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Congressman's gifts to SMU reflect life of service

Sam Johnson creates scholarship fund, donates archive to alma mater

October 6, 2017

Sam JohnsonDALLAS (SMU) – As venerable statesman and decorated war hero Sam Johnson ’51 prepares to leave Congress at the end of 2018, he is making two gifts to SMU that will support the education of military veterans and preserve for future study papers and materials from his distinguished life and career.

Johnson’s gift of $100,000 to SMU will establish The Hon. Sam Johnson Endowed Military Scholarship Fund, with the Collin County Business Alliance (CCBA) providing seed funding to make the scholarship operational for the 2018-2019 academic year. Members of the student U.S. Military Veterans of SMU (SMU MilVets) will join the CCBA for the scholarship gift announcement at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, in the Walnut Foyer of the Capital One Conference Center at 8036 Dominion Parkway in Plano.

Johnson’s dedication to public service spans a 29-year military career and 26 years in the U.S. Congress.  SMU’s Board of Trustees and President R. Gerald Turner will celebrate the creation of the scholarship and the donation of his historic papers and other materials to the University’s special collections repository at an on-campus reception in his honor at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 20, in Fondren Library.

“SMU helped shape me into the person I am today, and I can’t think of a better way to say thank you to my alma mater than with this scholarship and library gift,” Johnson said. “I’m grateful to join SMU in making a commitment to the military and its families by helping these deserving individuals achieve their higher education. And I’m hopeful that this library archive will help inspire future generations to build a legacy of service on behalf of others and our great nation.” 

Johnson’s archive will be housed in DeGolyer Library, SMU’s special collections repository.

“We have always been proud to hold up Sam Johnson as an example to our students,” Turner said.  “His courage and strength of character helped him survive nearly seven years as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. The military veterans on our campus who benefit from his support will be doubly proud that their scholarships carry his name, and we will all benefit from the donation of his archive.”

SMU and the Johnson family welcome additional contributions to The Hon. Sam Johnson Endowed Military Scholarship Fund. Contributions may be made here.

“Congressman Sam Johnson has made a tremendous, positive impact on our community that will continue to be felt by generations to come. His distinguished legacy endures with his scholarship for military students, which will widen opportunities for deserving men and women who have unselfishly served our country,” said CCBA Chairman and President, Capital One Financial Services, Sanjiv Yajnik.

Johnson received a Distinguished Alumni Award from SMU in 1994, the highest honor the University bestows on its graduates.

Johnson, 86, grew up in Dallas.  He began his long career in public service in ROTC at SMU, where he also was a member of Delta Chi and Alpha Kappa Psi fraternities and graduated from SMU in 1951 with a B.B.A. in insurance and real estate. He and Shirley Melton Johnson ’51 married the year before they graduated. Mrs. Johnson passed away in 2015.

Johnson joined the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and as a Korean War pilot, flew 62 combat missions in his F-86 – named “Shirley’s Texas Tornado” for his wife.

Sam JohnsonIn 1966, Johnson was flying his 25th combat mission over North Vietnam, when enemy fire brought down his F-4 Phantom. He endured nearly seven years of torture and isolation as a POW in a prison named “Alcatraz” by his prison-mate Admiral James Stockdale.  About a mile from the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison, Alcatraz held 11 POWs that were the most resistant to their North-Vietnamese captors.  Johnson and these men were held to the floor in ankle shackles and tortured regularly.

Johnson shared the details of his POW experience in his autobiography, Captive Warriors. His family’s experience during his years as a captive inspired his advocacy for veterans and their families and the new military scholarship at SMU.

During his 29-year career in the U.S. Air Force, Johnson served as the director of the Air Force Fighter Weapons School and was one of two authors of the air tactics manual that is still used today.

Medals awarded to Johnson during his distinguished military career include two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star with Valor, two Purple Hearts, four Air Medals, and three Outstanding Unit Awards. Two cases of medals and a POW-MIA bracelet stamped with his name and “4-16-66,” the date his plane was shot down in Vietnam, will be displayed at the Oct. 20 event in Fondren Library.

After retiring as a colonel from the Air Force in 1979, Johnson started a home-building business in North Dallas. He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1985, where he served until winning the race for Texas’ 3rd congressional district in 1991. Johnson announced in a January letter to his constituents that he plans to retire at the end of his term in 2018.

The Republican congressman serves as Deputy Whip and is a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means where he has served as chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee since 2011. He also sits on the Health Subcommittee.

In 2009, Johnson’s peers recognized him as the “most admired” Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor Society bestowed their highest civilian accolade, the National Patriot Award, to him for his tireless work on behalf of the troops, veterans and freedom.  In 2016, Johnson received the Bipartisan Policy Center’s first Congressional Patriot Award, sharing the stage with Democratic recipient Congressman John Lewis of Georgia.

As an alumnus, Johnson has served on the executive board of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and on the board of directors of the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, where he currently serves as an honorary board member.

 “Congressman Johnson has been an extraordinary servant leader, and his gifts to SMU continue that tradition,” said Brad Cheves, SMU vice president for Development and External Affairs. “It comes as no surprise to us that he remains focused on the good that he can do for his fellow Mustangs and military families.”

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