were going to kill him in a firing squad. They lined him up. Armed with AK-47s, they pulled the trigger, but there was no ammunition in those AK-47s. They laughed and made fun of Colonel Sam, and all he said was, ``Is that the best you can do?''

For food he ate weeds, pig fat and rice. He went down from 200 pounds to 120 pounds. And after 7 years of confinement, he was finally released with other POWs. He suffered torture and broken bones during that time that he still suffers from today.

He continued to serve in the United States Air Force for 29 total years. While he was in that POW camp, his wife back home in Texas, Shirley, had known that he was shot down, but she didn't know for 2 years where Sam was, whether he was alive, dead, or missing in action. They have now been married for 60 years.

After he left the United States Air Force, he served in the statehouse in Texas, had his own business, and then in 1991 he came and served with distinction here in the United States Congress.

Today, Colonel Sam celebrates his 80th birthday. Down the street, he and a lot of friends, Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and family, are honoring him on his birthday.

You know, Sam returned home to the United States after his torture and confinement in the POW camps. You notice right here, this patch, Mr. Speaker? You see what this patch says, which is from the 31st Fighter Wing? It says ``Return With Honor.''

Sam Johnson returned to America with honor. He is a special breed. He is the American breed. Where does America find such men as Sam Johnson? He is one of those. And he is that special warrior during even the time he was a captive warrior that never forsook his duty and never forsook his honor.

So, Colonel Sam, we thank you for your service to the United States of America during war and during peacetime. Thank you for serving this great country. You are truly a hero among us.

Here are the commendations that Colonel Sam Johnson received while serving in the United States Air Force:

2 Silver Stars 2 Legions of Merit Distinguished Flying Cross Bronze Star w/Combat ``V'' (Valor) 2 Purple Hearts 4 Air Medals POW Medal 3 USAF Outstanding Unit Citations

And that's just the way it is.