First sent to the Defense Language School in Monterey, California, Rowe studied Mandarin Chinese. While at DLI he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. Finally arriving at Fort Bragg, where no Special Forces Officer Course had yet been developed, Rowe attended the Enlisted Special Forces Qualification Course. After graduation, he attended HALO school. In 1962 he served as assistant Group adjutant at the 7th Special Forces Group (ABN), then as an executive officer on a Special Forces A-team in 5th Group (A-23).
Special Forces operations were still in a stage of relative infancy when Rowe’s 5th Group detachment was deployed to Vietnam in 1963. American advisers could not call on U.S. jet and artillery support in the manner they would be able to by 1966. Nor could they count on American conventional force combat units to come to their aid when their isolated A-camps were attacked.
Sent to a remote camp 16 miles inside the Viet Cong controlled Mekong Delta, it was A-23’s responsibility to work with and train their Vietnamese Special Forces counterparts, the LLDB, in combat operations against the entrenched Viet Cong. Three months after landing at Tan Phu, Nick Rowe was captured along with Captain Humbert “Rocky” Versace and Special Forces medic, Sergeant Dan Pitzer. Their capture, on October 23, 1963, occurred after an intense firefight outside the wire at Tan Phu.
“I believe the VC knew we were with Special Forces within several days of our capture,” recalled Dan Pitzer. Rocky, Nick and I were picked up along with several LLDB people. There’s no doubt in my mind they told the VC who and what we were. But Special Forces, or SF, was so new to them [the Viet Cong] that it just didn’t mean that much at the time. Dan Pitzer would spend four years as a POW along side Rowe in the U Minh Forest (“Forest of Darkness”). Pitzer, who would later join Rowe at the newly formed U.S. Army Survival, Escape, Resistance, Evasion (SERE) school at Fort Bragg, came to know Nick better than anyone.
“We got closer than brothers do during that time,” Pitzer told me. “POWs come to rely on each other for everything, and in doing so they exchange things about themselves that no one else would ever hear about. When I went to visit Nick’s parents after my release in 1968, I didn’t need a map of McAllen or anyone’s instructions on how to get around. Nick had told me everything about McAllen, it was as if it was my hometown, too.”