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Frederick Henry Detjen
4 May 1938 – 4 Oct 1963

Frederick Henry Detjen

Class Memorial Pages\H-2 Fred Detjen.pdf

Frederick Henry Detjen was born in Springfield, IL, the son of Elinor and Henry Detjen. Fred was appointed to the United States Military Academy by U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois and entered the Academy on 3 Jul 1956.

Fred left the Academy in January 1957 because of deficiency in Topography. It was the good fortune of the Class of ’61, and Company H-2, that Fred passed the re-entrance examination and joined us in the fall of 1957.

As a “recognized plebe,” Fred earned our respect. He was 100% supportive of his new classmates and, at the same time, never said or did anything to undermine or question the authority of the upperclassmen. Fred was always fun to be with and had a marvelous sense of humor and love of life.

Not many worked harder than Fred, but academic success did not come easily to him. He fought a courageous delaying action for three years until the Electrical Engineering and Social Science Departments caught up with him. Fred left West Point in June 1960. I was sad when he left. I never saw him again.

As young men, we thought of ourselves as immortal. There would be plenty of time to regain contact with Fred and see how he bounced back, as I knew he would. Time ran out on 4 Oct 1963. Fred was killed in a jeep mishap on a remote mountain road in Columbia, where he was a Peace Corps volunteer.

I was not surprised that Fred had joined the Peace Corps. His strong independence and ruggedness was uniquely combined with a desire to be kind and help other people.

His father tells that after he left West Point, Fred was despondent for several months but he worked out of it and enrolled at Southern Illinois University.

He graduated in 1962 with an engineering degree. Shortly after, he volunteered for the newly formed Peace Corps. After training, his group went to Columbia. Because of his demonstrated leadership ability, Fred was assigned as a volunteer leader, responsible for overseeing the work of volunteers throughout the state of Santandar del Sur. Fred also was the Peace Corps representative to Colombian counterparts in the capital city of Bucaramanga.

Paul Arfin, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, describes Fred as a “natural leader” who was “filled with self-confidence — someone you looked up to.” Mr. Arfin writes that he worked alone in one of the villages and that he “always looked forward to Fred’s visits. He was friendly and supportive and non-judgmental. He helped me deal with the loneliness that many of us felt.” When he died, “There was a tremendous vacuum to be filled.”

On 3 Oct 1963, Fred spent the day meeting new volunteers, transporting them to their villages, and orienting them. After a long day, Fred was returning to Bacaramanga in a jeep driven by an associate. On a curve on a steep mountain road, Fred was thrown from the jeep. He hit his head, lost consciousness, and was rushed to the hospital in San Gil. Peace Corps volunteers and local citizens illuminated a pasture with the headlights of about 30 vehicles so that a small plane carrying a Peace Corps doctor could land. The doctor arrived, but to no avail. Fred never regained consciousness and died the next morning.

Paul Arfin replaced Fred as Volunteer Leader. Wherever he traveled, the local people conveyed warm feelings for Fred. They loved him and were thankful for his efforts on their behalf. The village of Santa Barbara built a school and mounted a plaque that reads,

“This school was constructed in the memory of Fred Detjen, Peace Corps Volunteer, who died 4 Oct 1963.”

Fred’s trademark black boots were placed in the foundation of the school.

Fred overcame the disappointment of leaving West Point and drew upon his inner strength to find a way to serve his country. In the process, he touched and affected the lives of many people. Also in the process, he gave his own life.

Fred Detjen is buried in his hometown of Springfield, IL. His father, a widower, is approaching 90 years of age at the time of this writing. Fred also is survived by a sister, Janet Janssen.

Mr. Detjen is thankful that the Class of ’61 has not forgotten his son.

Well done, Fred. Rest in peace.

A roommate



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Last update:
6/4/01