Texas Rep. Sam Johnson — one member that colleagues of both parties routinely refer to as “ a hero” and “great American” — was honored October 10 for being precisely that by a group of the most honored Americans of all.
Johnson, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot during the Vietnam War who was a prisoner of war for seven years, received the coveted National Patriot Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
The award is a medallion that is awarded annually, according to its sponsors, “to distinguished Americans who exemplify the ideals that make our country strong. Their dedication to freedom evidences no limitations, their love of fellow man is not qualified, their allegiance to our flag with a full understanding of its demands is without reservation.”
Colleagues, constituents, and reporters who cover him would almost surely agree that this characterization fits Johnson (who turned 79 on the day after receiving the Patriot Award) to a tee. Having flown 87 combat missions in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Johnson’s F-4 was shot down over North Vietnam in 1966. Imprisoned at the notorious “Hanoi Hilton,” tortured to the limit of human endurance, left with a limp and disfigured hand and other injuries which ail him to this day, the soft-spoken Texan finally walked out a free man in 1973 after U.S. bombing forced North Vietnam to the peace table.
“And when all of us [former POWs] went to a gala event at the White House, we thanked President Nixon and [Secretary of State] Henry Kissinger for bringing us home,” Johnson recalled to HUMAN EVENTS reporters, noting that the White House event for their homecoming in 1973 was one of the last public appearances by Irving Berlin (who led the audience in singing “God Bless America.”).
Johnson would go on to launch a successful homebuilding business, win a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1984, and then go to Congress in 1991. Today, he serves on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and was a key point-man on the U.S. effort in Iraq. Quite often, Johnson’s spirited defense of funding for Iraq put him at odds on the House floor with a fellow Vietnam veteran, Rep. John Murtha (D.-Penn.).
But rather than talking the issues he deals with in Congress or even his award, Johnson preferred to talk to us about the brave band of brothers who honored him. Referring to the dinner at the Dallas Galleria Westin at which he received the National Patriot Award days before he met with us, Johnson said that “there was a Medal of Honor winner at every table, and just being with guys like that made me shudder. They are the best of America, no doubt about it. And the guys who couldn’t be there, like those who gave their lives by falling on a live grenade to save their fellow servicemen, they are the greatest example of America at its best.”
As to how the heroes who honored him feel about the Obama administration, Johnson pulled no punches. In his words, “Everyone is worried about the freedom, about the prestige, and about the future of America’s military.”
Since the National Patriot Award was established in 1968, honorees of the Medal of Honor Society have included presidents (Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) captains of industry (Lee Iaccoca and Ross Perot), office-holders who served in uniform (Sens. Bob Dole of Kansas and Rep. Floyd Spence of South Carolina), entertainers (Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart), and religious leaders (Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans).
Johnson, to use a well-used phrase, is in good company, company that is most appropriate for him.