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Vietnam Veteran Pat Payne Receives his Combat Infantry Badge
2/13/2024

Spokane Valley resident and Vietnam Veteran Pat Payne personifies bravery, resilience, and a profound commitment to supporting his fellow service members. Having served in the Vietnam War, Pat received both the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals for his exceptional contributions and sacrifices. Unfortunately, at the time of his service discharge, a key box was left unchecked, and he did not receive his Combat Infantry Badge or CIB until fifty-six years after leaving Vietnam.

 

Pat Payne grew up in the greater Spokane area as the oldest of seven children. His dad worked construction while he was growing up after returning from service in World War Two. While attending West Valley High School, Pat dropped out and entered the workforce with the goal of continuing the family legacy of military service. He applied for the Army but was unsuccessful and choose instead to volunteer for the Vietnam War draft.


"On my nineteenth birthday I went out to my mailbox," Pat recounts the day in 1966 that his summons came in the mail, "and there was a greeting from Uncle Sam. I felt like that was my duty as a US citizen to guarantee the rights and freedoms that all my uncles and my dad had fought for in WWII." Pat's uncles served in various locations including North Africa and at the Battle of the Bulge while his father served in the Navy.

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Pat left for Army Infantry training on November 2, 1966, and arrived at Fort Lewis Washington. While there he trained as a rifleman and proceeded to Fort Polk Louisiana for advanced infantry training.


After completing his military training, Pat was granted a thirty-day leave to return home before leaving for Vietnam. With only three days remaining of his leave, he met his sister's friend Dorothy, who would remain a constant in his life. "I was working on a car in my parent's driveway and laying underneath it. My sister Shirley and her friend, Dorothy, walk past and she says ‘Who is that? Maybe I'd like to meet him sometime.' We went out a few times before I caught my plane to Vietnam, and she wrote me the entire time I was gone."


On April 1, 1967, Pat left the United States to serve in Vietnam. He was placed in the 2nd Squad of the 2nd Platoon in the Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion of the 27th Infantry of the 25th Division. The 1st Battalion of the 27th Infantry was known as the Wolf Hounds; their motto is "Nec Aspera Terrent" (Frightened by no difficulties) but is commonly known as "NO FEAR ON EARTH".


"The one that haunts me the most," Pat shares about his service in Vietnam, "was my experience on June 16 of 1967. It was a night ambush. There were twelve killed in action. There were about 25 of us in my platoon and we got overrun. And those twelve people from my platoon were killed that night. Out of the other 13, all of us except for two were wounded. I received my Purple Heart for my actions that night."


The Purple Heart is a deeply meaningful and revered award given to military personnel who have been wounded or killed by enemy action while serving in combat. This symbol of honor and sacrifice is awarded to individuals like Pat Payne, who have endured physical and emotional trauma in the line of duty.


Pat was also awarded The Bronze Star which is a prestigious military award presented for courageous or meritorious acts or achievements during armed conflict. Pat Payne's receipt of this distinction signifies his outstanding bravery, selflessness, and exceptional service throughout his time in Vietnam. Such recognition is a testament to his extraordinary dedication and contribution to his country.


"Dorothy was out at Spokane International Airport, then Gieger Field, waiting for me!" Pat returned home on April 1, 1968, one year after leaving for Vietnam. He was greeted by his love, Dorothy, and many of his family members. "Before our flight to Spokane, we landed at LAX. I got off the plane and at that time I smoked cigarettes like most of the guys in Vietnam and I went outside the terminal for a smoke. There were some protesters there, and this tall guy hit me with a sign and called me a baby killer so out of reflex I hit him back. We hadn't heard about all the protesting while overseas."


The Vietnam War was a highly controversial conflict, characterized by political divisions and widespread protests domestically. As public support for the war declined, returning veterans faced a challenging reception upon their return home. Unlike previous generations of veterans, who were widely embraced and honored, many Vietnam veterans were met with indifference, hostility, and a lack of support. "So that's why we started the Combat Veteran Riders. When we started some of the first Gulf War Veterans were coming home and we wanted to make sure they had a better welcome than us." Pat describes how wanting to help veterans return home feeling welcomed has in turn helped him cope with PTSD.


Despite the challenges he has faced, Pat Payne has dedicated his life to supporting and helping his fellow veterans. He played a significant role in establishing the Combat Vet Riders in Spokane, a group committed to aiding, camaraderie, and emotional healing to returning veterans. Pat's own experience with the struggles of post-war life propelled him to make a positive impact on the lives of others.


On August 9, 1968, a few short months after returning from Vietnam, Pat and Dorothy were married in Fort Riley, Kansas. Pat had been assigned to the Fort to finish the remainder of his service. Dorothy and her mother drove almost 1,500 miles for the ceremony.

Durning their marriage, Pat and Dorothy moved across the Inland Northwest while Pat worked on construction sites. He continued his education and worked for twenty years as a project superintendent. "It was fun working on so many different projects. Including sections of I-90, two different dams, and large structures." Pat recalls his days working in the Inland Northwest fondly, but knew he wanted to settle back in his home roots of Spokane Valley.


In 1990 Pat and Dorothy bought a house in Spokane Valley and remain there to this day after almost fifty-six years of marriage.

 

Pat, like countless others, was exposed to the hazardous herbicide known as Agent Orange during his service in Vietnam. This toxic chemical, sprayed extensively to destroy jungle foliage and crops, has been linked to various health issues, including cancer, respiratory problems, and other debilitating conditions. Sadly, Pat has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, a grim consequence of his exposure to Agent Orange.


While working with other veterans, it came to Pat's attention that he had not received his Combat Infantry Badge. The Combat Infantry Badge or CIB was awarded to Soldiers serving as an Infantryman, while assigned or attached to an Infantry unit of brigade or smaller size, while that unit was actively engaged in ground combat with the enemy.

Pat spent many years trying to correct the error. In November of 2023, Pat was a part of the Veterans Day Ceremony at the Spokane Arena and had the opportunity to meet Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. He mentioned the issues he had been facing, and McMorris Rodgers said her office would be reaching out.


A member of her office followed up with Pat and helped him reverse the error. Eight days after their conversation, Pat received a letter from Cathy McMorris Rodges' office stating he would receive his CIB.


One January 5, 2024, fifty-six years after returning from Vietnam, Pat was granted his Combat Infantry Badge and had the badge pinned on his lapel in a small, intimate ceremony in McMorris Rodgers' office.


McMorris Rodgers said of the statement from the United States Army, "They got back to us on December 14, 2023 in response to our recent inquiry on behalf of Mr. Patrick Payne regarding his desire to receive an award that he earned, the Combat Infantry Badge. Based upon our review of the forwarded documents in the communication, we have verified Mr. Payne's entitlement to the Combat Infantry Badge and amends his DD214 to reflect the change." She continued with her own words of honor, "I'm going to pin this on you today! On behalf of a grateful nation, it is my honor to pin the Combat Infantry Badge today. Thank you for your service and example and continuing to make a difference."


Vietnam Veteran Pat Payne exemplifies the strength, courage, and resilience that characterize so many members of our armed forces. Through his distinguished military service, brave sacrifices, and ongoing efforts in supporting fellow veterans, Pat's legacy is one of compassion, advocacy, and unwavering commitment. As we honor his contributions, we must also remember the challenges faced by Vietnam veterans and work to provide them with the care and support they deserve. By learning from their experiences, we can ensure that no veteran is left behind or forgotten.

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