Opinion

Attacks On Freedom Of Religion Resemble My Time In The Hanoi Hilton

Photo of Rep. Sam Johnson
Rep. Sam Johnson
Congressman, Texas 3rd District
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      Rep. Sam Johnson

      Sam Johnson returned home to Texas after serving in the U.S. Air Force for 29-years as a highly decorated fighter pilot. He flew combat missions in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars and was a Prisoner of War in Hanoi for nearly seven years.

      After his distinguished military career, Johnson started a home-building business from scratch and served in the Texas legislature. In 1991, he embarked on a new mission of service to his country - representing the people of Texas’ Third District in the United States Congress.

      A vocal advocate of less government and lower taxes, Johnson sits on the prestigious Ways and Means Committee. Johnson serves as the Ranking Member on the Social Security Subcommittee. In 2009, Johnson was recognized by his peers as the “most admired” Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

      One of a handful of combat veterans in Congress, Johnson has led the charge to stand up for the troops on the ground – regardless of the political posturing in Washington, DC.

      In 2007, Johnson authored a proposal to fully-fund all troops in harm’s way. In fact, Johnson spent the anniversary of his homecoming from captivity, February 12, 2007, pleading with a House panel to include his measure as part of the House debate on the future of the troops in Iraq. Johnson insisted, “I know what it’s like to be far from home and hear that your country AND your Congress don’t care about you. Our troops stand up for us every minute of every day. We must stand up for them in Congress. To our troops, we must remain always faithful.”

      After growing up in Dallas and graduating from SMU, Johnson began his 29-year career in the U.S. Air Force at the young age of 20. Johnson served as director of the Air Force Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun) and was one of two authors of the air tactics manual revolutionizing military air dominance by incorporating three-dimensional flight.

      During the Korean War, Johnson flew 62 combat missions in his F-86, stationed just 25 miles away from the front lines. In his plane, Shirley’s Texas Tornado, Johnson scored one MiG fighter kill, one probable and one damaged. While Johnson took his share of enemy gunfire and flak, he emerged from the war unscathed.

      Back at Nellis AFB in Nevada, Johnson flew the solo and slot positions for the world-renowned Air Force Thunderbirds precision flying demonstration team in the F-100 super sabre.

      In the Vietnam War during his first tour of duty, he worked at Military Assistance Command in Vietnam (MACV) headquarters in Saigon, helping coordinate the first B-52 strikes under General Westmoreland.

      During Johnson’s second tour, he flew F-4 Phantom combat missions with the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in Thailand. During his second tour of duty, Johnson flew his 25th combat mission on April 16, 1966. Shot down at dusk over North Vietnam, Johnson suffered a broken right arm, dislocated left shoulder and a broken back. It was these injuries that the enemy captors would use in their constant efforts to glean information from Johnson.

      Johnson spent nearly seven years as a prisoner of war, 42 months in solitary confinement. Forced into solitary when his captors labeled him a “die-hard,” Johnson committed 374 names to memory from tapping a special code on the prison wall. “We were all trying to memorize names in case anybody got out,” Johnson remembers.

      While held in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, Johnson spent 72 days in leg stocks. A day after that torture ended, his captors forced him into leg irons for 2 ½ years. Weighing 200 lbs when shot down, an emaciated Johnson got down to an estimated 120 lbs while barely surviving on the occasional “meal” of weeds from the river, pig fat, white rice, or pumpkin soup.

      Fellow POW Capt. James Mulligan, USN (Ret.) recalled the day Johnson was allowed to return to a joint cell. He walked into the room with the two other detained American officers, “stood at attention with tears in his eyes, and said simply, ‘Lieutenant Colonel Sam Johnson reporting for duty, sir’…after he had not talked to or directly been with an American for three and a half years.”

      Johnson chronicles his POW experience in solitary confinement in his autobiography, Captive Warriors. The book details the stories of eleven of the self-named “Alcatraz Gang,” including great American patriots, such as Jeremiah Denton, Jim Stockdale and Jim Mulligan.

      Other career highlights include: attending army jump school during the Cuban Missile Crisis and experiencing five nuclear bomb explosions at the Nevada test site. Johnson flew through one nuclear explosion to gauge the effects to the plane, later joking, “Why didn’t they want to know the effects on the pilot?” A graduate of the National War College, Johnson served as Wing Commander of the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Homestead AFB in Florida flying F-4s and Air Division Commander at Holloman AFB in New Mexico flying F-15s, where he retired a Colonel.

      A decorated combat veteran and war hero, Johnson was awarded two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, one Bronze Star with Valor, two Purple Hearts, four Air Medals, and three Outstanding Unit Awards.

      Sam Johnson is married to the former Shirley L. Melton of Dallas. They are proud parents of three children and grandparents to ten.

Where do you see this country heading, and is today’s America the kind of place you want to leave to your children and grandchildren?

One of the cornerstones of our Republic, the freedom of religion, is under attack by a power-thirsty White House set on making and then breaking its own rules.  This is not the land of liberty I know and love. Sadly, egregious violations of our cherished freedom of religion reminds me of the infamous Hanoi Hilton. Every American should be alarmed.

You see, I endured painful torture at the hands of communists. I brutally experienced what it’s like to truly lose the privilege to worship as you see fit. As a prisoner of war in Vietnam for almost seven years, more than half of that time in solitary confinement, I withered away in a cell block so isolating it could only be called Alcatraz.

In a report by Senator Ted Cruz entitled “The Legal Limit Report Number Four: The Obama Administration’s Abuse of Power,” he boldly details an administration “governing by executive fiat,” with 76 lawless actions.

By reading the report on cruz.senate.gov, you’ll learn about the gross examples of the administration brazenly eradicating long-held rights.  Profiled in the report under “Other Lawless Acts,” the administration “muzzled the speech of military chaplains.” News articles report that the administration threatened priests with arrest if they ministered to the military during the government shutdown. That’s just gross.

Stopping men and women in uniform from praying with a priest reminds me of my time in the Hanoi Hilton. After we POWs defied strict camp orders and created our own worship service, our captors marched out Robbie Risner at gunpoint for more torture sessions, probably on the ropes or the meat hook. So emboldened by the simple act of community worship, we broke out into patriotic songs like “God Bless America” and works of that magnitude. (My friend Robbie later recounted how he felt such immense pride in our act of rebellion, he felt 9 feet tall and could go bear hunting with a stick!)

I feel especially concerned about the abuse of power with Obamacare and how it squashes long-held religious protections. While Ted lists ten points of lawlessness in Obamacare, I want you to understand how the fatally-flawed law illegally forces people to violate their personal faith with the contraception mandate. Specifically, even if it violates their long-held religious convictions, employers must offer employees all forms of contraception, including Plan B to terminate a pregnancy. This breaks my heart.

One of the building blocks and most beautiful aspects about our economy is free enterprise. In America, you are employed at will. Unlike Fidel Castro’s Cuba, you are not told where to work or what to do. That is a privilege that countless people in many parts of the world still don’t enjoy in 2014.

Sadly, in the name of appeasing the pro-abortion advocates like Wendy Davis, President Obama wants to force people who run a business of a certain size to violate their faith or close down. How does Obama’s Plan B promotion agenda further freedom or free enterprise? It smacks of crony coddling.

(To learn more about the contraception mandate, I suggest reading Rick Warren’s op-ed on religious liberty published in the Washington Post on March 21, 2014.)

It’s widely reported that in June the Supreme Court will rule on the case Sebelius v Hobby Lobby.  I urge you to pray for the heart of this nation and the hearts of the Supreme Court justices. Pray that each justice may feel called to protect the long-held heritage of freedom of religion. Pray the devout owners of Hobby Lobby find favor and the sanctity of life receives protection from the Supreme Court.