This week’s America250 salute is Army Veteran Robert M. Patterson.
Robert M. Patterson was born in April 1948 in Carpenter, North Carolina, but was raised in the nearby city of Fayetteville, near Fort Bragg. Growing up, his family was poor, so when Patterson had the chance, he worked on a tobacco farm to earn money for his family. While in 12th grade, Patterson made the decision to drop out and join the Army after falling out with a girl.
In 1966, Patterson reported to Fort Bragg for basic training, followed by eight weeks of advanced individual training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. After AIT, Patterson attended Airborne School—also known as jump school—and completed paratrooper training in three weeks. He reported back to Fort Bragg in 1967 with the 82nd Airborne Division. However, in preparation for deployment to Vietnam, Patterson went to the 17th Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, because the division needed more soldiers.
At 19 years old, Patterson deployed to Vietnam in December 1967. Arriving at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, he was met with a mortar attack forcing everyone into taking shelter. Once he settled in, Patterson worked in search and destroy missions as well as convoy escorts.
On May 6, 1968, Patterson was a fire team leader for 3rd Platoon, Troop B, when conducted a search and destroy mission near La Chu. Initially told they may encounter a small contingent of Viet Cong forces, Patterson’s platoon encountered a well-armed North Vietnamese Army battalion three times their size. The ensuing fight quickly saw the platoon’s leading squad pinned under intense enemy fire.
The enemy was firing from a series of fortified bunkers filled with one-man spider holes. As the fight unfolded, Patterson’s team destroyed two bunkers. The platoon sergeant led another attack against a different bunker but was injured in the process. Patterson was close enough to his platoon sergeant to help rescue him.
As the fight dragged on, bleakness increased. Casualties were climbing and any attempts to clear the enemy were at a stalemate. Seeing this, Patterson decided to attack the enemy bunkers alone. Although he later received a Medal of Honor for his actions that day, Patterson recalled remembering none of it. Armed with grenades and a rifle, Patterson sprinted through the barrage of enemy fire, succeeding in destroying his first bunker with a grenade. Sprinting deeper into the enemy position, he flanked additional bunkers and proceeded to destroy them. When the fight was over, Patterson destroyed five bunkers, killed eight North Vietnamese soldiers and took seven enemy weapons. His actions helped his platoon renew their attack against the enemy where they succeeded in repelling them.
The next day, Patterson and 11 other men received medals for their actions during the fight. Patterson received a Silver Star. After that, he resumed his routine missions before returning to the U.S. in December 1968 as a newly promoted sergeant. In September 1969, Patterson was notified that he was to receive a Medal of Honor for his actions on May 6, 1968, which bewildered him, as he had never heard of the Medal of Honor before. Nonetheless, in October 1969, Patterson accepted a Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony.
In his interview with the Veterans History Project, Patterson stated, “I think that a person who wears the Medal of Honor is not wearing it for themselves. They’re wearing it for everyone who was there, particularly for those who didn’t come back.”
Patterson spent the latter portion of his military career as a drill sergeant at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He also served in the Gulf War before retiring in 1991 at the rank of command sergeant major with 26 years of service.
In retirement, Patterson worked at VA before moving to Florida, where he enjoys golf and NASCAR races.
Thank you for your service!
VA is highlighting 250 Veterans leading up to July 4, 2026, which marks 250 years of independence. Learn more about the count down to 250 years of the American spirit at https://america250.org/.
Writer: Raymond Lin
Editors: Julia Pack and Annabelle Colton
Fact Checker: Giacomo Ferrari
Graphic Designer: Grace Yang