BARRON “DUKE” FREDRICKS was born in New York City, the oldest son of Barron Fredricks, Jr., an attorney, and Cathleen Beattie Fredricks, a schoolteacher. When Barron was six years old, the family relocated to Washington, DC, where he spent his formative years with this parents and three younger siblings, Mary Claire, William, and Judith.
While a senior at St. John’s High School, two significant events occurred that shaped the remainder of his life. First, he met Theresa Varcolik, who became his faithful companion for the next 43 years. Second, he received his competitively obtained appointment to West Point from a District of Columbia commissioner.
Cadet life geographically separated Barron and Theresa for most of the next four years; however, continuous correspondence and occasional visits greatly deepened their everlasting love.
Similar to other phases of his career, Duke good-naturedly accepted the challenges of cadet life and successfully overcame all obstacles to reach his goals, even as he formed many meaningful and lasting friendships. Academics came easy for Duke, and he attained high class standing without sacrificing any social or athletic interests. The Tactical Department, with its penchant for instilling discipline, was likewise dealt with very successfully.
Duke never became overzealous about some of the customs and traditions in vogue at the Academy during the early 1950s, but he was seldom caught circumventing them. On the few occasions that the Tactical Department did win, penalties invariably seemed to be invoked concurrent with a long-anticipated visit by Theresa. Duke’s principal extracurricular activities focused on Theresa, the Catholic acolytes, and the Corps squad boxing team. His three years on the boxing team won him more bruises than victories, despite his tenacity. His persistence under difficult circumstances, however, served him well throughout his life.
The day after graduation, Barron and Theresa were married at the Holy Trinity Catholic Chapel. Their union began a 39-year journey as a faithful team dedicated to serving their country, family, and others.
Early military assignments included pilot and navigator training, which led to several years as a combat-ready crew member in the Strategic Air Command B-47s during the most intense days of the Cold War. Duke knew that technology would ultimately become a major factor in the outcome of that struggle, so he returned to academia and earned a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH. His education was quickly complemented by a year of rigorous training at the Air Force aerospace research test pilot school, class 64C, and he acquired highly advanced flying skills. Those skills, coupled with this aeronautical engineering knowledge, enabled him to significantly contribute to the advancement of aviation technology for the next three decades.
With the exception of two combat tours in Viet Nam, his Air Force assignments involved testing and evaluating advanced military aerospace systems. One such project including perfecting parachuting techniques. Since Duke was the test squadron commander at the time, he felt an obligation to also qualify as a test parachutist and found he enjoyed parachuting. For recreation during that period, he joined a skydiving club and continued the sport for the rest of his life, logging 1,931 jumps and more than 24 hours of free fall. Over the years, Duke’s three children, John, Terry, and James, acquired his interests in skydiving, flying, teaching, and engineering. Undoubtedly, his eight zestful grandchildren will sustain his legacy.
Duke’s two combat tours during the Viet Nam War included assignments as a forward air controller in Pleiku, RF4C reconnaissance pilot in Udorn, and war plans officer in Saigon. His achievements were recognized by two Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, and eight Air Medals.
After 26 years of distinguished military service, COL Fredricks retired from active duty, but not from life or aviation. Duke continued to fly as a test pilot, perfecting aerial refueling techniques in support of Naval operations and validating weapons delivery systems for the Air Force, and, of course, he continued to skydive. Shortly before his death, he became the 14th member of an exclusive club, the Skydivers Over Sixty (SOS).
On 14 May 1993, while flying as an instructor pilot on a routine check flight over the Nevada Desert, an aircraft accident took Duke’s life. Until his very last moments, he enjoyed flying, testing, and evaluating evolving military aeronautical systems. His ashes were scattered from the skies over California from a formation of skydiving colleagues. His eldest son, John, was part of that formation.
Barron “Duke” Fredricks was a fine son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, officer, test pilot, and sky diver; to all those he touched, he also was a great friend. Farewell, Duke, until we rendezvous again at an altitude unsurpassed.