Many veterans and active-duty military personnel walked onto the playing field at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, N.C., Sunday evening for military appreciation day during the American Legion World Series. The servicemen and women, ranging from 19 years old to 96, received a standing ovation from the thousands of spectators in the stands.
Among the veterans being recognized were two Medal of Honor recipients from the Vietnam War — U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Robert Martin Patterson and Army Col. Walter Joseph Marm, Jr.
Patterson, a North Carolina native, never had intentions of joining the U.S. Army until one Sunday evening at the end of his junior year in high school. He became upset with his then-girlfriend and decided to “show her” by joining the Army that Monday morning in 1966.
At the age of 20, Patterson was presented the MoH on Oct. 9, 1969, at the White House by President Richard Nixon. He received the United States military’s highest decoration for his actions during a battle in Vietnam in which he destroyed numerous enemy bunkers.
“I don’t think I deserved it. There’s a lot more men who did a lot more than I did,” said Patterson. “But I was the one that was recognized, and I accept that. I’m kind of like a caretaker for the medal - you hold it for those who didn’t receive it or didn’t come back.”
Patterson retired from the Army after 26 years of service and then spent 17 years working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He now lives in Florida and is enjoying being in Shelby to watch Legion Baseball, his first time ever watching a Legion game.
“This is different than what I’m used to,” Patterson said. Normally, he’s golfing, visiting with active-duty servicemembers or speaking with junior and high school students.
“When I speak to the students, I don’t talk about my actions for receiving the Medal of Honor. I talk about them,” Patterson said. “Because I’ve lived my life and they are just starting theirs. I try to encourage them to stay in school and to look at their life as building a house; they are now laying the foundation.”
It’s also the first time Marm has attended a Legion Baseball game. He finds the atmosphere of “veterans and baseball players to be very special. And I think it’s very special that the Legion would bring eight teams from all over the country here to Shelby. That’s wonderful for this town and for North Carolina.”
Marm was born in Washington, Pa., but now lives with his wife in Fremont, N.C. - a quaint town with two traffic stoplights and 1,400 residents. After 30 years of service, he retired and spent 10 years taking care of ill hogs.
Marm was studying finance at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh when the Vietnam War broke out. He decided to enlist in the Army to become an officer instead of being drafted. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Ia Drang where he fought his way to the enemy’s machine gun nest that had pinned down his platoon, shattering his jaw in the process.
“I always say I wear the medal for all those brave men who were in that battle whose actions go unsung. My actions happened to be observed,” Marm said.
Marm was presented the Medal of Honor award on Dec. 19, 1966, by Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor during an outdoor ceremony at the Pentagon. He was only 24 years old.