WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 -
Madam Speaker, the date was April 16, 1966. The pilot was Sam Johnson, United States Air Force. He was a 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.
But on that day, April 16, 1966, Colonel Johnson in his F 4 was shot down by ground fire by the North Vietnamese. He was captured, and he was put in a prisoner of war camp. Madam 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, the enemy moved him to the famous Hanoi Hilton, a place they called "Alcatraz." It was as bad a POW camp that ever existed in history. Alcatraz was where 11 POWs were put because they were the most obstinate men, and they were leaders of other POWs. They were hard-nosed, and they had to be segregated. They called themselves the "Alcatraz gang." They were defiant, and the North Vietnamese called this man right here, Colonel Sam Johnson, "Die Hard."
They tortured him, but they got no information from him. During that time, that 7 years he was beaten and tortured, Sam Johnson never broke down. He was so obstinate that they finally decided to put him in solitary confinement where he remained for 4 years in a cell that was 3-feet-wide by 9-feet. During that 4 years, all that was in that cell was a light bulb above his head that the enemy kept on for 24 hours a day. During the nighttime, they put Sam Johnson in leg irons, and during that 4 years, he never saw or talked to another American.
While in the POW camp, he and other POWs communicated with each other with a code by tapping on the wall, and during that time, he memorized the names of the other 374 POWs in captivity. 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. It was brutal, it was harsh, it was cruel, it was mean.
The enemy laughed and made fun of Colonel Sam, and all he ever said was, Is that the best you can do? For food, he ate weeds and pig fat and rice, and he went from 200 pounds to 120 pounds. After 7 years of confinement, on February 12, 1973, 39 years ago this week, Colonel Sam Johnson was finally released.
After his release, Colonel Johnson continued to serve in the United States Air Force for a total of 29 years. While he was in that POW camp, back home in Texas, his wife, Shirley, knew he'd been shot down, but she didn't know what had happened to him for 2 years--whether he was alive, dead, or missing in action.
After he left the United States Air Force, he served in the State house in Texas. He had his own business, and then in 1991, he came to the House of Representatives, where he continues to serve with distinction and to represent the folks from Texas.
Sam Johnson returned to America with honor. He is a special breed. He is the American breed. He is that special warrior, even during the time he was a captive warrior, who never forsook his duty and never forsook his honor.
Colonel Sam and other Vietnam veterans were not only treated badly in Vietnam, but many who returned were treated poorly by America. These vets had no welcome home parades. They were cursed and they were spit upon. America did not really appreciate those old warhorses from Vietnam.
So, to Colonel Sam and all who served in Vietnam, welcome home, welcome home, welcome home.
Some served and returned. Some served and did not return. Some served with the wounds of war.
So, to Colonel Sam Johnson, we appreciate your service because the worst casualty of war is to be forgotten.
And that's just the way it is.