Richard Fowler is man ahead of his time who worked as a high level Communications Officer on wireless phones for intense military operations starting in 1952. He helped with land and sea communications making critical advances in his field which helped improve telephone wireless and land lines communications. He changed a way the military used directional antennae’s by making them vertical instead of horizontal which improved ship to shore telephone voice communications. A dedicated military man of 37 years, courageous colonel, ambitious student, hard-working businessman and devoted husband all describe Richard Fowler.
Richard Fowler was born in San Mateo, California on October 18, 1929. He grew up in Burlingame California. His father was a metallurgic chemist who specialized in metal and graduated from Stanford University. His mother was a housewife who also graduated from Stanford, receiving a Master’s Degree in mathematics. His father served in WWI and his brother was an Army combat engineer in the Pacific during WWII.
Prior to enlisting in the military Fowler received a Bachelor’s Degree in communications which only took him 3 years, from Stanford University. He worked for a small motion picture company for about one year in San Francisco. He was living in Burlingame and knew the draft was imminent. He did not want to join the army so an opportunity came up with the Marines and he enlisted. He liked the outdoors and was a boy scout so it made sense for him to join the Marines. A friend talked about the Marines so he signed up for Officers Candidate School. The next day his draft card arrived. He was able to escape the draft and do what he wanted. His dad had passed away in 1942. When he told his mother he enlisted there was a lot of silence. When she asked him why he enlisted and he explained he was going to get drafted anyway, she accepted his reason.
He described his thoughts about the Korean War. He recalled, “After WWII there was great fear communism would spread. Communist infiltration in Korean was deemed to be a threat to the U. S. The United Nations combined forces went in and tried to push the communists out of Korea.”
In January, 1953 Fowler went to Quantico, Virginia and spent 10 weeks in the Officers Candidate Program. He learned leadership skills and how to be a Marine. The experience was a shock to him. The drill instructors had just come back from Korea. They introduced him to the discipline, history and traditions of the Marine Corps. He also worked on tactics and infantry training. The first night in the barracks he couldn’t sleep because he was right next to the railroad tracks. The second night he didn’t even notice the trains because he was so exhausted from training. His duties included going to class and doing field work. The schedule was well planned and you knew if you weren’t going to make it. He felt his training was very effective. Fowler recalls, “The instructors instilled dependence on one another, the creation of teams and watching each other’s back. A lot of this was on the job training. It was probably a little gentler than in enlisted training. We survived.”
Fowler’s first assignment was to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina as a Communications Officer, Second Lieutenant for the 8th Signal Battalion, Fleet Marine Force from June 1953-July 1955. This was a very high level unit and there was good leadership. When he first arrived he was bewildered. He walked into a room full of equipment and was expected to get very familiar with it. He didn’t know anything in the beginning and initially it was a daunting task. Fowler learned a lot that he was not taught in training. He was assigned to a Radio Relay Platoon as they were just beginning to work on wireless telephone communications. The battalion had the capability to use this kind of communication. The equipment was transported in boxes the size of coffins that his unit had to move. He learned how to use the equipment and was successful at it. Since he was a platoon leader he had to learn how the unit fit into the puzzle of communications, with wiring and radio. He was required to learn all the technical aspects of communications. He worked on radio relay which was very complicated but he enjoyed doing his job.
His mission at this assignment was to support the force troops. These units were on very high level operations and he was required to support a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Headquarters when deployed and to operate general communication support to Marine operations as required. His responsibilities included land, air and sea communications. He worked with high ranking officers and supporting them by giving them the facilities to control a shore landing. His deployments at this assignment were to the west coast and Camp Garcia, Vieques, Puerto Rico. There were a lot of training exercises but he never went to battle. In Puerto Rico he did many landing exercises and performed senior communications. He was responsible for trainings on landings from the ships and on land. He had radio relay equipment they had to take ashore which were 4 lines of wireless phone between land and ships. The people in Puerto Rico were very friendly to the Americans. There were no real shortages at these deployments. The unit also used the communications equipment to talk with their families which was a great moral booster. Overall, the unit was very motivated and worked well together. The commanding officers were well qualified and respected.
During this assignment Fowler lived in an outline base of Camp Lejeune, Camp Gieger. His room was an old operating room. There was a mess hall and officers club. There was no segregation at all. The Marine Corps had just started integration at this time. Off base, in the Carolinas there was still a lot of segregation. The camp was isolated so in his free time for entertainment Fowler went to the local airport and took flying lessons. He learned to fly and would go to Washington D.C., which was only 2 hours away by plane. Being a pilot gave him more freedom to leave and meet people. He was promoted to First Lieutenant during this assignment and was there until the end of the Korean War.
After the Korean War Fowler feels it was a difficult job that was left unfinished. There is still no treaty and technically he feels there is still a war. He stated, “It escalates then it deescalates. We proved to the North Koreans and Chinese that we did would we said we would do. I hope that continues today. We let a part of the country become free and were successful. The only sad thing is that no treaty is signed.”
His second assignment was the Navy Marine Corps Reserves in Alameda, CA in July 1955. He was in Radio Relay Platoon, 6 Communication Company until 1964. Fowler was doing the same relay radio job he did during his active services. He was lucky to have a former commanding officer who was now an inspector instructor there. During this assignment he also attended Stanford University and received a Master’s Degree in communications in 1956. Since he was now in the reserves he had more time to do this.
His third assignment was from 1964-1967 to the 14th Staff Group in Alameda. His rank was still major. This was a staff group that was formed in case of activation; they would form the command element for a regiment. Fowler became the Communications Officer for the group. He was well trained and there were not many communications experts around so he did this job for almost 30 years.
In 1967 the Marine Reserves reorganized itself and emulated the regular Marines which were formerly organized as independent companies. They became the 4th Marine Division headquarters for the 23rd Marine Regiment because they were the Communications Company and a staff group at the same site. Fowler became the Communications Officer for the regiment and advanced to major. He was responsible for communications for the entire regiment. When the unit went on summer camp maneuvers, he was required to organize the communications for the entire operation including air, navy and everyone that was involved in the landing exercises. It was interesting work for him. Several times he went to Camp Pendleton in San Diego with the navy to work on communication networks that he helped design.
His fourth assignment was from 1967-1972 Headquarters Company, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division in Alameda at the Navy Marine Reserve Training Center. He went from major to lieutenant colonel. This was a continuation of the coordination of communication elements within the regiment supporting the navy and air alarms. He went to training maneuvers with this regiment and was successful. His duties were the same but his responsibilities increased with his rank.
For his 5th assignment in 1972, Fowler was in the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division in San Bruno, California as Commanding Officer which was a big transition for him. He was a Communications Officer but never trained as an Infantry Officer. He accepted this challenge and had to learn all the infantry tactics and forget the details of communications. Fowler remembered, “When you are in command of a battalion you had to know what was going on. I enjoyed it very much. It got me close to what the Marine Corps really is and that kind of a structure. The staff was well versed in what they did.” His job was to supervise all the people and companies all over California. By that time there were women in supporting military roles. At each location there were different operations being done. Once a year they would all get together for an operations summer camp. He was promoted to colonel in 1973. Since he was now colonel he was not allowed to stay in the Battalion in San Bruno because his rank was too high.
His 6th assignment was in the Naval Reserve on Treasure Island in San Francisco in 1974. He served the remainder of his career as a political military officer working in the political military affairs units. It was a voluntary unit and he did not get paid. If Washington was having some kind of conflict with a country they would go there and consult. He would get assignments from Washington D.C. He researched and wrote papers on Turkey and Syria the government. Fowler remembers, “For example, for the project on Turkey, we had to ascertain the effectiveness of a possible reaction if certain things happened. We had to research, write the paper and then send it to Washington DC.” Being close to San Francisco there were many diplomats in the area. Fowler would have dinner with them often and be invited to consult and have discussions off the record. Some of the consulates he met were from Yugoslavia, Japan, England and Germany. He would ask them any questions and they could choose to answer it or not. Most of the time they answered and this was one of the most interesting parts of his military experience. He was at this assignment from 1974-1989 when he retired.
In 1989, Fowler retired after 37 years. It was a transition for him. At the same time he retired from his civilian job at Merrill Lynch. He and his wife had formed a motion picture company in 1959 which made films for agriculture groups. The company changed from a motion picture production company to a payroll services company for the performing arts in 1972. That continued until the sale of the company in 2001. He decided to work there and continued until 1990 when his wife had a stroke. The company continued but he took time off. He stated, “Life is what happens to you while you make other plans.” He later remarried and moved continued to live in Belvedere, California.
During his service he had no problems, just challenges. The only injury he had was a car accident at Camp Pendleton which took him 6 weeks to recover. He remained motivated throughout his military career. He recalls, “I enjoyed being with the kids, the Marines, young kids would come in as 18 year olds who knew everything. To see them mature from young boys to adults was enjoyable for me.” He made many friends but most of them have passed away. He keeps in touch with several of them. He was president of the Marine Corps Reserves Organization and Navy League Chapter in San Francisco in 1975. He used these organizations to keep in touch with military people in the area.
Fowler recalls one his most interesting moments in the military was during an exercise on the Silver Strand in Coronado, CA. He was on a troop transport helping with a landing at the naval base. The ship sucked sand into their boilers and the whole ship shut down so it was pitch black. It was difficult trying to get the men and their gear off the ship in pitch blackness. The ship had to be towed back into the San Diego Harbor because it was dead in the water. He felt very lucky nothing serious happened.
Overall, Fowler learned a lot in the military especially about himself. He learned trades that served him very well throughout the rest of his life. He stated, “I can say that because I did not see combat. If I had seen combat I might have a different opinion, I don’t know. I don’t think what we did in Korea was wrong, I think it was necessary and I don’t have any regrets.” He did explain he was glad he never had to do boot camp again. He feels his outlook had changed very deeply from his experience in the military. He learned about people, trust, dependency on others and being dependent on himself. One of the lessons he learned is to appreciate other people. He states, “Things may go wrong but they rectify themselves. Trust in others, adversities and good things are temporary and you learn to appreciate both of them. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t and that is life.” His advice he had for young people today is to look for things as an opportunity not as a drudge. He feels there are things to learn, an opportunity to grow, experience what life is. Make of it what you want. He thinks the draft helped a lot of people. He still wishes we would take better care of our veterans. He fells America is still working on it.
In conclusion, Fowler feels, “Everything you do is an experience. Add to it, control life, and let life be an instructor to you. There are times when I was really mad; disappointed but there are times that I became very happy with what was happening. That is life. We have dependence on living with others and independence that we learn.”
Interview conducted by Anna Lonsway on July 11, 2016.