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A recipient of the highest military award given by the United States government shared his less-than-award-winning moments Thursday with students at Fort Knox High School.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Patterson, a Medal of Honor recipient, visited the post school to speak to the entire student body as well as visit with JROTC members. Patterson encouraged students to stay in school and avoid the “stupid things” he had done in his life.
Patterson earned the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Vietnam War. He assaulted and destroyed several enemy bunkers while his unit was being attacked. But he didn’t spend any time discussing his acts of bravery during the student assembly; instead, he focused on his mistakes.
“We’re going to use me as an example of what you should not do,” he said.
Patterson said his initial decision to join the Army was motivated by a girl he knew in high school.
“On Sunday night, she ticked me off,” he said. “On Monday, I showed her. I joined the Army.”
In his first three years in the military, Patterson received three Article 15s, which are given for minor offenses. He received the first during basic training, once again because of his association with that same high school girlfriend. He returned late to training after visiting her on a weekend pass.
Earlier in the day when he received his third Article 15, he had been recommended for a Medal of Honor by his commanding officer.
“In my lifetime, I did a lot of stupid things,” he said.
He told the students to make their mistakes early and to learn from them. He compared their journey in life to building a house. Both need a strong foundation.
“That’s what you’re doing right now,” he said. “You’re laying your foundation.”
Patterson was in the area to for a meeting of Medal of Honor recipients. Educational outreach is one aspect of the convention, so it was arranged for Patterson to visit Fort Knox.
The JROTC played a large part in arranging the event, Principal Gregg Mowen said.
“They all realize how significant the event is,” he said.
Mowen said the visit is great for the community, but special for the school.
“This means a lot to us because we’re Fort Knox,” he said.
Retired Chief Warrant Officer Scott Akin, JROTC leader at Fort Knox, said he wanted the students to “meet somebody who embodied the idea of servitude.”
Cadet Lt. Col. Andre Wingate helped arrange Patterson’s visit. Wingate said after Patterson’s speech and meeting him personally, he felt Patterson cared about the students.
“To me it seems he has great honor and respect for future generations,” Wingate said.
Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or firstname.lastname@example.org.