He lied about his age to join the U.S. Marines in 1967. He wanted to go to Vietnam to serve his country.
He was part of L Company, 3rd Battalion 7th Marines.
On September 6, 1968, he was on patrol near Dai Loc, a rural district in Quang Nam Province in the South Central Coast Region of Vietnam.
It was raining on September 6.
Pat’s patrol was crossing a swollen river. A fellow Marine lost his grip on a life line and was swept away. Pat went after him. Both young men were swept away and drown. Their bodies were recovered five days later down river.
Pat was one of the youngest of the more than 58,000 soldiers to die in Vietnam.
Bessie Jewel, our mother, found out that Pat had lied about his age to get into the Marines. He begged her over and over not to report him. She did not.
“They brought my baby home and I could not even open the casket to say goodbye,” she cried each time she thought about it. “I don’t even know if that was my baby’s body in that casket.”
Grief crippled mother’s heart for the rest of her living days. She always felt responsible for Pat’s untimely death.
As I sat next to my mother’s death bed in a Baton Rouge hospital in 1992 she would call out Pat’s name or speak to him as though he was a child standing before her. It was the delirium of impending death.
“Where is Pat, Billy” she asked in moments of lucidity.
“He’ll be back in a minute, Momma – he just went out to get a Coke … he’s coming back, I promise.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. The pain of a lost family engulfed me.
Prison rules allowed me to stay for two hours. Pat never came back, and neither did Bessie Jewell. She passed shortly after I was escorted from the room where the handcuffs were returned to my wrists.
In one moment delirium, mother said to me: “I see heaven, Billy Wayne – right over there … see it.”
When I think of Pat, I inevitably think of mother – and in these dark moments, I pray there was a heaven just over the stream where Pat was waiting to embrace her, saying: “It’s okay now, Momma – you are home at last.”
Memories of a wonderful Veteran.