James "Nick" Rowe's decision to join the military came at a young age. When his brother, Richard, died just four weeks before his graduation from West Point, the younger Rowe, just six years old, decided he would complete what his brother couldn't. Thus began Rowe's career with the military.
Rowe graduated from McAllen High School in McAllen, Texas, in 1956. He entered the U.S. Military Academy immediately after high school and graduated in 1960.
Rowe was deployed to South Vietnam in July of 1963. On October 29, 1963, Rowe's five-year hell began when he was captured by Viet Cong. For five years, he struggled to maintain his physical and mental health, and to escape. Rowe spent his five years in captivity in a pair of black pajamas. No shoes, bedding, or other clothing. The pajamas did not protect him from the changing weather or the swarm of mosquitoes. On many occasions, his clothing was taken away from him for punishment. The cage they kept him in was barely big enough for him to lie in. For five years, he ate mostly rice and fish. He learned to capture anything that crawled or grew by his cage in an effort to get needed nutrients. During all this, Rowe struggled to remain true to the military Code of Conduct and his faith. During his last two years of imprisonment, he was in solitary confinement.
On a December 31st, 1968, New Year's Eve, Rowe made his third and final escape by overpowering a guard. Rowe was spotted and picked up by a U.S. helicopter crew. In 1971, he wrote about his time as a prisoner of war in his book, "Five Years to Freedom."
Rowe left the Army in 1976, but returned in 1981 to the Special Forces as a lieutenant colonel to become chief of a Green Beret training program. In 1985, Rowe went to the Philippines as a military advisor to the Philippine armed forces. On April 21, 1989, Rowe was being driven to work in Manila, when at least two hooded gunmen in a stolen car fired more than twenty bullets into his vehicle. The driver survived, but Rowe was pronounced dead at a nearby military hospital. He was 51 years old.
During Rowe's military career, he was the recipient of many awards and honors. He received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Vietnam Service Medal with Eight Champion Stars, and the Freedom Foundation's American Patriot Award.
Rowe was initiated into M P James Chapter DeMolay in McAllen, Texas, in 1955, where he served as Master Councilor. Rowe earned the Blue Honor Key and was a Representative DeMolay. Rowe received the Chevalier in 1958 and the Legion of Honor in 1972. Rowe was inducted into the DeMolay Hall of Fame on April 26, 1991.
"Working in the Order of DeMolay filled in much of my spare time, never realizing how I would (later) draw on that experience. (Five Years to Freedom, 1971) Thanks for showing me that patriotism and faith in God are not dead in the United States. (Cordon, April 1969) DeMolay can and should provide our (Nation's) leaders, today and tomorrow."