March 16, 2014

WWII veteran receives medals in Rock Hill

Charles “Otis” Patton’s service during WWII took him across Europe and Africa on six military campaigns, and on Sunday in Rock Hill, it landed him six awards and a visit from a U.S. congressman.

Charles “Otis” Patton’s service during World War II took him across Europe and Africa on six military campaigns, and on Sunday, it landed him six military decorations and a visit from a U.S. congressman.

The 95-year-old veteran was presented with five medals and an award pin during a ceremony at Westminster Towers in Rock Hill on a rainy Sunday afternoon, surrounded by family, friends and residents of the retiree community. The honors included two campaign medals for service in the U.S., three for service in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and an honorable service pin.

“You’ll never see another ceremony like this,” said House Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who helped present the medals to Patton. Mulvaney represents the 5th congressional district that includes York, Chester and Lancaster counties.

“It’s a privilege to be able to do this,” he said.

Mulvaney first met Patton in November during a veterans event at Westminster Towers. Patton wanted to know if he had served with a relative of Mulvaney’s, prompting the congressman to ask his staff member to look into Patton’s military records.

He found that Patton had not claimed service medals for a military career that started months before the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

“This is an extraordinarily modest generation,” said Park Gillespie, constituent service director for Mulvaney’s office. Gillespie helped award the medals to Patton along with Mulvaney.

Patton’s service took him to Tunisia, Sicily, Naples, Rome, France and an area of western Germany called the Rhineland.

Mulvaney noted that Patton’s six campaigns made the ceremony particularly special. “You didn’t go where he went and do what he did and not be heavily decorated,” he said. Mulvaney’s office works with local residents to track down veterans who may not be aware of or haven’t claimed their service decorations.

Westminster staff helped coordinate the ceremony.

“Nobody ever said a word about it to me,” said Patton of the medals. “Seemed like another lifetime.”

Patton had just graduated from Georgia Tech in Atlanta when he received a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1941 inviting young men to serve in an 18-month-long army training program with promises to return them to their civilian lives afterwards.

Nine months into his training at Fort Bragg, N.C., the U.S. entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and what started as an 18-month-long commitment turned into 55 months. Patton returned to the states in September 1945, toward the tail-end of U.S. action in WII.

A few years later, he met his wife, Eleanor, on a blind date. The two have been married ever since. “It’s a surprise,” Eleanor said of the ceremony. The Pattons were notified of the event a week ago but had not known about the medals until Mulvaney’s office brought it to their attention.

Those in attendance, such as Shirley Brannan, were dressed in red, white and blue to commemorate the special occasion, which included appearances by the American Legion Post 34 Color Guard and the Northwestern High School Troubadours and band.

“My heart’s always been with the red, white and blue,” said Brannan, 88, whose husband served in the Navy. Brannan has known the Pattons for several years and also resides in Westminster Towers. She first met Patton as a fellow member of Oakland Presbyterian Church and knew about his military experiences.

But the medals came as a surprise to Angela Sugameli, a physical therapist at Westminster Towers who also knew the Pattons and stopped by the ceremony. “He doesn’t talk about it very much,” said Sugameli, who shook hands with Patton and told him that she would be making it a point to ask him more about his service in the future.

Patton turns 96 next month.

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