[This blog post was written by Matthew Peek, Military Collection Archivist for the State Archives of North Carolina.]
In honor of Black History Month, the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina wants to feature one of its most important collections from the Vietnam War—the Alfred Fowler Papers.
Alfred Fowler was born on September 26, 1942, in Whites Creek Township in Bladen County, North Carolina. His parents were John Edd and Laney (Shaw) Fowler. Alfred’s mother died when he was five years old, leaving him to be raised by his father, with whom he was not very close. Alfred’s mother gave birth to nine living children, the oldest of whom—Mary Lee—worked to raise Alfred and his siblings. Growing up, Alfred was very close to his youngest sister Mabel.
Alfred Fowler would meet Cynthia L. Bryant while the two were in New York in the 1960s. Bryant was from Sanford, North Carolina. Alfred Fowler married Cynthia in August 1966, and they remained in New York until January 1967. In January 1967, the couple moved to Sanford, and lived with Cynthia’s parents on South Horner Boulevard.
Alfred Fowler worked at the Cornell-Dubilier Electronics plant in Sanford prior to his service in the Vietnam War. Seattle-founded Cornell-Dubilier, a pioneer in producing capacitors for radios and other electronics, opened a Sanford plant in 1955. Fowler worked in a laboratory at the company testing its products.
Prior to moving to North Carolina, Alfred Fowler had attempted to enlist voluntarily in the U.S. military, but was rejected three times by the military—likely due to his having high blood pressure. When the Fowlers relocated to North Carolina, however, Alfred received his draft board notice about six months later on July 3, 1967. Partly due to the Fowlers’ recent relocation, Alfred would receive draft notices from three different local draft boards between August and October 1967, as different localities were trying to claim him for draft quotas. He received his final draft notice, which indicated his date of induction would be in November 1967.
Alfred Fowler was inducted into the U.S. Army as a private on November 28, 1967. He entered basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in December 1967, where he remained until February 1968. Alfred was assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, in the U.S. Army Training Center at Fort Bragg. He would be transferred to Fort Sill near Lawton, Oklahoma, arriving there between February 9 and February 10, 1968. While at Fort Sill, Fowler was a member of Battery E of the 3rd Training Battalion at the U.S. Army Training Center-Field Artillery command. It was during his nearly three-month stay at Fort Sill that Fowler learned how to operate a variety of field artillery guns, which he came to utilize in the jungles and mountains of Vietnam.
Serving with Battery B of the 2nd Battalion, 321st Artillery Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Alfred Fowler was sent to Vietnam with his regiment between the end of April and the first week of May 1968. He was promoted to corporal by July 3, 1968. Fowler’s overseas service ended in April 1969 after a year-long term in Vietnam. While in Vietnam, Fowler’s artillery unit participated in regular firefights with the Viet Cong. Upon returning to the United States, he was transferred to Fort Carson in Colorado—rather than his preferred location of Fort Bragg—sometime in May 1969. Fowler served at Fort Carson until being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army on November 26, 1969.
Alfred Fowler returned to work at his job with Cornell-Dubilier, and would attend Central Carolina Community College in Sanford for a couple of years. Fowler’s family recollects that he suffered mood swings and mental distress from his service in Vietnam, believing this to be what today is identified as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He never would openly discuss his service, shielding his family from the horrors of what he experienced in Vietnam. Alfred had changed quite a bit upon his return from service, and the letters he wrote from Vietnam indicate some of the struggles he was going through during combat.
Since they had been newlyweds when he left for the U.S. Army, Alfred and Cynthia Fowler would have to relearn to live with each other, facing the challenges of adjusting to the drastic personal and cultural changes of the late 1960s as an African American couple in North Carolina. The Fowlers would remain together until Alfred’s death on July 17, 2004. He was buried at Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake, North Carolina.
You can learn more about Alfred Fowler from his collection, the Alfred Fowler Papers (VW 1) in the Vietnam War Papers of the Military Collection, that contains more than 180 letters written between him and his wife during Fowler’s service in the Vietnam War.
You also can currently see Alfred Fowler’s Vietnam War Army uniform on display in the North Carolina Museum of History’s “Call to Arms” Gallery on the Third Floor of the Museum in the Vietnam War section of the exhibit.