Coast Guard Heroes: Richard H. Patterson

The Coast Guard Compass was proud to unveil the first 14 heroes the service’s new fast response cutters would be named for and we are even prouder to share the next 10 names with you in a continuation of our Coast Guard Heroes series. Over the next two weeks we’ll be sharing profiles of the namesakes of the Coast Guard’s fast response cutters, from legends of the U.S. Life-Saving Service to courageous men who served during the Vietnam War. Today, we share with you the story of Chief Petty Officer Richard Patterson.

The memorial service held aboard Coast Guard Cutter Point Welcome after the attack. Chief Petty Officer Richard Patterson is on the far right, first row, with his hands on the .50 caliber ammunition storage rack. Photo courtesy of Chief Petty Officer Richard Patterson.

The memorial service held aboard Coast Guard Cutter Point Welcome after the attack. Chief Petty Officer Richard Patterson is on the far right, first row, with his hands on the .50 caliber ammunition storage rack. Photo courtesy of Chief Petty Officer Richard Patterson.

Written by Christopher Havern.

On Aug. 11, 1966, Coast Guard Cutter Point Welcome was assigned to Coast Guard Squadron One, Division 12 as part of Operation Market Time, the U.S. naval campaign along the coast to interdict the maritime logistical support of communist forces in South Vietnam from North Vietnam.

Damage to Coast Guard Cutter Point Welcome. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Damage to Coast Guard Cutter Point Welcome. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

While on a patrol in the waters near the mouth of the Cua Viet River, about three-quarters of a mile south of the demilitarized zone, the cutter was attacked by U.S. Air Force aircraft and repeatedly strafed. As a result, the cutter’s commanding officer, Lt. j.g. David Brostrom, along with one crewmen, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jerry Phillips, were killed. Also wounded in this friendly fire were Point Welcome’s executive officer, Lt. j.g. Ross Bell; two other crewmen, Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark D. McKenney and Fireman Houston J. Davidson; a Vietnamese liaison officer, Lt. j.g. Do Viet Vien; and a freelance journalist, Timothy J. Page.

In response, Chief Petty Officer Richard Patterson took charge of the situation. Using a fire hose he quickly extinguished a blaze that had started as a result of the strafing. Then, climbing to the bridge, he took command of the cutter. Patterson ordered crewmembers who were still capable to carry the wounded to safety below decks. Unable to evade the attacking aircraft, he ran the cutter close ashore and directed the crew to abandon ship.

Under his composed leadership, the wounded were wrapped in lifejackets and paired with the able-bodied. Patterson kept his crew calm and organized while they were in the water awaiting rescue. Along with other units, Point Caution came to the assistance of Point Welcome rescuing those in the water.

The Bronze Star award ceremony for Chief Petty Officer Richard Patterson aboard a buoy tender in Danang; Point Welcome is tied alongside the tender. Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Terry W. Hill.

The Bronze Star award ceremony for Chief Petty Officer Richard Patterson aboard a buoy tender in Danang; Point Welcome is tied alongside the tender. Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Terry W. Hill.

Soon thereafter Patterson and those of his crew that were not seriously wounded returned to their cutter. They then sailed Point Welcome back to Danang under her own power. The cutter was subsequently repaired and returned to service where she again served with distinction until being de-commissioned and turned over to the South Vietnamese navy.

By his calm assessment of the situation and bold action at great risk to himself, Patterson saved the cutter and the surviving crew. For this he was awarded the Bronze Star with the combat “V” device. Chief Patterson succumbed to cancer on April 12, 2010, surrounded by family and friends. His remains were scattered at sea from Coast Guard Cutter Tiger Shark following a memorial service at Coast Guard Station Chatham, Mass.

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