Army Col. James "Nick" Rowe, killed by suspected communist guerrillas in the Philippines, spent five years as a prisoner of the Viet Cong and was one of only 34 Americans to escape captivity in Vietnam.

A Green Beret member of U.S. Special Forces, the highly decorated Rowe detailed his 1963 capture, his years of captivity and his escape on New Year's Eve 1968 in his book, "Five Years to Freedom."The Pentagon said Rowe was one of only 34 Americans to escape captivity in Vietnam. He was awarded, among other decorations, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

Rowe was a 25-year-old lieutenant in the Green Berets when he was captured on Oct. 29, 1963.

During his more than five years of captivity, Rowe was moved to various POW camps within the southern Delta region of Vietnam.

On Dec. 31, 1968, a group of Army Cobra helicopters attacked the area in the southern Delta where Rowe was being held by a small group of Viet Cong. As the Viet Cong scattered, his guard became disoriented.

While trying to get away from the firing helicopters, Rowe bashed his captor over the head with a dead tree limb he found on the ground and began waving a white mosquito net at the American copters.

"For what seemed to be an eternity, one of the Cobras passed overhead and banked sharply, circling me. It was joined by the second sleek gunship and my heart was beating so hard I thought my whole body would vibrate.

" `They've seen me! I'm OK. They've seen me!' I was exuberant and waved even more frantically, trying to encourage them to hurry," he wrote.

"Up in the Cobras - I learned later - the radio crackled into life. `There's a VC down there in the open.' "

As the gunship prepared to make a firing pass, the flight commander told his gunners to hold up, that he wanted a VC prisoner.

"Suddenly one of them, looking down, spotted the beard," Rowe wrote.

" `That's an American!' "

Rowe was helped aboard and, as the copter took off, he identified himself, and a gunner smiled and handed him an open C-ration can - a can of fruit cake.