Retired Major General James “Jim” H. Patterson served his nation and Army aviation for over 28 years in uniform, and then continued to serve in key defense industry leadership positions after retirement.
Patterson served as the Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; then Deputy Commanding Ceneral at the Army Aviation School and Center, Fort Rucker, Alabama, where approximately one half of his tenure was spent as the Acting Commanding General; as the Director of Battlefield System Integration for the Army; and commanded the 6th Air Cavalry Briugade.
Patterson's career included a unique blend of cavalry-armor and aviation assignments which gave him a unique vision of cavalry and aviation's potential on the modern battlefield.
During the October 1975 Army Forces Command and Training and Doctrine Command Conference II, he helped demonstrate employment concepts for the III Corps and TRADOC commanders, and to a gathering of all division commanders and the branch chiefs of the Army.
This exercise clearly demonstrated the viability and decisiveness of air cavalry and Army aviation on the modern battlefield.
Patterson not only demonstrated a vision which substantially changed the employment techniques of cavalry and aviation, but was a brave and decisive leader at all levels of command as evidenced by his awards and decorations.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Legions of Merit, two Bronze Stars for Valor, 21 Air Medals and the Purple Heart.
From 1987 to 1992, Patterson was the vice president for Perceptronics, Inc., and helped to field the AIRNET and SIMNET, both highly successful collective virtual training systems developed by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the aviation defense industry.
Patterson knew aviation and air cavalry inside and out, making him a brave visionary leader ahead of his time, and enabled him to leave an indelible imprint on how Army aviation fights and survives on the modern battlefield.
Date: October 28, 2009
In 1987, Major General James “Jim” Patterson retired from the U.S. Army as a highly decorated veteran. But after a 28-year Army career, he remained a military man. He was meticulous about keeping his tools in their proper places. His family teased him because he kept his short military haircut. And even more than a decade after his retirement, he was committed to public service, serving from 1993 to 2003 on the Longboat Key Town Commission, including terms as Mayor and Vice Mayor.
“He was not in uniform, but he was still serving,” said his daughter, Linda Patterson Italiano. “He wanted to continue serving his country and his community.”
Patterson, of Sarasota and formerly of Longboat Key, died October 21, 2009. He was 78. His service in the Army earned him more than 30 awards for valor and meritorious service including the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military honor.
Born March 15, 1931, in Canton, Ohio, Patterson wasn’t born into a military family. But, from a young age, he was fascinated with airplanes and later decided that he wanted to serve his country.
Patterson graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and earned a master’s of business administration from Auburn University, in Montgomery, Ala. He joined the U.S. Army in 1952 and attended Officer’s Candidate School.
Patterson served in Korea in 1960 and began his first tour of duty in Vietnam in July 1966. He seldom spoke about Vietnam, even to his family. But in a May 25, 2000, article in The Longboat Observer, Patterson recounted his experiences, saying: “Everyone involved in the armed forces has, in some way, had their lives irrevocably harmed.”
Three months into his first Vietnam tour, on October 22, 1966, his helicopter crashed. Amid fire from the North Vietnamese, Patterson and 15 other troops fled and hid in the rice paddies until they were evacuated at dawn. That night, his co-pilot was fatally shot while Patterson sat beside him.
“God didn’t want me to die that night,” Patterson told The Longboat Observer.
Newspapers reported on Patterson’s heroism, of how he risked his life that night to pull injured men to safety. The Army awarded him with the Distinguished Service Cross. Every October 22 for decades after that, he and the other men who survived that night spoke on the phone, discussing how grateful they were to have survived together.
Patterson’s plane was shot down two more times before he finished his first tour and later returned for a second tour, after being promoted to lieutenant colonel and put in charge of four helicopter units. His second stay lasted only seven weeks, because he broke his ankle after stepping into a foxhole. He volunteered for a third tour, but was turned down because of the injury.
Italiano said that she and her sisters, Carol and Leslie, didn’t learn about their father’s Vietnam experience until they were adults.
“Probably because he had three young girls, he wanted to protect us from the difficulties of war,” she said.
Italiano said that when her father came home at night, he was able to let the military go and focus on his wife, Barbara, and his daughters. But he still insisted on the discipline that came with military life, teaching his daughters to say “yes ma’am” and “no sir,” and telling them to never break a commitment, even to piano lessons.
The next 14 years of Patterson’s career included a post at the Pentagon, a role as aviation adviser to the secretary of the Army and a position as deputy commander in charge of all aviation training at Fort Rucker.
In 1976, while living in the Washington, D.C., area, Jim and Barbara Patterson drove to Florida, looking for a place where they could bring their sailboat.
“When they came to Longboat Key and they saw the sun set over the bridge, they knew where they wanted to be,” Italiano said.
During Patterson’s military career, the couple lived in 23 different homes. The Country Club Shores home they purchased on the Key was the first true home they had together; they became full-time residents in 1988.
Patterson retired in 1980 and was hired as vice president of Perceptronics Inc., a military contractor, and later as president and chief operating officer of American Agronomics.
In 1993, drawn again to the opportunity to serve the public, Patterson ran for Longboat Key Town Commission and won.
Commissioner Hal Lenobel, who served with Patterson on the Town Commission, said that Patterson was humble about his military success and took his responsibility to serve the town seriously.
“He was always forthright, and he was always loaded with integrity,” Lenobel said.
Former Mayor and Commissioner Jeremy Whatmough, who served with Patterson during his final year on the commission, said that Patterson focused on the long-term when voting on issues.
“He always thought about Longboat Key, not necessarily today, not necessarily tomorrow, but three, five years from now,” he said.
In 1996, while serving as mayor, Patterson founded Solutions to Avoid Red Tide (START) to fund and support red-tide research after an intense outbreak that year. Whatmough, whom Patterson recruited to help found START, said that the founding of the organization showed Patterson’s commitment to treating red tide as a long-term issue, one that needed control and mitigation. Patterson continued his service on the Town Commission until 2003, when he retired from public life and moved to Sarasota.
Patterson was a member of Bird Key Yacht Club and enjoyed sailing and playing tennis. Every Christmas, his entire family would gather to spend the holiday on Longboat Key. There, he would shuck oysters by the pool before dinner.
Italiano said that her father’s war experience caused him to appreciate the small things in life: the weather, animals and the outdoors.
“He appreciated life more than anyone I know,” she said.
Patterson is survived by his wife, Barbara; daughters, Carol Patterson, of Fort Worth, Texas, Linda Patterson Italiano, of Tampa, and Leslie Scott, of Rolling Hills, California; brothers, John Patterson, of Genesco, Illinois, and William Patterson, of Ocala; and six grandchildren.
A memorial service with military honors was held Sunday, October 25. Burial will take place at a later date at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia. Memorial contributions can be made in Patterson’s name to Mote Marine Laboratory, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, Fla., 34236 or The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, attn: Tribute Gifts, P.O. Box 780, New York, N.Y., 10008.
PATTERSON, JAMES H.
Headquarters, US Army, Vietnam, General Orders No. 63 (January 5, 1967)
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to James H. Patterson (0-6725), Major (Armor), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with 116th Assault Helicopter Company, 11th Combat Aviation Battalion.
Major Patterson distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 22 October 1966 as aircraft commander of a helicopter during a troop evacuation from a heavily embattled area. While carrying the last load of troops from the landing zone, Major Patterson saw a gunship crash nearby. As he maneuvered his helicopter to attempt a rescue, his own helicopter received hits and crash landed. When a man was wounded in the neck while exiting, he ignored the intense hostile fire, dragged him behind a rice paddy dike, and then immediately directed the formation of a defensive perimeter. Seeing the security deteriorate, he ran to the helicopter to obtain a machine gun. He then deliberately exposed himself to intense fire, positioned his weapon, and personally attempted to repel the insurgents. While being attacked, he moved through open positions to ensure the welfare of his men and bolster their confidence. When a rescue helicopter crashed 75 meters from his position, Major Patterson crawled and swam through the rice paddies and quickly set up their defense perimeter. Again braving the fire raking the paddies, he returned to his own crew and lead them to the perimeter of the recently downed aircraft. This consolidation of forces was a critical factor in their being saved. He realized the necessity of moving the wounded to better security, and again entered the riddled helicopter to remove a small cargo door, on which he dragged a disabled man to the rice paddy dike. When a medical evacuation aircraft arrived, he dragged the wounded across the rice paddy dikes and loaded the wounded aboard the helicopter. After a fourth helicopter crashed, he extended his perimeter to protect its men.
In the morning he lead a small patrol to the originally downed ship, strengthened their perimeter with his patrol, treated three wounded men, and directed their medical evacuation. His courageous actions saved for aircraft, their crews and infantrymen.
Major Patterson's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Headquarters, US Army, Vietnam, General Orders No. 63 (January 5, 1967)
Reviewed by: Michael Howard