The Handbook of Texas is free-to-use thanks to the support of readers like you. Support the Handbook today.

Font size: A / A reset

Support Texas History Now

Join TSHA to support quality Texas history programs and receive exclusive benefits.

Become a TSHA Member Today »

Rowe, James Nicholas (1938–1989)

Alicia A. Garza Biography Entry

Col. James Nicholas (Nick) Rowe, military officer and Vietnam war hero, the son of Lee Delavan and Florence (Survillo) Rowe, was born in McAllen, Texas, on February 8, 1938. He grew up in McAllen and graduated from McAllen High School in 1956. He then attended West Point and graduated in 1960. Rowe was a first lieutenant with the Special Forces stationed as an advisor in the Mekong Delta when he and two other Green Berets were captured by the Viet Cong on October 29, 1963. He was taken and kept prisoner 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 cage. He managed to escape on New Year's Eve, 1968, after overpowering his guard, and eleven days later he was picked up by a United States Cobra helicopter. He was promoted twice during his captivity and held the rank of major by the time of his escape. Upon his return to the United States Rowe applied for voluntary recall to active duty. He was assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he taught a POW-MIA planning and training program based on his experiences and was chief of the army's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Training Unit.

Rowe married Jane Caroline Benson on December 27, 1969. In 1971 he published Five Years to Freedom, in which he recounted his ordeal as a Viet Cong prisoner, his eventual escape, and his return home. The book was the result of the diary he wrote while prisoner, writing it in German, Spanish, Chinese, and his own special code in order to deceive his captors. He also wrote Southeast Asia Survival Journal for the United States Department of the Air Force, published in 1971. Upon his return home to McAllen he was presented with lifetime memberships in the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Rowe received much notoriety as a result of his involvement in attacking Senator George McGovern's antiwar position. He became a vocal advocate for prowar Republicans and other "War Hawks" in Congress, claiming that dissenters and other Vietnam War opponents "helped break the spirit of American prisoners of war and boost[ed] the morale of the Viet Cong." Allegations were made that he was the "Pentagon's Puppet" and was being used to prolong the Vietnam War.

Rowe left the army to run for Texas State comptroller against Bob Bullock in the 1974 election. After losing that campaign, he moved to Virginia to raise jumping horses. From 1975 to 1980 he spent most of his time writing. He coauthored The Washington Connection with Robin Moore, which was published by Conder Press in 1977, and in the same year Little, Brown and Company published his first novel, The Judas Squad.

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. On April 21, 1989, on his way to work, Rowe was killed in an ambush. The next day the New Peoples' Army, a Communist rebel organization, claimed responsibility for the slaying. During his lifetime Rowe received the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, the Meritorious Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation. His nonmilitary awards included the American Patriot Award of Freedom's Foundation of Valley Forge (1969), the Outstanding Young Man of America award, the George Washington Honor Medal of Freedom's Foundation of Valley Forge (1974), and the Legion of Honor, International Supreme Council of the Order of DeMolay. Rowe was survived by his second wife, Mary, and their two children, and two daughters from his first marriage. In 1989 the city of McAllen honored Colonel Rowe by renaming Second Street for him.

Contemporary Authors. Dallas Morning News, April 22, 1989. New York Times, April 22, 1989. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • Fiction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Alicia A. Garza, “Rowe, James Nicholas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 17, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.