Bob Patterson is a lot more than the Medal of Honor he wears around his neck for official visits. It is the highest honor in the military, for combat, and Patterson sure earned his in 1968 in Vietnam.
But Patterson, one of just 79 living Medal of Honor recipients in America, is the real deal. Not some pencil pusher. Not an officer – he turned down a battlefield commission in Vietnam after his heroic actions.
Dozens of veterans came out to meet him Wednesday in Rock Hill. They were not disappointed.
Patterson is a tough guy. The smile and the lined face and the grip like a vise. He talks about Kyle Busch barreling down a race track. He talks about the difference between soldiers and politicians – and the chasm is wide. He is a solider but he can cuss like a sailor. Above all he is one thing: “American.”
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“My father was a carpenter and a sharecropper, and I thought my life was gonna be just that, out there in the tobacco fields and the barns,” Patterson says to anybody who will listen. “But I turned out all right.”
Bob Patterson, now 67, dropped out of high school in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1966 and joined the Army the very next day. He was 5 feet 10 inches tall and 115 pounds. He looked like a sideways clothesline. But he was hard as spun steel.
By 1968, he was a specialist, an E-4 in Army talk after a few promotions, despite being in his own admission a tough-to-get-along-with, hard-charging, fighting soldier.
In May 1968, he saved an entire squad of soldiers and destroyed an enemy position. He took out seven enemy soldiers and eight bunkers and swept up seven weapons.
All by himself.
And he doesn’t remember it.
“The whole afternoon when it happened, it is a blank,” Patterson said.
But the Army noticed.
The valor for that day was why he later received the Medal of Honor.
But that is not all Bob Patterson.
He was recommended for the Medal of Honor for heroism in the morning, and disciplined for his tough and hard behavior in the same afternoon by one of the officers.
“Might be the only one ever had that double,” Patterson grinned.
Still, Patterson spent 26 years in the Army, rising to command sergeant major at the top of enlisted ranks, and then another 17 years working with veterans. Now living in Florida, he hasn’t stopped.
Patterson is a big mover with the foundation and society associated with the Medal of Honor, nonprofit groups connected to the medal winners that promote patriotism, service and more. Patterson now spends much of his time traveling around the country to support the programs, including raising money so schools can receive free materials. The program is non-partisan, non-political, and all-American.
“I tell young people all the time, you are building a life,” Patterson said. “I want them all to make good choices, work hard for what they want, and give service. We need young people to care about their communities and their country. There is nothing more valuable than giving service.”
Tommy Pruitt of Springs Creative in Rock Hill, chairman for Medal of Honor events to be held in Charlotte from Oct. 15 to 19, brought Patterson to Rock Hill on Wednesday for a quick visit to meet people.
Patterson took time for everybody – especially the motorcyclists who took time to ride from Springs Creative to the Rock Hill American Legion post for a dinner honoring Patterson. Rock Hill’s Rolling Thunder group of advocates – many of them veterans – were introduced to him and they gave Patterson an ovation.
Then they gave him an escort.
Patterson was in a police sport utility vehicle – “Not in the back!” he chuckled – and the group wound through the city’s streets. The police vehicle was driven by Marine Corps veteran John Rainier, a Rock Hill Police Department sergeant who knows more than a little bit about service. His best friend, also a cop named Jeff Shelton, was killed in Charlotte in a gun battle.
“Honored to have you,” Rainier said to Patterson, and he meant it.
Patterson, the old Army tough guy that he is, said, “Marines, huh? Sorry to hear that.”
Then he winked and everybody laughed.
Bob Patterson got in the police cruiser – a humble hero, trying to keep his country great.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065