Frederick A. Crow, Jr.
Fred Crow was born in 1926 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve on December 20, 1943. He entered the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces on February 15, 1944. After the war ended, he was discharged on October 28, 1945.
He rejoined military service with the U.S. Air Force, reported for pilot training on June 13, 1951, and was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his pilot wings at Stalling AFB, North Carolina, in June 1952.
Capt Crow served as a fighter pilot and forward air controller at various bases between April 1953 and June 1961, and then served as an F-100 Super Sabre pilot with the 478th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, from July 1961 to December 1962. During this time he deployed with his unit to Europe in support of the Berlin Crisis from September to November 1961. His next assignment was as a Forward Air Controller attached to the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from December 1962 to August 1964, followed by Army Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from August 1964 to July 1965. Col Crow then served on the staff of Headquarters Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, Virginia, from July 1965 to May 1966.
He completed F-4 Phantom II Combat Crew Training before serving with the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Ubon Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from October 1966 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on March 26, 1967.
After spending 2,171 days in captivity, Col Crow was released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Andrews AFB, Maryland, and then attended National War College in Washington, D.C., from August 1973 to June 1974. Col Crow’s next assignment was as Vice Commander of the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing at George AFB, California, from July 1974 to May 1975. His final assignment was at Langley AFB, Virginia, where he retired from the Air Force on October 1, 1981.
Frederick A. Crow, Jr. (Col USAF, Ret) “Headed West” June 16, 2020
Col Frederick A. Crow, Jr., 94, headed west peacefully, with his eldest son and daughter-in-law at his side, on June 16, 2020, at Baywoods of Annapolis. Fred was a highly decorated USAF fighter pilot who endured six years of brutal captivity as a Vietnam MIA/POW. To his surviving children and grandchildren, “Pawpaw” was a true American patriot and hero who will be remembered for his devotion to his beloved wife Mary of 65 years, his gallant and valorous service to his country, his gifted storytelling, and his fun-loving and often mischievous good nature.
Fred’s life was an epic American adventure. He was born into a Navy family in Gloucester, Massachusetts, on February 3, 1926, to Dorothy and Frederick A. Crow, Sr. Along with his younger sister Marylyn, they moved around the country to his father’s various duty stations which included two years living in his father’s hometown of Camilla, GA, while his father was deployed at sea around Europe; in Cohasset, MA; at the lighthouse at Folly Beach, SC; in the lighthouse keeper’s house on Dungeness Spit in Washington State; San Diego, CA; and in Honolulu, Hawaii; from 1936 to 1942. After witnessing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at age 15, he served as a bicycle messenger on the Naval Base before returning stateside to continue high school in Beverly, Massachusetts.
Fred quit high school and enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in December 1943, and entered the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces in February 1944. At the war’s end, he was discharged in October 1945. He finished high school in Beverly while working at various odd jobs including being an orderly at the Beverly hospital, a chauffeur for the Frick family cook and housekeeping staff, a construction laborer, and a pattern-maker at the Sylvania factory. According to Fred, his supervisor at the factory suggested that he was “too dumb to be a pattern-maker and should probably consider going to college.” Fred agreed and took advantage of the GI Bill to matriculate at Cornell University in 1947. Fred enjoyed his years at Cornell, which included membership in the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, AFROTC, summer school at Michigan State, the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, amusement park, and other summers working in a vineyard in France. He graduated in 1951 with a BA in English, didn’t stick around to collect his diploma, rejoined the U.S. Air Force for pilot training as a newly commissioned 2nd Lt, and was awarded his pilot wings at Stallings AFB North Carolina in June 1952.
Fred met Mary Morrison, an auburn-haired Tufts graduate, and teacher from Medford MA, while on a date with his then-fiancé at the Stork Club in Manhattan in the fall of 1952. He had the opportunity for one dance with Mary and, in his words, was “struck by the thunderbolt”. After a whirlwind romance, they were married in Boston in December 1952, embarking on an exciting and interesting life together.
Fred’s early career as a fighter pilot encompassed assignments flying the F-86 Sabre, F-100 Super Sabre and F-4 Phantom, and a two- year stint with the 82nd Airborne as a forward air controller. He and Mary traveled the world as they made their home in numerous locations including Bitburg, Germany; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Las Vegas, Nevada; Clovis, New Mexico; Fayetteville, NC; Leavenworth, Kansas; Tampa, Florida; Hampton, Virginia; Alexandria Virginia; and Victorville, California. Along the way, they were blessed with four children, Cathy, Rick, Jeff, and Pat. With Fred often deployed for long periods of time and in perilous situations such as the Berlin Crisis, Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War, Mary steadfastly raised her family of four, often by herself.
Fred (and Mary’s) biggest challenge came on Easter Sunday in 1967. Fred was leading a flight of F-4 Phantoms on a strike in North Vietnam against a target area under withering fire from hostile air defenses and enemy aircraft. He was hit by a surface-to-air missile, forced to eject, captured, and held as a Prisoner of War for six years, three of those years in solitary confinement. During his captivity in the “Hanoi Hilton,” Fred was subjected to mental and physical cruelties by his captors to obtain information, confessions, and propaganda materials, and was decorated for “resisting these demands by calling upon his deepest inner strengths in a manner which reflected his devotion to duty and great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.” Fred’s decorations include two Silver Stars for gallantry in action, a Legion of Merit for his resistance to the enemy, two Purple Hearts for injuries received, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Stars, and 22 Air Medals. At the time of his retirement, Fred was the most highly decorated officer on active duty in the Air Force.
Fred returned home as part of “Operation Homecoming” and was reunited with his family on March 7, 1973. As the ranking officer on his return flight disembarking at Andrews Air Force Base, he made the following remarks: “We come from the prisons of North Vietnam. Our motto was Unity Before Self. Our mission was to return with honor. We have accomplished our task. What a thrill it was to take off in this big beautiful aircraft from Hanoi with us aboard. Freedom was ours! How proud we were to be greeted just a few short hours ago in Honolulu Hawaii as American fighting men returning from battle. And now we are in the shadow of our nation’s capital, fighting back tears of joy and gratitude. We have reaped the fruits of our faith and trust in our God, our Commander-in-Chief, our families, and all the people of this wonderful, wonderful country (and indeed the world) who have worked so hard and long to bring us home. We are indebted to you forever. America, we love you!”
After briefly being hospitalized at Andrews to recover from his injuries, Fred returned to active service. He was the President of his class at the National War College in Washington, D.C., and was assigned as the Vice Wing Commander of the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing at George AFB, California. His final assignment was at Langley AFB in Hampton, Virginia, where he retired from the Air Force on October 1, 1981. Fred and Mary resided in Hampton for twenty-three, years, and then Williamsburg VA for ten years before moving to Baywoods in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2013.
Fred dabbled at real estate sales in retirement. Mostly he “carried the water” for Mary who was a very successful realtor on the Virginia Peninsula for 25 years after his retirement. He enjoyed working as a docent and resident storyteller at the Virginia Air & Space Museum, serving on the annual United Way Campaign Committee, attending weekly breakfasts with his buddies at the pancake house, giving speeches every Memorial Day, gardening, and visiting his family and an extensive network of friends around the world. He was also quite fond of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, rhythm and blues, Hawaiian music, fat cocktail onions in his gin, and his dune-top perch at their Nags Head, NC, beach place. He loved to torment Mary and delight his grandchildren by wearing his ratty red bandana around his head all week while at the beach. His daughter and daughters-in-law loved that he could be counted on to peel the potatoes most Thanksgivings. Most of all, Fred loved life, his country, the USAF, and his family, always providing them a shining example of integrity, humor, selfless humility, and boundless love.
Fred was a proud member of the Boy Scouts of America, the Super Sabre Society, the Daedalians, and the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association. He was the recipient of many civilian honors over the years including his fraternity’s highest honor of Induction into the “Order of West Range” at the 2018 Pi Kappa Alpha International Convention. On Veterans Day in 2015, Fred was met at the airport by the Cornell Marching Band, honored by Cornell University as the most decorated Cornell Alumnus of the Vietnam War, and was added to the Cornell PIKA Chapter’s Wall of Fame.
Surviving members of his family include his three sons, Frederick A. Crow, III (Charlotte) of Davidsonville, MD; Jeffrey F. Crow (Joan) of Moseley, VA, and LTC (Ret.) C. Patrick Crow (Madrienne) of Palm City, FL; seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. His beloved wife Mary predeceased Fred in 2017. His cherished daughter, Cathryn C. Gilmore, predeceased him nine years ago, also on June 16th. The family extends sincere gratitude to his private caretaker Cynthia Cline-Thomas and the numerous nurses, caregivers, and staff at the Assisted Living and Health Care Center at Baywoods of Annapolis who provided compassionate and loving care to both Fred and Mary over the last several years.
A Memorial Service with Full Military Honors are pending at Arlington National Cemetery.
- 12/1943 enlisted U.S. Army Reserve
- 2/1944-10/1945 Aviation Cadet Program
- 10/1945 Discharged with the end of WWII
- 6/1951-6/1952 Joined USAF, Pilot training, commissioned 2nd Lt., Stalling AFB, NC
- 4/1953-6/1961 Fighter pilot, FAC, various bases
- 7/1961-9/1961 12/1962 478th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Cannon AFB, NM (F-100)
- 9/1961-11/1961 Deployed to Europe in support of Berlin Crisis
- 11/1961-12/1962 478th Tactical Fighter Squadron
- 12/1962-8/1964 Army 82ndAirborne Division, Ft. Bragg, NC
- 8/1964-7/1965 Army Command and Staff School, Ft. Leavenworth, KS
- 7/1965-5/1966 Headquarters Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, VA
- 5/1966-10/1966 Combat Crew Training (F-4 Phantom II)
- 10/1966-3/1967 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, Ubon Royal Thai AB, Thailand
- 3/26/1967 Shot down over Vietnam, remained as Prisoner of War for 2,171 days
- 3/4/1973 Released during Operation Home Coming, hospitalized briefly at Andrews AFB, MD
- 8/1973-6/1974 National War College
- 7/1974-5/1975 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, Vice Commander, George AFB, CA
- 5/1975-10/1981 Langley AFB, VA
- 10/1981 Retired from USAF
Awards & Decorations
Silver Star (2)
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross (2)
Prisoner of War Medal
F-4 Phantom II
Military & Civilian Education
- 1944-1945 Aviation Cadet Program
- 1964-1965 Army Command and Staff School, Ft. Leavenworth, KS
- 1973-1974 National War College
Frederick A. Crow, Jr. – POW Story
Shot down: March 26, 1967
Released: March 4, 1973
Fred Crow and Henry Fowler were shot down over Son La Province in Vietnam on March 26, 1967. He was serving with the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron. Fred remained a Prisoner of War until his release on March 4, 1973. Henry had been released a month earlier on February 4th.
Upon returning from his internment as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over 7 years, Colonel Fred Crow, Jr. landed at Andrews AFB Maryland on the afternoon of 7 March 1973, where he was greeted by Lt. Gen. Daniel F. “Chappie” James USAF. Colonel Crow made the following remarks upon landing at Andrews AFB. His words show the valor, integrity, and courage of the prisoners of the Vietnam war. “We come to you from the prisons of North Vietnam. Our motto was Unity Before Self. Our mission was to return with honor. We have accomplished our task.
What a thrill it was to take off in this big beautiful aircraft from Hanoi with us aboard. Freedom was ours! How proud we were to be greeted just a few short hours ago in Honolulu, Hawaii United States of America as American fighting men returned from battle.
And now here we are in the shadow of our nation’s capital, fighting back tears of joy and gratitude. We have reaped the fruits of our faith and trust in our God our Commander-in-Chief our families and all the people of this wonderful wonderful country and indeed the world who have worked so hard and so long to bring us home. We are indebted to you forever. America we love you!”
In an oral history interview at Cornell in 2012, Fred Crow told the story of his capture. “I was shot down on a mission … (I) .. was not supposed to fly. Lieutenant Colonel (name deleted) was supposed to fly the mission” Crow explained, “Colonel (name deleted) was a weenie. He was never around when something was to be done or a decision to be made. He would say he had to go out of town to get new glasses, or an excuse similar. He had signed up for the mission on March 26 because the weather was bad, meaning it would be a simple, not dangerous mission. However just as they were scheduled to fly, the weather cleared up, changing the mission. He wimped out and … (I) … had to take his place leading sixteen airplanes into danger.
“I got hit in the rear with a missile, it knocked me out of the sky, the controls would do nothing. The first thing I thought was if I knew I was going to get shot down I would have had more for lunch then a hamburger and a coke.”
As he was getting necessities from the plane, a Jeep with dogs that had sniffed him out approached him. “Two Vietnamese soldiers came up and stripped me of everything, including my wedding ring, and then hogtied me. They had messed up my arm so much that above the elbow the circulation was got off so I generated black scabs all over my arms because my lymph node system had been damaged and cut off. We were only twenty-six miles from Hanoi so it did not take too long to get there. We drove up to the Hoa Loa Prison, which many refer to as Hanoi Hilton. It means ‘fire in the forge’ in Vietnamese. They pulled me out of the Jeep and carried me into what we later called the naughty room, for it was the interrogation room. On the wall, someone had painted a signed with a rabbit that said ‘Happy Easter Day’ because I had been shot down on Easter Sunday.”
That was an Easter Colonel Crow would never forget, changing his life for the next six years because of another man’s fear. He was now a prisoner of war. Crow explained, “When I first got there I was sweating so bad and so thirsty that I was licking my sweat up off the floors. The interrogator, who we called “the bug,” was a professional, showed absolutely zero emotion. He couldn’t pronounce my name so I was ‘Cow’ for the next six years.” Colonel Crow spent the next six years in Hanoi Hilton, spending three years in solitary confinement, known as ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’ Crow explained to me that one time he had tried to peak through his cell bars that were very high up by standing on his “bathroom” bucket. The “bug” had caught him so he placed one of his ankles in a stock and both his wrists in another stock.
Crow said “I was in that position for three days, but the pain was worse when he let me out, trying to straighten my back was extremely painful. The Vietnamese wanted to shape us up so we weren’t troublemakers, but that was our goal, to cause trouble.” He also stated that the “bathroom” bucket wasn’t so bad if he was in solitary, but when he shared a cell with four other men the bucket was very gross and unsanitary by the end of the day. When Colonel Frederick Crow was first settling into Hanoi Hilton he noticed someone had written on the wall “this too shall pass.” He stated, “It kind of bucks you up to know you’re not alone and that there is someone else here with you.” Crow said, “We always worried about getting caught doing something, like tapping on the wall. Hours of boredom would go by with minutes of stark terror.”
As for food, the prisoners had rice and boiling water twice a day. “Once a week they would let us out to wash down in the sinks, we couldn’t shower. We always looked forward to that,” Crow explained. Mary Crow, the colonel’s wife, sent many letters and packages, but Crow said he didn’t receive them. “Actually, one time they brought me something my wife had sent me. It was a sterling silver toothpick. That was the only thing I ever received because they could not figure out what it was. I had to explain it to them.” The colonel said, “sometimes in my cell, I could smell chocolate and I knew someone had a package come in and the Vietnamese officers were eating our chocolate.”
Mrs. Crow and their four children had no idea whether their husband/father was alive. Mary received word once that Colonel Crow was in Hanoi Hilton. This was because a Navy sailor who had been captured memorized all four hundred and fifty names of the prisoners. When the sailor was captured “We told him to act cuckoo and nutty so they would let him go. He started acting like a damn idiot sweeping the yard with the broom upside-down, doing everything to seem crazy. There were four or five officers who gave up and confessed everything so when they were released the sailor was too. Of course, those officers were ostrich-sized when they got back and I think three of them committed suicide” Crow explains. However, this one sailor restored faith in a lot of families. Crow realized one day “they started fattening us up, they would give us a loaf of French bread and a cup of sugar for meals. This is when we realized we were going to be released. When the Vietnamese told them peace papers had been signed in Paris on January 27, 1973, they were about to get around and gather up in the courtyard.
This was the beginning of “Operation Homecoming.” The rule was first in first out so even though the first prisoners of war left Hanoi on February 12, 1973, Crow had to wait until March 4th. Crow arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington D.C. with many camera flashes going off as he was greeted by his family for the first time in years. He had to go through forty-two hours of intelligence debriefing before the medics got to them. “All I needed was a hernia repair and my teeth fixed. They had the President’s dentist fix me up” Crow states as if it is not a big deal.
Colonel Crow ended the interview by telling the story of how “on the ride home to Hampton, Virginia Mary was driving the car at eighty miles per hour and it scared the living crap out of me! I hadn’t gone anywhere near that fast in over six years.”
(source: POWstories.org; betathetadata.net/alum/CrowFA.pdf)