Eagle Profile

Sam Johnson, a seven-year prisoner of war in Vietnam, endured nearly three years in “Alcatraz,” a top-secret, high-security facility reserved for the most resistant American prisoners during the Vietnam War. An only child from a middle-class family, Johnson grew up in Dallas and attended Southern Methodist University. After graduation from SMU in 1951, his AFROTC class was activated. Completing flight training in Florida, Texas and Nevada, Johnson became combat ready in the North American F-86 Sabre. He flew 62 combat missions over Korea in the 16th Fighter Squadron and scored at least one victory.

After Korea, he became a gunnery instructor at Nellis AFB, Nevada. In 1957, Johnson was selected to fly the North American F-100 Super Sabre with the “Thunderbirds.” Next, he flew the F-100 at Chaumont AB, France, and later, at Lakenheath AB, England. In 1961, back at Nellis AFB, he directed the Air Force Fighter Weapons School. He was one of the first USAF pilots to fly the McDonnell F-110 Phantom II (later F-4) and co-authored a fighter air tactics manual. After Armed Forces Staff College in 1963, he served on a provisional air division staff at Homestead AFB, Florida. As the Cuban Missile Crisis heightened, he went through Army parachute school to be part of the first wave into Cuba.

In late 1965, Johnson was assigned to Headquarters, Military Assistance Command Vietnam in Saigon. After treatment for a knee injury, in February 1966, he joined the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron in Thailand, as Operations Officer. On his 25th mission, his Phantom was hit. He and the “backseater” ejected! Imprisoned in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” Johnson defied the harshest torture that his captors could inflict. His fierce resistance made him one of 11 prisoners who were a special threat to their war efforts. They were isolated in a top-secret facility in the courtyard of North Vietnam’s ” Pentagon!” The inmates called it “Alcatraz” and for almost three years, the “alkies” endured merciless physical and mental torture. Johnson and 9 other survivors returned to the “Hanoi Hilton” in late 1969.

Released in 1973, he attended the National War College and after three operations on his arm and hand flew again. He became Deputy Commander for Operations and Vice Commander at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina. In 1976, Johnson became Wing Commander, 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, and in 1979 took command of tactical training at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. Colonel Johnson retired from the Air Force in 1979 and returned to Texas with his wife, Shirley. He served in the Texas State House from 1985-1991, then he ran for the U.S. Congress and won. Johnson proudly serves his district, his state, and his nation in Washington, D.C. today!

Years Honored:


1999 Lithograph

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