Frederic Ewing Fox
1LT in 23rd Headquarters Co
Born 1917 in CT, Died 1981
County of enlistment: Washington, DC
Other residence(s): Stamford, CT; Asheville, NC; Flagstaff, AZ; Hartsdale, NY in Pine Camp roster; Wauseon, OH; Williamstown, MA; Washington, DC; lived later in Princeton, NJ
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: authors, editors, and reporters
College education before the war: Princeton 4 years
College education after the war: Union Theological Seminary; Defiance College of Ohio
Fred Fox was born on August 19, 1917 in Stamford, CT, the middle of five children. He attended schools in Scarsdale, NY and Asheville, NC, and then matriculated at Princeton University. While there, he wrote the "On the Campus" column for the Princeton Alumni Weekly and was a member of the Triangle Club, a musical comedy troupe which performed in New York and other East Coast cities.
He graduated with a pre-med degree in 1939 and went to Moscow with his classmates. Fred brought along some orange and black paint and painted two cobblestones in Red Square in Princeton colors.
Then he headed to Hollywood, hoping to be the next Jimmy Stewart (Jimmy was in the class of 1932 at Princeton). However, an acting career was not forthcoming--he ended up writing Clapp's Baby Food commercials for NBC radio, and briefly working for the Unemployment Compensation Commission in Phoenix. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army (February 6, 1942). Although he enlisted as a private, he was selected for Officer Candidate School, and was commissioned as a 2LT.
He was assigned to the Ghost Army in January 1944 as part of the 23rd HQ Company. In The Ghost Army of World War II, Rick Beyer says that Fred "found himself right at home in this off-off-Broadway show." A few days after one of the earliest European deceptions, Lt. Fox wrote a memo that eventually went out to the men under the name of Col. Harry L. Reeder, the unit's commander. It read, in part: "The attitude of the Twenty-third HQs towards their mission is too much MILITARY and not enough SHOWMANSHIP. Like it or not, the 23rd HQ must consider itself a traveling road show. . . . The presentations . . . will include the proper scenery, props, costumes, principals, extras, dialogue, and sound effects." And Fred's son, Donald Fox, said much later that "if he hadn't done the Triangle Show at Princeton, he wouldn't have been the actor he was in the Army."
Fred came home from Europe on July 2, 1945, and married Hannah Putnam eight days later. He was discharged from the Army with the rank of CPT on January 1, 1946; before then he had written the Official History of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, a document that Rick Beyer calls "one of the most entertaining unit histories ever written." It is a marvelous document, at once humorous and sensitive.
Fred then made another career change, enrolling in Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He earned a bachelor's degree in divinity from Union in 1948, and was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity by Defiance College of Ohio in 1952. He and Hannah grew their family during those post-war years; they had five children: Hannah, Josephine, Elizabeth, Frederick, and Donald. (His son Donald also became a minister and published a book of his father's letters home from Europe during the summer of 1944.)
Fred served as a Congregational pastor in Wauseon, OH from 1948-1953 and in Williamstown, MA from 1953-1956. At the same time, he wrote dozens of articles for The New York Times Magazine and other publications.
His articles in the NYT Magazine caught the eye of the White House staff, and pretty soon he joined that staff, serving from 1956-1961. He was responsible for correspondence with charitable, educational, social, and religious entities, and he often found his ministerial background helpful when answering angry or insulting letters directed to President Eisenhower. These letters were supposed to have a "coolly gracious" response, but he often referenced Biblical verses which got more to the point, sending the recipients to their Bibles to look up the intended message.
He also edited The White House Staff Book, 1952-1961. While he served at the White House, he continued to preach in the DC area, and to perform the occasional wedding or baptism.
When Dwight Eisenhower left the White House, Fred Fox moved to Africa, where he spent six months as a missionary at the World Literacy and Literature Center in Northern Rhodesia. He was an unconventional teacher of writing, using Aesop's Fables, the Bible, cartoons from The New Yorker, and Dr. Spock's book on childcare among his teaching materials. He wrote a book about his experiences there: 14 Africans vs. One American. (He was also the author of A Calendar of Hymns and Song of Two Christmases.)
He then took a position as consultant on Christian education at the Cleveland Park Congregational Church in Washington, DC, where he served until 1964.
After that he returned to Princeton as recording secretary, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. According to a 2019 article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, he was "part of the public face of the University, writing letters to alumni and donors and teaching 'Old Nassau' to new students. With the help of workmen, he snuck a 1939 nickel into the gold ball beneath the weathervane atop Nassau Hall."
In 1976 he received the official title "Keeper of Princetonia," the only person to hold the post. The Princeton Alumni Weekly article continues: "'He was one of the beloved and outstanding characters of Princeton,' says John V, Fleming '63, a professor emeritus of English. 'If there was one guy about whom you'd say: "That's Mr. Princeton," that's Freddie Fox.'"
Fred died on February 20, 1981in Princeton. Before his death he asked the Princeton University Band to play at his memorial service. And at that service, University President William G. Bowen '58 read a fable that Fred wrote for the occasion. It began: "Once upon a time, there was a little boy who came to Princeton and lived happily ever after."
1940 draft card
1942 enlistment record
1944 engagement announcement
1956 article in North Adams Transcript (MA) re his leaving North Adams to take the White House job
1959 article in the Minneapolis Star (MN) re his work at White House (and a protest re separation of church and state)
1959 article in the Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield MA) about his White House job
1963 article in the Greensboro Record (NC) re his book on Africa
1964 article in Evening Star (Washington DC) re his leaving DC area to go to Princeton
1976 article in the New York Daily News re his work at Princeton
1981 obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)
1981 obituary in the New York Times
1981 VA death record
2012 article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly by Rick Beyer "Freddy Fox Goes to War"
2019 article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly
Ghost Army website