Valor Friday

| June 25, 2021

James “Nick” Rowe

It’s been a busy week around my AO, so I’m gonna have to keep this VF post short. Our subject came up in another post and I thought it was worth highlighting more prominently.

The US Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) Command Historian has this to say about the life and times of James “Nick” Rowe, who would serve in the Army from 1960-1974 and again from 1981-1989 (his death);

Asthe Executive Officer of Special Forces (SF) Operational Detachment A-23, 5th Special Forces Group (SFG), then-1LT James N. ‘Nick’ Rowe, along with MSG Daniel L. Pitzer and CPT Humberto R. ‘Rocky’ Versace were captured by Viet Cong in October 1963. Rowe spent the next 62 months isolated in close confinement. He was repeatedly tortured and threatened with execution. On New Year’s Eve, 1968, Rowe overpowered his guards, escaped, and was rescued by a passing American helicopter.

In 1981, LTC Rowe developed a rigorous Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course for high-risk military personnel that is now a requirement of Special Operations training.

In April 1989, while being driven to work, COL Rowe (Chief of the Joint U.S. Military Advisor Group [JUSMAG], Philippines) was assassinated by the Communist terrorist group, the New People’s Army. The SF training area at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, was renamed the Rowe Training Facility in his honor.

Rowe and his compatriots were some of the first Americans taken prisoner. These earliest POWs endured especially harsh treatment from the enemy in North Vietnam.

You will probably recognize the name Rocky Versace. He earned a posthumous Medal of Honor for his steadfast and inspirational resistance to the enemy after the three men were captured. When last they heard the emaciated captain, whose hair had turned white while in captivity, he was loudly singing “God Bless America.” 

Daniel Pritzer was held as a POW, enduring unending psychological and physical torture, until being released in Cambodia in November 1967. He received both the Silver Star and Bronze Star Medal for his service in Vietnam (inclusive of his time as a prisoner on both awards). He ultimately retired as a command sergeant major.

Rowe meanwhile, like his friends and fellow Green Berets, resisted everything the enemy inflicted on them. By 1968, the enemy was sick of Rowe and his continued resistance. He was scheduled to be executed in late December of that year. While moving him through the dense jungle of the U Minh forest, Rowe was able to engage in an incredible escape.

Rowe received the Silver Star for his escape (which seems to be at least one grade below a fitting award if you ask me). I’ll let that citation provide the details;

Silver Star

AWARDED FOR ACTIONS
DURING Vietnam War
Service: Army
Division: Prisoner of War (South Vietnam)
GENERAL ORDERS:
Department of the Army, General Orders No. 33 (May 23, 1969)

CITATION:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 8, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Major (Field Artillery) James Nicholas “Nick” Rowe (ASN: 0-91033), United States Army, for gallantry in action on 31 December 1968, while a prisoner of the Viet Cong in the U Minh Forest of South Vietnam. During the period 22 to 31 December 1968, after more than five years in Viet Cong prison camps, Major Rowe was forced by his captors to move at least twice daily to avoid friendly airstrikes. On 31 December at approximately 0900 hours, two helicopter gunships began firing into an area approximately 300 meters from his location. The guard detail consisted of one Viet Cong cadreman and five guards, one of whom was assigned to remain with Major Rowe at all times. The guard detail, while monitoring a radio, learned that South Vietnamese infantrymen were searching the terrain nearby. Becoming frightened, the guards moved Major Rowe into a large field of reeds, hoping to evade the infantry force. Major Rowe realized that if he were to escape, he must first get away from some of his guards, so he tricked them into splitting into smaller groups in order to exfiltrate the area. Major Rowe persuaded his one remaining guard that they were being surrounded and kept him moving in a circle through the dense underbrush. While doing so, Major Rowe was able to remove the magazine from the weapon slung across his guard’s back. Finding a club, he overpowered his guard, knocking him unconscious, seized his radio, and moved 200 meters into a grassy area. At great personal risk he quickly cleared a section and signaled one of the circling helicopters, which landed and picked him up. His first action after rescue was to request permission to re-enter the area with combat troops and to continue the fight based upon his intimate knowledge of the area. Major Rowe’s burning determination to escape, undiminished after five years of intimidation and deprivation, his clear-headedness in formulating an effective plan, and his audacity in executing it successfully, reflect the highest credit on his professionalism and extraordinary courage and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.

Catch the balls on that guy. He’s suffered for five years brutal torture at the hands of the enemy. He literally beats off his guard, clears and designates an LZ alone, and signals a friendly aircraft down to pick him up (not easy to do in the thick jungles of Vietnam).

With his first taste of freedom, there isn’t a person in the world that would begrudge him for wanting to go back to base as fast as humanly possible for a beer, a steak, and to book a ticket home. One man took issue with what would be the normal plan for a freed prisoner after half a decade; Rowe himself. His first thought was to go back into the fight, leading troops immediately into the field to use his intimate knowledge of the situation on the ground.

That’s a type of leadership I don’t think you can teach. In addition to the Silver Star, Rowe received two Bronze Star Medals (one w/ “V” and one for meritorious service) during this timeframe. He left active duty in 1974 and switched to the Army Reserve as a major. He was recalled as a lieutenant colonel to active duty in 1981. His primary tasking was to help create the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school that’s part of the Army’s Special Forces training pipeline.

In 1989, while serving in an advisory capacity to the government of the Philippines, training them on counter-insurgency operations, his armored limousine was attacked. Now a full colonel, Rowe was struck in the head by a bullet that came through an unarmored portion of the car and was instantly killed.

Check out the awards and decorations Colonel Rowe earned;

Category: Army, Historical, POW, Real Soldiers, Silver Star, Valor, We Remember

Comments (15)

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  1. Ocean12 says:

    I remember reading a book about Col. Rowe when I was young and my only thought was… this guy is an hell of an American

    • Sgt K says:

      Same here.

    • rgr769 says:

      I still have Rowe’s book “Five Years to Freedom.” It is an impressive read on the triumph of the human will to survive. IIRC, Rowe was to be executed by his communist VC captors because their higher authorities had discovered his true identity and background as an SF officer. For years he had fooled his captors and interrogators into believing he was an engineer and knew nothing on value to his captors. Thus, he was sentenced to death. He suspected he was being moved to another camp where he would likely be executed. So, he knew it was now or never if he wanted to survive.

      After several years of captivity, Rowe learned to speak fluent Vietnamese, so he was able to understand everything he overheard from his guards. I love how he had that last guard wandering around in circles before he killed him.

  2. 2banana says:

    The unknown story is the Army had to send a CH47 to help the Huey lift LTC Rowe because of the size of his balls.

    I have been through his SERE training.

    You think it is very hard and even brutal.

    Then, after “liberation”, we had real POWs from Vietnam and Korea talk with us. Yeah, now our training seems like a picnic in comparison.

    We all had these POWs sign our graduation certificates. One of my most treasured possessions the army ever gave me.

    • Black Bart says:

      Ditto, I still have mine as well. It’s way cooler than any award I’ve ever received.

    • rgr1480 says:

      I went through the USAF version in 1974. It must have been a picnic compared to the Army SERE training.

      Still, it was the best school (except for Ranger & Airborne) that I’ve attended. The last day, on parade, when we were forced to turn about and salute the Peoples Democratic Republic’s flag ….

      You guys know what I mean.

  3. KoB says:

    Harcore thru and thru. Another soldier’s soldier. Reading the stories of these Warriors, what they did, and what they went thru just emphasizes what POSes these Valor Thieves are. ‘specially the ones that claim POW of PH status. Put the POSes thru what a real POW went thru…or give them a HANO.

    “…reenter the area with combat troops and continue the fight…”

    Battery Gun Salute…PREPARE….FIRE!!!

  4. CplMajor Mike says:

    He wouldn’t make it in today’s Army!!

    • rgr769 says:

      In today’s Army, which is inculcated with this bogus race BS, Rowe would resign his commission and be on TuCa’s show with a week thereafter to denounce what the effing Progs are doing to our military.

  5. Berliner says:

    Big Brass ones… I did get giggly and got several looks from others earlier while waiting with a friend’s wife at the Seattle VA Hospital for her husband to get out of surgery from getting 2 new stents implanted after I drove them there for an ER visit.

    The comment that triggered me was “He literally beats off his guard”. I had to explain to the wife (Filipina) that statement could mean two things, one being that he fought the guard and the other he gave the guard a handjob.

    Then I joked with her that since the VA is now doing gender reassignment surgery that maybe her husband could get another procedure before they fly back to Manila.

    Luckily, the bruise she gave me was mild.

  6. Andy says:

    I met him when I was a young E2 at Fort Ord, CA in the 80s. All the while we were talking to him (more him talking to us) I was thinking I would hate to be the guy to piss him off.

  7. AW1Ed says:

    I have three Navy documents worthy of my ego wall- My Aircrew Wings, Honorable Discharge, and SERE Completion Cert.
    Another great write-up, Mason. Thanks.

  8. Steve says:

    I first heard of Rowe the other week when someone pretended to be a quarter of the man he is.

    Great story, thanks for posting.

  9. Bones says:

    He was the Ist SpWarTng Bn Commander when I went through the Q-course, he said that his last duty before PCS-ing to Manila, Philippines was to award us ur SF Tabs and certificates.

    He was killed by Communists 2 years later.

    I, and the others were and are honored to have been awarded our Tabs by this American hero.