Johnson served 29 years in the United States Air Force, flying combat missions in both the Korean War and Vietnam before retiring in 1979 as a colonel. In 1966, during Vietnam, he survived torture as a prisoner of war for seven years at the Hanoi Hilton.
The day that Johnson returned to Plano after being released as a prisoner of war, Feb. 12, 1973, is documented as a memorable moment in Plano’s city timeline.
“I always addressed him as 'Colonel'—to me he was Col. Sam Johnson,” Plano city council member Rick Grady said during a virtual meeting May 28.
After retiring from the military, Johnson began a political career in 1984 by securing a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. The Republican lawmaker was later elected into Congress in 1991 and served Texas’ third congressional district until 2019. This district includes Plano, McKinney and Frisco, as well as portions of Dallas in Collin County.
"For twenty-eight years, Sam Johnson represented the Third Congressional District with honor, respect, and, in true Texas fashion, with a whole lot of heart,” said Van Taylor, who now serves in the congressional seat. “I am blessed to have known Sam and to have been able to learn so much from him.”
In 2018, the city of Plano renamed its senior recreation center in honor of Johnson. When it reopened after renovations in 2019, the center was named the Sam Johnson Recreation Center for Adults 50+.
The city of Plano released a statement recognizing Johnson’s many years of military and political service May 28.
“Rest in Peace, dear Sam," the statement read. "We mourn your passing, while honoring the distinguished service and deep commitment you showed to our country and our community.”