Tags: Jack Fellowes, Vietnam POW
His nickname was Jackie Fe. I immediately thought of the chemical symbol for iron. Isn’t it FE? Indeed it is. Despite Captain Fellowes’s penchant for off-color humor and his flirtatious personality, his DNA was pure strength. He was a big, strapping man — looked like a football player to me. Along with his fellow prisoners, Fellowes endured unimaginable physical and emotional tests in North Vietnam. But he survived and returned home to his family and his career. When he retired, he wasn’t entirely sure what he would do with the rest of his life. But his wife made it clear that it wasn’t going to happen at home. “She asked me, ‘What are you doing at home?’ I said, ‘I live here.’ She said, ‘Not during the day.’” What struck me about Jack Fellowes was his self-deprecating, dry humor — a trait that can mask depression or a lack of self esteem. But not with him. He truly loved to watch people laugh and he loved nothing more than sharing a good joke and seeing his audience’s reaction (I think he missed his calling as a stand-up comedian). His sense of humor probably aided his survival in captivity. Many of the POWs said that a positive outlook and maintaining hope in the midst of tremendous adversity made the difference between life and death.
But he also had a serious side to him — one that kept him focused during his POW experience and one that helped him rebuild his relationships with his family when he returned home. It wasn’t easy. He left a wife and four children at home. After 6 1/2 years away, he had to reestablish himself as a husband and a father, when his family’s household had functioned for years without him. He had to be patient, kind, gentle and tolerant — especially with his sons. When he returned home, they were almost all in their teenage years — tough enough for a dad who has been around to parent. They eventually warmed up to him again, but it wasn’t easy. (Many of the POWs’ kids tell similar readjustment stories.) I always thought it was a tremendous testament to the total manhood of this group of men: they fought, they suffered in silence in North Vietnam, they honorably returned home and quietly rebuilt their lives — as servicemen, as husbands, as fathers, as sons, and as civic neighbors. They didn’t wallow in victimhood or demand special treatment. They continued to serve. Rest in peace, Jackie Fe. I’ll miss you…and your jokes.