John Patterson doesn’t consider himself a hero.
A tank technician in the U.S. Army, he drove with the 743rd Tank Battalion onto the sands of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on D-Day.
A Purple Heart recipient, he fought on the front lines of Europe in World War II. He was among the first American troops in Paris. He spent a winter in the Belgian Ardennes Mountains during the Battle of the Bulge.
Patterson tells these stories matter-of-factly with a little sadness and sometimes sparks of anger.
He doesn’t believe in war, he says. He was drafted; he didn’t want to fight.
No, he says, he is not a hero. The heroes are the men who gave him a new home.
For the past two years, Patterson, 89, lived in a lean-to after his mobile home caught fire. No running water, no bathroom, no air conditioning, just his bed, his computer and a clutter of books, canned goods and rags.
He was adamant that he didn’t need help, that he could save up enough money to repair the trailer himself, but the Veterans Service Office thought otherwise.
Shortly after the fire, two nonprofit organizations took an interest in Patterson’s case — St. Johns Housing Partnership and Vets 4 Vets.
Bill Lazar, director of the Housing Partnership, which works to help people get and maintain affordable housing, said the mobile home was beyond repair.
“It wasn’t safe,” he said. “I told him he wouldn’t be able fix it up. I didn’t want him to waste his money.”
Patterson wouldn’t listen. For almost two years, Lazar said, he turned down government offers for new homes, including one from Habitat for Humanity.
Fiercely independent, Patterson continued to insist that he didn’t need any help. Finally, David Bliss, director of Faith-Bilt Homes, stepped in.
He convinced Patterson that by accepting aid from these organizations, he could help Bliss set up his ministry in St. Augustine.
“He wouldn’t accept it for himself,” Bliss said, “only to help others.”
Bliss is a former felon who says he has rededicated his life to God. Though he said he provided the majority of the money, materials and labor for this project, he reminds anyone who’ll listen that it was all God’s to begin with, he is just helping to distribute it.
In addition to Faith-Bilt Homes, Bliss is also the founder and director of Faith Quest Ministries — an organization he is bringing to St. Augustine that will work to help those in need. He said the ministry will serve the homeless, the hungry and the widowed, among others.
Volunteers from the Marine Corps League helped Bliss set to work demolishing Patterson’s old mobile home and moving all his belongings into a new storage trailer. Bliss also set up a temporary storage trailer and a travel trailer on the lot for Patterson to live while the new mobile home could be set up.
“It was just basic — with a bathroom, shower and sink, refrigerator, air conditioning and bed,” Bliss said. “But those were things he hadn’t had in a long time.”
Many come to his aid
About two weeks ago, Bliss moved a refurbished 14-foot-by-10-foot mobile home he purchased from Ocala to Patterson’s lot. He began making repairs and slowly moving Patterson in.
But the project was far from over. Lazar said the mobile home still needed air conditioning, a new set of steps and to be grounded properly, and funds were running low.
The Housing Partnership created a Facebook post explaining Patterson’s living conditions and asking for help.
“If everyone does something, no one has to do everything,” the post read.
Within two weeks, Doug Wiles, president of Herbie Wiles Insurance, and the congregation of Christ Episcopal Church in Ponte Vedra Beach each donated $2,500 to the Housing Partnership to help complete the project.
“Sixty-eight years ago, Mr. Patterson was on the beach in Normandy ensuring that we could live the way we do today, so I thought we had to do something,” Wiles said. “The unfortunate thing is there are far too many Mr. Pattersons out there that we don’t know about.”
Lazar and Bliss said the mobile home should be totally ready to go within the next week.
Patterson has already begun moving his belongings inside and, though he says there’s not as much storage space as he would like, said he was happy with the way things turned out.
His lumpy, twin-sized bed is pushed against a window. It faces his computer, which is surrounded by a landslide of papers, folders, boxes and books.
More books — many of them his self-published works on theology — are piled on tables and chairs that have been fire-charred and weather-beaten.
His kitchen is now home to the jumble of bananas, peanut butter jars and soup cans that once were piled around his yard.
Testy fades to a grin
Patterson sits in a lawn chair that must have been white at some time and talks about what it was really like at the front in WWII — things he says the media didn’t show. He talks about his beliefs in jubilee economics — that the government should forgive all debts and America should get a fresh start.
His thick, white hair is a stark contrast to his tanned, lined face and sky-blue eyes. His dusty, cornflower-blue shirt is tucked into his dusty, cornflower-blue pants.
He ends conversations when he wants, hanging up the phone saying “bye-bye,” sometimes while the person on the other line is still talking.
He has quick flashes of anger — don’t take my picture, the government’s national debt figures are wrong, I didn’t need any help — but they just as quickly melt away into a wide grin.
The real hero
The still air is heavy with the St. Augustine heat and the promise of storms as he talks about living in his lean-to.
“Don’t feel sorry for me,” he said. “No one should feel sorry for me; that’s not the story.”
The story isn’t that John Patterson helped lead the way into Paris for Gen. George Patton or that he’s walking around with shrapnel in his knee.
It’s not that he’s visited 46 states or stained his hands with pastels and charcoal sketching portraits of tourists.
This is a story about heroes. About people who came together to help a brother in need.
This, Patterson said, is the story of a home: “The hero is this house.”
Source: St. Augustine Record
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