Who was Nick Rowe? Unless you are in a special forces group, a military history connoisseur, or a conspiracy theorist you probably would not have heard of him. . . . Oh wait . . . there are the materials he wrote Five Years to Freedom about his experience as a prisoner of war during Vietnam . . . and then there’s the SERE Manual . . . What is SERE? Oh, well, you see SERE is the training Colonel Rowe developed at the request of the US Army and used by all the services so there does not have to be any “on the job training” if someone is captured by the enemy. You see SERE stands for Survival Evade Resist Escape. It is based on then Lt Rowe’s 62 month experience as a prisoner of war and his escape.
Lets go back and start at the beginning. James Nicholas “Nick” Rowe was born in McAllen, TX on 08 February 1938. Graduated from high school and was admitted to United States Military Academy at West Point (West Point), New York. He graduated in 1960, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army. In 1963, 1st Lt. Rowe was sent to the Republic of Vietnam. He was assigned as an Executive Officer of Detachment A-23, 5th Special Forces Group. It was a 12-man “A-Team”. A-23 was located at Tan Phu in the An Xuyen Province. They advised a Civilian Irregular Defense Group encamped in the Mekong Delta region.
29 October 1963 Lt. Rowe, Captain Humberto R. “Rocky” Versace and Sergeant Daniel Pitzer, were captured by the Viet Cong (VC) during a fight and were imprisoned in the U Minh Forest in Southern Vietnam. For 62 months he battled dysentery, beriberi, various fungal diseases along with arduous psychological and physical torture. He lived in a bamboo cage, 3 x 4 x 6 feet in size. One of the most important factors was this . . . Nick Rowe was a SURVIVOR (emphasis added). Immediately he began looking for ways to resist his tormentors, and make escape plans.
Being an intelligence officer he knew it was vital to convince the VC he was unimportant. He was able to convince his captors he was a “draftee” engineer who was responsible for building school and community facilities. He assured them he knew very little about the military. After a test, the VC were convinced he was as he claimed. That only lasted until a “peace-seeking” group from the United States came to “insure the American POWs were safe and being treated humanely.” This group had a list of prisoners that included the names, but also the job duties while in Nam. When his captors saw this they were livid. Lt Rowe was brutally beaten, stripped and staked naked in the swamp. For two days he was blanketed by mosquitoes, despite their best efforts Rowe would not brake.
Scheduled for execution in late December 1968, Rowe successfully escaped in his “black pajamas” when a group of helicopters came into the area. At first the door gunner thought he was a VC since they wore “black pajamas”. Rowe convinced them who he was and they flew him to safety. He learned that he had been promoted to Major while he had been in captivity! For additional information read Five Years to Freedom.
For more information on Colonel James N. “Nick” Rowe there are several articles in Wikipedia, Military.com, History.com and several books written that are written about him or include him as subject matter. He was true gentle man, regardless what he endured. He loved his God, his family, and his country and gave his life for her in Quezon City, Philippines on 21 April 1989. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery Section 48 lot 2165-A.