Texas Rep. Sam Johnson donated possessions from his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam to the Smithsonian Institute.
The Republican donated a tin cup and a tube of toothpaste he smuggled from the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner of war camp from his seven years held captive after he was shot down.
Johnson was held for seven years at the prison and spent 42 months in solitary confinement.
The tin cup that he donated was used by POWs to hear taps on adjacent cell walls as a means of communication.
“We would hold our cups against the wall and it served as an amplifier to hear the tap code,” Johnson said. “This way, the North Vietnamese couldn’t hear us tapping. It was how were able to communicate so well without them catching us.”
Johnson donated the two items that will be on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Jennifer Jones, who is the curator of the Armed Forces History Division, said the items are a first for a living POW.
“Every object tells its own story. The story that we can tell with these objects is [Johnson’s] story, but also the story of America’s POWs,” she said.
The items will be on display at an exhibit called “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.”
In the ceremony at the museum, Johnson quoted a line that was inscribed on a cell wall by a fellow POW.
“Freedom has a taste to those who fight and almost die that the protected will never know,” he said. “God bless you. God bless America. You guys keep working for our freedom. I salute you.”
Johnson announced in January that he will retire at the end of his 13th term.
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