26 June 1969 – Capt John Casper was serving with the 413th TFS out of Phan Rang AB, Vietnam. On a mission to detect VietCong...Read More
Walter Melville Fowler
Information from son William Fowler:
In his early days of flying, Dad would let my Mom know that he was “back in town” by buzzing and waving his wings at the Wegstroms’ Hutto (TX) home and at the Lidells’ at the Jonah family farm in Texas.
Dad also related some interesting stories to me. During World War Two, Dad flew 144 combat missions. After the war, one documented story was that Dad put on an air show for the locals when he landed the very first jet airplane, an F-80 Lockheed Shooting Star, at Bergstrom Air Base on February 27, 1948.
Dad also served as a field test pilot on a few of these aircraft listed and also helped to write manuals and safety improvements on a few others including the F-86 and F-100. Dad was definitely a “Top Gun”.
Mel performed in a number of Stateside and International air shows, participated in and judged bombing/gunnery competitions that I remember while we were in Germany, the Netherlands, and England. Dad would also occasionally go TDY to places like Wheelus Air Force Base (Libya) and Ankara (Turkey) for gunnery, bombing, and other training and fun as well. I always noticed that the trips to Tripoli and Turkey were when we (his family) were stuck in Germany and Holland during some really cold winters. In the summertime, there were Alaska trips from Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico. Dad would usually bring back lots of Alaskan king crab in the cockpit of his F-100.
During the Cold War Dad flew thousands of missions on behalf of our Country.
In Vietnam, Dad flew 240 combat missions and on one mission he was shot down and wounded by ground fire that struck his F-100. He came close to capture or death by closely advancing Viet Cong before his wingman suppressed the advancing VC and he was picked up from the rice paddy by a Navy rescue helicopter.
Dad’s last assignment with the USAF was at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin where he flew the F-4E and RF-4C until he retired in 1971. He then pursued an international sculpting career spiced up with serving his country as a CIA asset until he was murdered in that capacity in Italy on September 25, 1987.
Chronology-Biography submitted by Mel’s son (DRAFT – not completed – in progress)
1921- 1931 Mel Fowler was born on November 25, 1921, in San Antonio, Texas (Full name: Walter Melville Fowler.) His mother: was Thelma Anne Hays Fowler and his father was James Walter Fowler. Mel had one younger sister, Carolyn Arlette Fowler (Spilman). Mel’s mother was the daughter of an English immigrant, Walter Hays, and German immigrant, Annie Ziegler Hays. Mel’s father was of mixed heritage; German, Irish and English background. His father was a pioneer X-ray technician who established and completed the first TB survey in the State of Texas that was a big factor in eradicating TB in the state. Even as a young boy Mel was fascinated with drawing and flying.
1931-1938 Mel self-described his early years as having a normal childhood. As a young boy, Mel was constantly drawing and sketching. While between 11-17 years old, Mel carved many exact scale WWI airplane models from balsa wood. Mel had a lively business with a local department store in San Antonio, selling his models as fast as they were made. During this period Mel became interested in listening to classical music which became a lifelong hobby.
1939 Mel graduated as an average student from Brackenridge High School in San Antonio, Texas. During his senior year, he was art editor of a school monthly newspaper.
1940-1941 Attended University of Texas in Austin, Texas. Was art editor of Naval R.O.T.C. monthly magazine.
1941-1942 In the summer of 1941, Mel left the University of Texas and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Mel was in pilot training when the Pearl Harbor attack occurred on December 7, 1941. Transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps as a Second Lieutenant in 1943.
1943-1945 Married Anna Viviette Lidell September 5, 1943. On January 13, 1943, first son, James Everett was born. Flew 144 combat missions in China during 1944-1945. Received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, and the China War Memorial Medal.
1946-1949 When WWII ended was commissioned in Regular Army with a permanent commission. Was assigned to one of the first P-80 jet fighter squadrons. On August 25, 1947, a second son, Robert Michael was born. Mel landed the first jet aircraft at Bergstrom Air Force Base in 1949.
1950-1956 While serving as a fighter pilot, continued to sketch and draw. Also became interested in oil painting. Completed many university courses at night school. On September 11, 1950, a third son, William Wade was born.
1956-1960 Continued oil painting. Started exhibiting in group exhibitions. After visiting the Rodin Museum in Paris became excited about sculpture and started working in terra cotta.
1963 Completed mosaic “Madonna of the Flaming City”. Taught high school art class at Incirlik, Turkey while serving as commander of an F-100 Fighter Squadron.
1963-1966 Continued to paint and sculpt in off-duty time. Continued to exhibit in group exhibitions. Seriously considered resigning from the Air Force in order to become full-time artist due to internal military politics. Did not want to be assigned as a pencil pusher at the Pentagon. Volunteered for F-100 combat duty to avoid assignment to the Pentagon and was ordered to Vietnam as commander of an F-100 fighter squadron.
1966-1967 Commanded 531st Fighter Squadron (F-100D) in Vietnam War. Flew 240 combat missions. Was shot down on the 49th mission and was rescued by helicopter while his two wingmen provided strafing cover. Was also wounded on another mission. Was awarded 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 12 Air Medals, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and 2 Republic of Vietnam decorations. Painted approximately 30 oil paintings while in Vietnam.
1967 Worked in Dan Hawkins’ bronze art foundry in Austin, Texas to learn investment mold and ceramic shell casting techniques. Started working in bronze. Participated in many group exhibitions.
1968 Started carving in stone by hand (Self-taught)
1968-1971 Continued to carve in stone. Began to de-emphasize terra-cotta, plaster, and bronze sculpture. Was the principal force in organizing and founding the Texas Society of Sculptors, a professional sculptor’s guild. Continued to exhibit in group exhibitions.
1971 Retired from the Air Force as a Lt. Colonel. Attended one semester at Southwestern University and became a close friend to Bob Lancaster, a sculptor, and head of the art department. Purchased studio in Liberty Hill, Texas. Continued to exhibit in group exhibitions.
1972 Awarded his first monumental sculpture commission, a 9 ½ foot Saint Francis for St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Georgetown, Texas. Continued to participate in group exhibitions.
1973-1974 Separated from his wife, Vee Fowler. Worked in Germany and Italy. Participated in the International Sculpture Symposium in Homberg, Germany where his 9 ½ foot Carrara marble sculpture titled “Blithe Spirit” was selected for the State Health Department Building in Homberg, Germany. Was included in the first edition of Who’s Who in German Art. Participated in 4 national German exhibitions, 3 international exhibitions, as well as statewide exhibitions in Texas.
The Texas Fine Arts Association acquired his “Multipara I” for their permanent collection. Was recruited by Oscar Klein to work for the Central Intelligence Agency as an asset. Oscar Klein had met Mel Fowler in Vietnam and also was influential in his move to Liberty Hill, Texas. Carved his first handing negative space sculpture. While working in Italy met Catherine Oeland Stuart Childs (professional name: CATCHI), an internationally known artist. They started living together.
1975 Divorce became final. One-man exhibitions at Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas; Texas Lutheran College, Seguin, Texas; and McCann Wood Gallery in Lexington, KY. Selected for inclusion in Who’s Who in Texas Art. Worked in Pietrasanta, Italy for 5 months.
1976 As a bicentennial effort, organized and directed an international sculpture symposium, which was the first to be conducted in the south. Carved a 9 ½ foot sculpture for the Liberty Hill town park. Did not work in Italy in 1976 because of work on the sculpture symposium. Had one-man exhibitions at U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.; Art Council, Port Washington, Long Island, N.Y.; and Art League, Galveston, Texas, where one of his sculptures was acquired for the permanent Rosenberg collection. Selected for inclusion in Personalities of the South publication. Received the State of Texas’ 1st Art Achievement Award on behalf of Liberty Hill. (Sentence cut off here)
1977 Worked 5 months in Pietrasanta, Italy. Had four one-man exhibitions: Abilene Fine Arts Museum, Abilene, Texas; Greek Mythology Sculptures, at Galerie Beck, Homburg, Germany; The State of State Capitol Rotunda, Austin, Texas; Galerie in Savoy, Kaiserslautern, Germany. Also participated in the Italian International Sculpture Exhibition in Pietrasanta, Italy with 5 ½ foot Carrara marble piece titled: “Flight IV”, which was the only sculpture sold during the exhibition.
1978 Worked five months in Pietrasanta, Italy. Participated in two international sculpture exhibitions: Giornata Michelangelo Exhibition at Azzano, Italy, and La Bilancia International Exhibition in Pietrasanta, Italy. Withdrew from the City of Pietrasanta International exhibition and declined their invitation for a one-man show because of communist influence in the selection of participants in the international exhibition which resulted in the exclusion of good non-communist artists and the inclusion of many sub-standard communist artists. Had his first one-man exhibition of hanging marble negative space sculptures at Galerie Beck, Homburg, Germany. Included in Community Leaders and Noteworthy Americans Publication. Also participated in Tri-State outdoor sculpture exhibition in Dallas, Texas.
1979 Participated in the Houston Contemporary Art Museum invitational art exhibition “FIRE”. Displayed hanging negative space sculpture, “Leda and the Swan I”, which was his largest hanging sculpture at that date (4 ½ feet, 128 pounds). Worked 5 ½ months in Pietrasanta, Italy; participated in two international exhibitions: The Giornata Michaelangelo in Azzano, Italy and La Bilancia in Pietrasanta, Italy.
1980 Included in Who’s Who in American Art and in Dizionario Degli Artisti Europei Contemporanei. Worked 5 months in an Italian studio. Started work on negative space high wall reliefs. Received commission for 6 foot, St. Francis, for private collector in Eagle Lake, Texas.
1981 Married the artist CATCHI (Catherine Oeland Stuart Childs). Worked five months in an Italian studio. Started work on his largest handing negative space sculpture (7 feet, 3 inches) Title: Icarus Caduta V. Also concentrated on his new series of negative space, high relief wall sculptures. Was included in Who’s Who in the South and Southwest and Men of Distinction (International Biographical Institute).
1982 Participated in the invitational “The Figure Exhibition”, Nassau College, Long Island, N.Y. receiving favorable reviews in the New York Times, Long Island Newsday, and the Sunstorm. Also participated in the International sculpture exhibition “Scultura Alla Versiliana” in Marina di Pietrasanta, Italy. While working in his Italian studio, finished carving his largest hanging, negative space sculpture to date, “Icarus Caduta V”. Also continue work on negative space, high relief wall sculpture.
1987 Dedicated/relocated Liberty Hill Sculpture Park.
Killed in Italy on September 25, 1987.
- WWII 140 combat missions
- 1941-1943 Joined Royal Canadian Air Force. Mel was in pilot training when Pearl Harbor attack occurred on December 7, 1941 (Fleet Finch Mk II -Fairey Battle – RCAF)
- 1943 Transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps as a Second Lieutenant (PT-19, AT-6A/C/D/F, SNJ-6 North American Texan, BT-13 Vultee, L-2B/4B, C-49 J/K, -78, UC-78 Bamboo Bomber, A-34 A-25, AT-10, BC-1)
- 1944-1945 Flew 144 combat missions in China (P-47, P-40N, P-51 A/B/C/D/H, F-5E, P-39Q, AT-7, A-24)
- 1946-1960 Commissioned Regular Army, one of 1st P-80 squadrons, Bergstrom AFB, TX (P-80)
- 1960-1963 524th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Commander, Cannon AFB, NM (F-100)
- 1963-1966 Continued with art, served as commander F-100 squadron, Incirlik AB, Turkey (F-100)
- 1966-1967 531st Tactical Fighter Squadron, commander, “Ramrods”, Bien Hoa AB, Vietnam (F-100 – 240 combat missions)
- 1967-1971 Stateside, continued to study art
- 1971 Retired USAF
Awards & Decorations
Distinguished Flying Cross (2)
Air Medal (12)
Vietnam Service Medal
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Fleet Finch MK II (RCAF)
Harvard MK II
Fairey Battle (RCAF)
MK-VII (Royal Netherklands AF)
Piper 140 Cherokee
Mooney M-20C Ranger
Military & Civilian Education
- 1939 Brackenridge High School in San Antonio, TX
- 1940-1941 the University of TX at Austin (Naval ROTC)
- Southwestern University
- University of Texas
- University Maryland
- Norfolk School Art
On September 30, 1966, Mel Fowler was shot down and wounded by ground fire that struck his F-100 #553502. He came close to capture or death by closely advancing Viet Cong before his wingman suppressed the advancing VC and he was picked up from the rice paddy by a Navy rescue helicopter.
Fowler was serving with the 531st TFS out of Bien Hoa AB, Vietnam when the incident occurred.