By Phil Berube, Maxwell Public Affairs
/ Published October 25, 2017
Retired Col. Henry ‘Hank’ Fowler addresses the audience that attended the ceremony for the dedication of the 42nd Air Base Wing’s courtroom in his name, Oct. 25, 2017. Fowler retired as the 42nd ABW staff judge advocate in 1991 and spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo/Melanie Rodgers Cox)
The 42nd Air Base Wing renamed its courtroom in honor of a former prisoner of war, retired staff judge advocate and frequent speaker at Air University schools at a dedication ceremony held Oct. 25, 2017.
Retired Col. Henry “Hank” Fowler was on hand to formally dedicate The Fowler Courtroom, located on the second floor of the 42nd ABW headquarters building.
“As we celebrate the Air Force’s 70th anniversary, I think it’s appropriate to say that we recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and one of those giants is right here, right now,” said 42nd ABW Commander Col. Eric Shafa.
The courtroom is dedicated in honor of Fowler’s service to the United States, reflecting both his heroism in uniform and his continued selfless support to Maxwell, particularly its core education and training mission, said Lt. Col. Ryan Oakley, 42nd ABW staff judge advocate.
“It is an honor I never expected,” said Fowler. “I do not have the words to express my feelings on the honor of this award today. I can only say thank you for this honor.”
During the Vietnam War, Fowler was an F-4 fighter pilot. On Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967, he and three other F-4 pilots were in pursuit of North Vietnamese aircraft at tree-top level when his aircraft was struck by surface-to-air missiles. Fowler ejected from his wounded aircraft at more than 250 miles per hour, suffering severe back injuries. He was captured 10 minutes after parachuting to the ground and taken to the Hanoi Hilton, where he remained in captivity for 2,157 days in a seven-by-nine-foot windowless cell. He was released on Feb. 18, 1973, during Operation Homecoming.
“We boarded the airplane and it took off,” said Fowler, reflecting on the flight home that day. “Approximately 30 minutes later, the aircraft commander came on the intercom, and he said, ‘Gentleman, we have just crossed the shores of North Vietnam … welcome to freedom.’ Freedom took on a new meaning to me, because I realized that I just didn’t know what freedom meant, but I understood what freedom meant.”
After recovering from his injuries, Fowler transition to cargo aircraft and flew C-141s for the 86th Military Airlift Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, California. After receiving an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment in 1975 to complete his law degree, he graduated from Samford University in 1978.
“Countless Airmen have been motivated by Colonel Fowler’s personal example of moral courage, character and leadership, being a voice for fellow prisoners of war and those missing in action who didn’t come home,” said Oakley. “His is a powerful, unforgettable message. You can’t help but be inspired by how he not only survived and endured as a prisoner of war, but emerged from that experience even stronger.”
Fowler served at various bases as a deputy staff judge advocate and staff judge advocate, to include instructor duty at the Air Force Judge Advocate General School at Maxwell. His final assignment before his retirement from the Air Force in 1991 was as Maxwell’s staff judge advocate.
His military decorations include two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, Bronze Star with Valor, two Purple Hearts, Prisoner of War Medal and three Air Medals.
Fowler was selected as an Eagle in Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 2012, joining the ranks of aviation pioneers such as Chuck Yeager, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and Neil Armstrong. He was the first staff judge advocate to be honored as an Eagle.