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Sam Johnson, Congressman and Former P.O.W., Is Dead at 89

  • May 31, 2020

Samuel Robert Johnson Jr. was born Oct. 11, 1930, in San Antonio to Samuel and Mima (Nabors) Johnson. His father was in the insurance business, and his mother worked for Western Union.

He graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas and attended Southern Methodist University there, from which he graduated in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, focusing on insurance and real estate.

After joining the Air Force, he flew 62 combat missions in the Korean War and 25 in the Vietnam War. He was shot down on that 25th mission, after the famously balky guns of his F-4 Phantom II jammed.

Parachuting out of the jet, which was on fire, he broke his back and his right arm and severely injured his left arm on striking the ground in North Vietnamese territory, where he was captured — a sequence of events that paralleled what happened to Mr. McCain.

At the Hanoi Hilton, the torture was unending. When not being interrogated or beaten in the rat-infested prison, Mr. Johnson was often immobilized in leg stocks, he recalled in “Captive Warriors: A Vietnam POW’s Story” (1992, with Jan Winebrenner).

Of Mr. Johnson’s nearly seven years in captivity, 42 months were in solitary confinement — the punishment for “hard-core resisters,” as he put it. These included Jeremiah A. Denton Jr., a Navy commander who, like Mr. McCain, would serve in the United States Senate, and James B. Stockdale, a decorated Navy pilot who would become Ross Perot’s running mate in his 1992 run for the presidency.

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