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 son told us that he joined the Super Sabre Society so he could get issues of The Intake. There was a copy of the journal on his nightstand when he passed.
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.