Mad Dog McDow
Meet Colonel (Retired) "Mad Dog" Rick McDow, United States Air Force.
This southern gentleman and Tuscaloosa grad (ROLL TIDE!) had dreams of becoming a military aviator, having heard stories from his uncle who flew jets during the Korean War.
Amidst the backdrop of Vietnam, Rick joined the Air Force and was a “90 day wonder” graduating from Officer Training School (OTS) out of Lackland Air Force Base in the balmy Spring of 1970.
“Slightly” poor eyesight thwarted Rick’s dream of becoming a pilot. So he chose the next best thing, becoming a “back-seater” in the F-4 Phantom II as a navigator.
In 1972, Rick left his young wife Beverly and deployed with the 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron to Da Nang, South Vietnam and Thailand.
On June 27th, while a member of Valent 03 air crew, 24 year-old Rick McDow and his pilot were hit by a surface to air missile in the skies above North Vietnam. Rick was forced to eject above enemy territory. Injured, Rick was captured by the North Vietnamese and became a Prisoner of War.
Based on initial reports, Rick's wife, stateside, was told her husband had been killed. Weeks later she would learn that Rick was very much alive and in captivity. Bev endured her own kind of hell in those weeks.
Unable to pronounce his last name correctly, Rick's North Vietnamese captors erroneously called Lieutenant McDow: "Mad Dog"
The name, of course, stuck with Rick's fellow POWs.
"Mad Dog" Rick spent the next 275 days at the Hanoi Hilton and other camps. Rick recalls the experience with humility and acknowledges that he was one of the “lucky ones” in terms of his treatment and the extent of his injuries. In today’s context, it’s safe to say that Rick rated Communist hospitality with absolutely zero stars.
His saving grace was the stalwart conviction and encouragement-by-example of his fellow POWs. Rick returned to the United States as a part of Operation Homecoming in May of 1974.
Rick spent the next year of his life out of uniform, helping his mother and family bring their car dealership into the green, selling it for a profit despite the pesky Oil Embargo.
Pondering his next career move, you might think it illogical that Rick might want to re-enter the Air Force. Further, you might find it insane that he wanted to continue to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.
Rick’s a special and determined breed - he did BOTH!
By 1976, Rick had earned his wings and became an instructor for the F-4 Phantom II - yes, the same exact aircraft he ejected from only a few years earlier.
Rick excelled as a pilot and two years later was asked to serve as an instructor pilot for the, ding ding wait for it, A-10 Thunderbolt II.
Whether it was the deserts of Arizona, fog of England, or sunny Myrtle Beach, Rick spent the late 70s and 80s in and out of the cockpit of the A-10. He loved flying the Warthog and considered it the premiere and most versatile platform to deliver lethal effects to our adversaries.
Throughout the 1980s, Rick advocated for the A-10 at every level, helping to ensure its continued funding.
Rick had an amazing Air Force career.
He went on to serve as the Ops officer for the 353rd Tactical Fighter Squadron and Commander of the 355th Tactical Fighter Squadron. By 1988, Rick found himself the Commander of the 354th Fighter Wing.
Rick was a member of the final wave of Wing Commanders who continued to lead from the cockpit. He would again serve in combat.
In the summer of 1990, Rick and a ‘gross’ of a hundred and forty-four A-10 aircraft deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Desert Shield. Rick would fly 42 successful combat missions from the cockpit in support of ground operations.
When asked what he believes to be his greatest military achievement, Rick is very clear:
“That we got to bring everyone home that final deployment.”
Rick knew his Airmen and their families and he was very proud to lead an all-volunteer force in combat.
For a young officer who endured so much in the Vietnam War - to then lead one of the greatest air-enabled victories in the modern era - I can only imagine the gratitude Rick experienced watching his Airmen embrace their loved ones after returning home from the Gulf.
Rick retired from the service in 1994 and joined the private sector. His post-military life included stints as an Executive Director for the Red Cross and as a mentor-leader to Civil Air Patrol cadets.
These days, you can find Rick enjoying some front-porch sitting in North Carolina with his bride, Beverly. Occasionally, he gets to reunite with his fellow POWs, share in some libations, and reflect on a career that took him all over the world...and in the constant company of great Americans.
Rick McDow, Sir, you look great in the Save the A-10 Gun Run sweatshirt. There are a couple of generations of ground-pounders that owe you a debt of gratitude for running the race to “Let the Boar Roar.” Thank you for sharing your story, Rick. Give your Bev a kiss and enjoy your Veterans Day.
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