Through his leadership and support, the Vietnam Center received federal funding for the Virtual Vietnam Archive.
Former U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, who worked tirelessly to benefit troops and veterans following his own 29-year career in the U.S. Air Force, died Wednesday (May 27) at the age of 89. Johnson leaves a legacy of service and support for America's defenders, embodied by his namesake, the Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University.
A fighter pilot, Johnson flew combat missions in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars and endured nearly seven years as a prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, including 42 months in solitary confinement. He chronicled his experience in his autobiography, "Captive Warriors," and in an oral history now housed in the Vietnam Center and Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive (VNCA) at Texas Tech, the nation's largest and most comprehensive nongovernment collection of information on the Vietnam War.
"Many students come to Texas Tech to study the war that Sam Johnson served in and that nearly cost him his life," said Ron Milam, executive director for the Institute for Peace & Conflict, within which the VNCA is situated. "They will forever be able to learn not only about his service, but also about the many who served with him through the Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive. We are proud to display his name on our millions of archival holdings."
As soon as he learned of the VNCA, Johnson agreed to participate in the facility's oral history project, and his late wife, Shirley, donated her personal collection of papers and materials. At the time, the center had just started its Virtual Vietnam Archive, a project to digitize the collections in the Vietnam Archive, for which Johnson became an advocate.
Through Johnson's leadership and unwavering support, the VNCA received $3.4 million in federal funding for the Virtual Vietnam Archive, which allowed for the digitization of historical documents, providing millions of students, scholars, teachers, veterans and researchers around the globe with free internet access to these important materials. The Virtual Vietnam Archive now includes more than 10 million pages of material.
"We are profoundly saddened by the death of Congressman Sam Johnson and extend to his family and friends our heartfelt condolences," said Steve Maxner, director of the VNCA. "Congressman Johnson's extensive military and political careers reflected his deeply held commitment to serving our state and our nation. A Vietnam veteran and Vietnam prisoner of war for nearly seven years, Congressman Johnson remained a tireless supporter of our nation's veterans, for their health and well-being, but also to preserve their historical legacy of service and sacrifice during war. All of us at Texas Tech are very proud to be a part of that legacy.
"He provided early support for our mission to collect and preserve the history of the Vietnam War and played a critical role in supporting our project to digitize and make our historical collections freely available via the internet. We are greatly honored to have a named legacy for him and his family at the Vietnam Center and Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive. We will be forever grateful for his kindness and support, and for his unwavering devotion in service to our nation."
After his military service, Johnson returned home to the Dallas area, where he served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1985 to 1991 and in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to January 2019. He was the oldest sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the last Korean War veteran to serve in Congress.
Johnson received numerous awards, including 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. In 2009, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society bestowed on him its highest civilian accolade, the National Patriot Award, for his tireless work on behalf of troops, veterans and freedom.