Sam Johnson has so many friends in the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association that recounting his illustrious career may be somewhat like 'gilding the lily'. Our association was honored and pleased to welcome him as featured speaker at our 11th reunion. Yet it is possible that some members may be unaware of the full scope of his many accomplishments.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1930, Sam graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1951. As an AFROTC grad, he soon found himself in flying school at Bartow, Fla., and Bryan AFB, Tex.; followed by Combat Crew Training at Nellis AFB in the F-80. His friend, Buzz Aldrin (another well-known F-86 pilot and moonwalker) was a flying school classmate.
Arriving in Korea in December 1952, Sam was able to get in 62 missions in the F-86 with the 39th FIS before the war ended; scoring one kill, one probable, and one damaged MiG. He advanced to flight leader as a first lieutenant, and it was a natural for him to return to Nellis as a gunnery instructor and StanEval pilot.
The Air Force knew it had a nugget in Sam Johnson, and selected him for a tour with the Thunderbirds, flying both Solo and Slot positions during 1957-58 in the F-100C Super Sabre. This began a long association with the 'Hun', which took him next to Chaumont, France, and Lakenheath, England. He returned to Nellis in December 1961, where he flew the F-100, F-l00, and the earliest models of the F-4 with the Air Force Fighter Weapons School.
Following professional schooling at the Armed Forces Staff College, Sam was once again flying the F-100 - this time at Homestead AFB, Fla, in support of the build-up during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He helped form the first DASC (Direct Air Support Center) with the US Army, going to Ft. Bragg where he earned his parachute wings.
Sam served two tours in Vietnam. The first tour was very short, while the second was very, very long. In September 1965, his DASC experience resulted in assignment to MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) headquarters, where he helped put together the first B-52 strikes. Unfortunately, he injured his knee and was sent home in December. Rehabilitation was at Carswell AFB, Tex., and he was back on flying status in February 1966.
He headed right back to Vietnam, flying F-4s with the 8th TFW at Ubon. Selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel in March 1966, Sam was shot down and taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese in April. His 'pinning on' was delayed until he returned home, which did not occur until February 1973. Of the six years and ten months he was held captive, half of that time was spent in solitary confinement, and he lost partial use of his right arm from beatings he received. In 1992, Sam wrote his account of this difficult time in his book, "Captive Warriors
After repatriation, it took three operations on his arm to finally get him back on flying status. Meanwhile, be attended the National War College along with a POW friend, John McCain, now a US Senator from Arizona. His operational career resumed in May 1974, when he became Deputy Commander for Operations, and later Vice Commander of the 4th TFW at Seymour Johnson AFB, NC. U.S. Representative Samuel Johnson, (R) Texas.
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