Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX), a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and a former prisoner in the Hanoi Hilton talked about his time in Vietnam during Saturday’s GOP Weekly Address, which focused on Veterans’ Day.
Transcript as Follows:
Wednesday is Veterans’ Day, and as you might imagine, it has a very special meaning for me. Today, I want to tell you why.
I served in the Air Force for 29 years. I flew combat missions in both the Korea and the Vietnam wars. And in 1966, when I was serving in Vietnam, I was shot down and taken prisoner. I spent nearly seven years in the Hanoi Hilton. And when I got out, I weighed about 140 pounds.
I got through those years by the grace and mercy of God and He gave me all the support I needed in my fellow POWs—great men like Jerry Denton and Jim Stockdale. We weren’t allowed to talk. So the first night in my cell—after I got out of the torture room—they taught me the tap code. The three of us did everything we could to fight back against our captors. So we were blacklisted as hardcore resisters.
Soon we were moved to the place we called ‘Alcatraz’ POW camp along with eight others. The 11 of us became the ‘Alcatraz Gang.’ There, we spent 42 months in solitary confinement with our legs shackled.
There was no news from home, and our captors did their best to make us feel forgotten. But my Alcatraz buddies and I were a family. We banded together, encouraged one another, and kept each other’s spirits up.
I still remember one night in particular. I had spent 74 days in leg irons, and it had been a long time since I had seen the sky and the sun. I felt finished. But that night, a typhoon tore through the city of Hanoi. The floor of my cell filled with water, and I huddled against the wall as far away from the rain as I could. I began to pray as I had never prayed before. And I felt a strange sense of peace in the darkness.
The next morning, my cell was flooded with the light of dawn. The storm had stopped. The boards off our window were taken off and I had an overwhelming sense of the presence of God at that moment. I knew I was going to be all right. And just a few hours later, guards came into my cell and removed my legs from the stocks.
Telling that story reminds me of something a fellow captive etched on one of the walls.
It read, ‘Freedom has a taste to those who fight and almost die that the protected will never know.’
You know, freedom isn’t free. It has a cost. And that cost is paid first by our veterans and their families—because when one member joins, it is the whole family that serves.
When our veterans come home, we should do all we can to make sure they get the care they need when they need it. That is the least we can do.
For now, I just want to wish all our servicemen and women a very happy Veterans’ Day.
God bless you all, and God bless America. I salute you.”
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