Patty Ward, a Specialist 4 with a helicopter gunship, was shot down 50 years ago while flying to the aid of US Army soldiers during the Vietnam War. He was one of four men who died when their helicopter was hit and crashed.
Patty was awarded the Silver Star for bravery in connection with helping to rescue other grunts wounded in another battle. His family in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia received the medal posthumously.
Being drafted, Patty had less than three months left before he was to be discharged from the army. He was what veterans called a “short-timer.”
He was the kindest man I ever knew from Fairmount, always helping and lending a hand to someone outside his circle of friends who attended Roman Catholic High School or St. Francis Xavier Church and School.
His smile lit up the room and you couldn’t help but feel he was a long-lost brother who’d give you the shirt off his back even though you competed against him in sports games just a few blocks away from the Philadelphia Art Museum.
Us guys from Brewerytown, another working-class section of the city, played football at Lemon Hill and basketball at what has become known as Boat House Road, both in Fairmount Park, the largest park within a municipality in the world.
I cried like a baby dozens of years ago when I visited the small park carved out of a section of his hometown, honoring him and other veterans who gave their lives for the rest of the nation. I cried when I took my then 14-year-old to visit the memorial site, the first in the nation to honor a Vietnam veteran. And I’ll probably sob once again in the future when I take my one-year-old grandson to visit the memorial site along Aspen Street not far from the Eastern State Penitentiary.
Patty died on August 22, 1968. It was the same year that I was drafted.
It was also the anniversary of the day I was commissioned as an officer in the army before being sent to serve the country in the Vietnam War.
Some 500 people turned out for a Mass at St. Franny’s, the nickname for the Catholic church in Fairmount. About the same number gathered to hear speakers recall Patty’s life at home as well as his last day at war.
I was thrilled to hear that one of my favorite Philadelphia area congressmen was named after Patty. Patrick Murphy, who was the first veteran of the Iraq War to be elected to the United States House of Representatives, was named after Patty. Congressman Murphy’s mother was a close friend from Fairmount who wanted her son to carry on his name.
Patty will live in the hearts of people who have met him and I believe his legacy of kindness and good will shall continue hundreds of years from now.
God Bless you, Patty!