Veteran lighting the way for fallen Marine’s legacy

GALLITZIN – In September 2011, Gallitzin Borough officials renamed Portage Street Park as Fabbri Park in honor of U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ralph J. Fabbri, who was killed in 2010 during a combat mission in Afghanistan.

Gallitzin native Joe Patterson, who spent 24 years in the military, noticed something was missing.

“I noticed the flag was not lit at night. I went to Borough Council and told them my intent that I would like to light it. They supported my effort,” Patterson said.

“I think it is an awesome idea, and I applaud his efforts. Gallitzin Borough Council backs his efforts entirely,” said Roger Renninger, council president.

So Patterson set out to raise money to make the project called “Light Up a Hero” a reality.

He organized a pancake breakfast Nov. 10 – hosted by the Gallitzin Sportsmen’s Association – which raised $8,500 for the project.

Students at Penn Cambria High School and middle school sold T-shirts and helped raise about $2,500 for the project, Patterson said.

Patterson is also helping to organize a motorcycle run for the spring, through which he hopes to raise another $10,000. Patterson, 46, is pleased to be able to do something for his hometown.

“I am loyal and dedicated to my family and my community. I describe myself as someone who takes honor to the American title, and this is my hometown. It is such an honor to come back where I was born and raised and do something for this community,” Patterson said.

Patterson graduated in 1985 from Penn Cambria High School and then received an associate degree as a paralegal from Computer Systems Institute in Pittsburgh before enlisting in the Army in 1987.

He comes from an Army family.

“My father, Jim, was a World War II veteran. My older brother, Denny, was in Vietnam when I was born. Another brother, Jim [Junior], went in in 1974 after Vietnam. That is something I am very proud of. I feel very strong and proud of my family,” Patterson said.

Patterson spent 10 years in the Army before joining the Army National Guard in 1997 to become a recruiter in Wilkes-Barre.

Patterson held many different positions during his career, such as a maintenance worker on track and recovery vehicles, a combat medic, a training sergeant and a drill sergeant.

Patterson served in numerous locations, including Germany, Turkey and Kosovo but clearly remembers his time in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm.

“We were always hit in the bunkers during the first Gulf War. There were scud missiles all the time. We were packed like sardines in the bunkers. It was like chaos. There was a lot of smoke and fire. There were a lot of scud attacks,” Patterson said. “At times, I thought I would never come up. You are in there and can’t see out. You don’t know what is going on. The ratio of those going home to lives taken is always in the back of your mind.”

He wrapped up his career as a drill sergeant at the Army National Guard Readiness Center at the Meadows Intersection. Patterson retired on Nov. 1, 2011.

“It was my time. I wanted to spend more time with my family,” Patterson said.

Since his retirement, Patterson has been working as a part-time custodian at the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home. He also has worked for “VA for Vets” in Ebensburg, where he helped veterans with career coaching and transitioning to civil life.

“I was doing a job I was familiar with. I was doing that myself,” Patterson said.

Patterson recently completed work for a degree in organizational leadership at St. Francis University.

In the future, he hopes to work with veterans – he is very active with Disabled American Veterans – and troubled youth, but for now, he is focusing on the lighting project.

“I am doing this in remembrance of a fallen Marine who was killed in action. We’ve had others fallen in this town, not to take away from their honor, but this is here and now. This will allow the flag to be lit at night. That is the military tradition,” Patterson said.