Legacy of former POW, SJA lives on in Maxwell courtroom

  • Published
  • By A1C Tyrique Barquet
  • Lemay Center PA

Some say he had no business being as patient and kind-hearted as he was after seeing what he saw in the Vietnam war. Some might have even called his work ethic and dedication to his country irrational after everything he had been through. But to the late Ret. Col. Henry Fowler it was just service to the country that had given him so much.

Fowler, who was a distinguished Vietnam war veteran, passed away at 84 years old in his residence, Montgomery, Ala., Jan. 26, 2024.

The retired Colonel’s early assignments had catapulted him into the heart of action as a Full Instrument Pilot with the 433d Tactical Fighter Squadron stationed at Ubon Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand. However, it was a fateful mission over Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Easter Sunday, Mar. 26, 1967, that forever altered the course of his military career. Fowler's aircraft was shot down, forcing him into a harrowing six-year ordeal as a Prisoner of War at the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." It wasn't until the historic Operation Homecoming on Feb. 18, 1973, that Fowler emerged from captivity, a testament to his resilience and unwavering spirit.

The 42nd Air Base Wing at Maxwell Air Force Base held a dedication ceremony on Oct. 25, 2017, to honor Ret. Col. Henry "Hank" Fowler by renaming its courtroom in his honor. The ceremony commemorated Fowler's service as a distinguished veteran of the Vietnam War and former prisoner of war.

“I think it was appropriate to rename the courtroom after him, said DeLacie Heyster, Fowler’s stepdaughter. “Freedom and justice were always of upmost importance to him and what he had been through with his wrongful imprisonment as a POW, so he had a personal and deep understanding of its importance.”

Returning home Fowler was eager to broaden his horizons, he pursued an extraordinary opportunity with the Air Force Institute of Technology, embarking on a journey to obtain his law degree from the prestigious Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. This unique pursuit exemplified Fowler's multifaceted talents and unwavering dedication to service.

“We couldn’t fully comprehend what he did until we got older,” said Kristen Fowler Story, Ret. Col. Fowler’s daughter. “We knew he was a hero... I wish I knew more as a kid how much of a hero he was.”

After his admission to the Alabama State Bar, Fowler was designated a judge advocate and continued his Air Force career at Maxwell Air Force Base, where he served as an instructor at the Air Force Judge Advocate General's School. His expertise in civil law and military justice earned him the position of Chief, Civil Law Division, where he instructed in International Law and the Law of Armed Conflict.

“He was the only pilot and POW that also became a JAG officer and Staff advocate and the only JAG officer to be inducted into the gathering of eagles,” said DeLacie Heyster.

Fowler's career continued to unfold with assignments spanning the globe, from the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to the Staff Judge Advocate at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. Yet, it was his return to Montgomery, Alabama, as the Headquarters, Air University Staff Judge Advocate at Maxwell Air Force Base, that marked the pinnacle of his military journey.

Retiring on Aug. 1, 1991, after three decades of dedicated service in both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force, Fowler's legacy of valor and selfless sacrifice endured. He received two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star with "V" for Valor, as a testament to his indomitable spirit and unwavering commitment to duty.

In July of 1992, Fowler embarked on yet another chapter, joining the esteemed faculty at the Jones School of Law, Montgomery, Ala. For 12 years, he imparted his knowledge as an Associate Professor, leaving an indelible mark on the next generation of legal minds.

Fowler's service was recognized with multiple decorations, including two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star with Valor device, the Prisoner of War Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal. His legacy of valor, selflessness and unwavering dedication to duty will forever inspire generations to come.

The dedication of The Fowler Courtroom at Maxwell Air Force Base serves as a tribute to Fowler's service and sacrifice. It is a reminder of his enduring impact on the Air Force and the wider military community.