Posted: May 25, 2020 in Uncategorized
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“We grow up with such an idealistic view on how our life should be; love, friendships, a career or even the place we will live ~ only to age and realise none of it is what you expected & reality is a little disheartening, when you’ve reached that realisation; you have learnt the gift of all, any new beginning can start now and if you want anything bad enough you’ll find the courage to pursue it with all you have. The past doesn’t have to be the future, stop making it so.”  Nikki Rowe

I was about 12 years old in McAllen, Texas where I was born, and this man would occasionally come to visit my uncle and have dinner, they were very close friends.  His name, as they called him, was Nikki Rowe.  Of course, what did I know, I was just 12 years old.  I just called him Nikki.  My uncle even named one of his sons after him.  When my father died back in 2011, a Normandy Vet, I went back to bury him in McAllen, and I saw that the City named a main street and school after him.  This is Col. Rowe’s story.

On October 29, 1963, after only three months in country, Rowe was captured by Viet Cong elements along with Captain Humberto “Rocky” R. Versace and Sergent Daniel L. Pitzer while on an operation to drive a Viet Cong unit out of the village of Le Coeur.  Rowe states that the VC were a main force unit due to his observations of their equipment.

Rowe was separated from his fellow Green Berets and spent 62 months in captivity with only brief encounters with fellow American POWs. Rowe was held in the U Minh Forest, better known as the “Forest of Darkness,” in extreme southern Vietnam.  During most of his five years in captivity Rowe was held in a 3 by 4 by 6 feet (0.91 m × 1.22 m × 1.83 m) bamboo cage. 

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ferd Kaufman/AP/Shutterstock (6644573a)
James Rowe U.S. Army Maj. James N. Rowe of McAllen, Texas, stands beside a replica of a bamboo cage, in which he was held prisoner by the Viet Cong. Rowe escaped in 1968. He is holding his eating cup and chop sticks

As an intelligence officer, Rowe possessed vital information about the disposition of defenses around the CIDG camps, the locations of mine field, names of friendly Vietnamese, and unit locations and strength. Rowe had left his West Point ring at home in the United States, and he told his captors that he was a draftee engineer charged with building schools and other civil affairs projects.  The Viet Cong interrogated him unsuccessfully.  They gave him some engineering problems to solve and Rowe, relying on the basic instruction in engineering he’d received at West Point, successfully maintained his deception.

However, Rowe’s deceptive cover was blown when the Viet Cong managed to obtain a list of American high-value prisoners-of-war (POWs), and his name was in the list, identifying him as an intelligence officer. This enraged the VC, prompting them to order his execution.

Rowe was then led deep into the jungle to be shot.  When his would-be executioners were distracted by a flight of American helicopters, he overpowered his guard, escaped and flagged down a UH-1 helicopter piloted by Major David E. Thompson. He was rescued on December 31, 1968, New Years Eve.

In 1981 he returned to military service as a lieutenant colonel to become chief of Green Beret training at Fort Bragg. In 1985 he was placed in command of Fort Bragg’s First Special Warfare Training Battalion, a position he held until 1987, when he was made chief of the Army Division at the Joint United States Military Advisory Group headquarters in Quezon City, Philippines.
Rowe designed and build a course based upon his experience as a POW. Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) is now a requirement for graduation from the U.S. Army Special Forces Qualification Course. SERE is taught at the Colonel James “Nick” Rowe Training compound at Camp MackallNorth Carolina.  It is considered by many to be the most important advanced training in the special operations field. Navy, Air Force and Marine Special Operations personnel all attend variations of this course taught by their respective services.[7]

By 1987, Colonel Rowe was assigned as the chief of the Army division of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG), providing counter-insurgency training for the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Working closely with the Central Intelligence Agency and intelligence organizations of the Republic of the Philippines, he was involved in its nearly decade-long program to penetrate the New People’s Army (NPA), the communist insurgency that threatened to overthrow the Philippines’ government.[8]

By February 1989, Rowe had acquired intelligence information which indicated that the communists were planning a major terrorist act. He warned Washington that a high-profile figure was about to be assassinated and that he himself was second or third on the assassination list. At around 7:00 in the morning of April 21, 1989, as he was being driven to work at the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group headquarters in an armoured limousine, Rowe’s vehicle was hit by gunfire from a .45 caliber pistol and an M16 rifle near a corner of Tomas Morato Street and Timog Avenue in Quezon City.[10] Twenty-one shots hit the vehicle; one round entered through an unarmoured portion of the vehicle frame and struck Rowe in the head, killing him instantly, while chauffeur Joaquin Vinuya was wounded. Years later, the New People’s Army eventually claimed responsibility for his assassination. Filipino nationals Juanito T. Itaas (principal) and Donato B. Continente (accomplice) were convicted by a Philippine court in 1991 and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Rowe, and 10 to 17 years for the attempted murder of his driver, Joaquin Vinuya. In 2000 the Supreme Court of the Philippines affirmed the convictions but reduced Continente’s sentence to 14 years, concluding that he was acting as an accomplice, not as a principal. Continente was released from prison on June 28, 2005. As of 2014, Itaas remains in prison, serving the remainder of his life term.[11]

In 1989 the city of McAllen honored Colonel Rowe by renaming Second Street for him. In 1990, Nikki Rowe High School was established as a ninth grade center and in 1992 became a class 5A high school.  Published in 1984, Five Years To Freedom, The True Story Of A Vietnam POW, his story.
“I have a fear of living a surface kind of life;
barely existing, barely touching or tasting anything. That’s why you’ll always see me giving my all or walking away ~ I’m too full of depth to dance in the middle of anything.”
Nikki Rowe

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