Remembering Sam Johnson ‘51

Sam Johnson in plane
Sam Johnson, 1951

Yesterday the SMU community lost one of its distinguished alumni. Sam Johnson was an Air Force pilot, Texas legislator, United States Congressman, and proud SMU Mustang. He grew up in Dallas and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School. Johnson married his SMU college sweetheart, Shirley Melton, in 1950 before earning a business degree in 1951.  After college, Johnson began his military career as a fighter pilot in the Korean War, and as a member of the Thunderbirds.


Sam Johnson with Thunderbirds

During the Vietnam War his plane was shot down, and he was captured and made a prisoner of war for almost seven years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton and “Alcatraz,” a designated area of solitary confinement for the most intransigent prisoners. Johnson’s 1992 memoir, Captive Warriors: A Vietnam POW’s Story, details his experience. After he was freed in 1973, Johnson returned to active duty and retired a colonel in 1979 with numerous military honors.

In the early 1980s, Johnson made Plano his home and he began a political career. He served seven years in the Texas legislature before running for United States Congress in 1991. Sam Johnson represented Texas’ 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives for 29 years before retiring in 2019. He was known as a conservative who supported lower taxes and smaller government.


Sam Johnson Highway sign
Sam Johnson Highway sign in his former district office in Plano, Texas

In 2018 Sam Johnson donated his congressional papers to DeGolyer Library. His extensive paper and digital files are currently being processed, and include photographs, press materials, speeches, and research for legislation. In 2014 the stretch of US Highway 75 between President George Bush Turnpike and Highway 380 was named in his honor. His papers include the large highway sign and other memorabilia that document his long political career and community engagement. In addition to the gift of his papers, Johnson’s family created the Hon. Sam Johnson Endowed Military Scholarship Fund for SMU students:


The DeGolyer Library sends its sincerest sympathies to the family and friends of Sam Johnson.


Sam Johnson in 1951 SMU yearbook
Sam and Shirley Johnson
Sam and Shirley Johnson


Please contact for questions about Sam Johnson’s congressional papers in the DeGolyer Library.