Veteran of three wars, local man Patmore has no regrets about time in military service

Donald O. Patmore, who served in three wars during his 26 years in the United States Army, displays his military awards, including his highest honor, a Bronze Star earned in Vietnam. Patmore’s son, Don Patmore, looks on at right.
Donald O. Patmore, who served in three wars during his 26 years in the United States Army, displays his military awards, including his highest honor, a Bronze Star earned in Vietnam. Patmore’s son, Don Patmore, looks on at right. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Donald O. Patmore spent 26 years of his life in the United States Army, serving in three wars.

He has no regrets.

“It was a good job, a good occupation,” he says. “I liked it.”

In the beginning, it was the job that chose him — not the other way around.

Patmore, then living in the state of Washington, was drafted on Nov. 10, 1945. He went to Fort Lewis, WA, to train for a job running construction equipment at the end of World War II in 1945.

Then it was 23 days on a ship to Korea, where he served for about a year from 1946 to 1947, again running construction equipment. He was discharged in 1947.

He got married a few years later, in 1950, and lived in his wife’s home state of Alabama. By then, he had a VA job and had been trained to work on electrical appliances — dishwashers and the like. But he wasn’t too confident in the future of his job.
“If we go into a depression, this old Yankee won’t have a job,” he remembers telling his wife.

He put in for active duty and was sent to Fort Bragg, NC, to work in motor transport. He and the half-dozen men he supervised maintained a fleet of 28 trucks.

Eventually, he ended up in Germany — where he spent the bulk of his military career — and learned to assemble the atomic bomb, a job that came with a top secret clearance. He was involved with the atomic cannon, a field cannon “with tires that go up to your nose,” he says, that was designed to fire a nuclear shell. While the cannon never fired a nuclear weapon, Patmore did test it with conventional rounds.

Mostly, he worked in communications. He’d set up large electronic trucks and secret radio communications for troops, jamming enemy signals.

He served a total of four tours of duty in Germany.

“I was in Gen. Patton’s old outfit,” Patmore says. “He was killed over there before I served.”

Patmore’s family lived in Germany during his time there, which included regular rotations back to the United States, but they moved back to his home state of Washington when he was assigned to Vietnam. He served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 as a first sergeant.

“In Vietnam, we would work all day in our job,” he says. “Then we’d cook steaks on a charcoal grill. There would be machine gun fire on one side, and a dive bomber on the other side.”

Patmore had a pet dog named Mack in Vietnam, and Mack played a role in one nighttime adventure.

“One day in Vietnam, about 2 o’clock in the morning, it was hotter than hell, and that dog started barking,” he says. “I grabbed my boots and my flashlight and found a kangaroo rat. I thought, ‘I’ll just go over and kick him in the head.’ And then I jumped on top of him and killed him.”

There was, of course, combat.

“I was right in the middle of it but never fired a weapon,” Patmore says.

At one point, news coverage left Patmore’s family fearing the worst. Watching television coverage of Vietcong attacks during the Tet Offensive, Patmore’s son, Don Patmore, recalls, “Mom, I and my sister were crying; that’s where dad was … we knew that car is going to come — the military car that tells you your dad’s dead.”

The disappearance of the regular letters they were accustomed to receiving from Patmore reinforced that fear.

Turns out, there were no letters because mail delivery had stopped, and Patmore — who was unscathed — had been out barbecuing the night of the attack.

Patmore left the military in 1971.

“I stayed until I retired,” he says. “I’m cheating the government. You’re only supposed to live four years in retirement.”

He settled in southern Indiana and, after the death of his wife, moved to Huntington about a year and a half ago. His garage is set up so he can continue his hobby of fine woodworking, but he still enjoys the camaraderie of fellow veterans.

“Every Wednesday, us old veterans get together at the (Country) Post to sling bull,” he says.

That was where Patmore, who just celebrated his 90th birthday, unexpectedly crossed paths with a fellow Vietnam veteran.

Patmore was talking about his experiences in Vietnam.

“When I was in Vietnam, I saw this big ball of fire come out of the ammo dump,” he remembers telling one of the other vets, Richard “Gus” Ballance.

“He pulled a picture out of his wallet, and it was his ammo dump. We decided that 55 years ago we were together. What are the odds of that?”