By Rob McIlvaineJune 15, 2012
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 15, 2012) -- As founder and president of the "America Supporting Americans," or ASA, program, one woman continues the struggle of connecting Soldiers with towns and communities in large cities from the San Francisco Bay area to Kentucky, to New York and down south.
For her work, Linda Patterson was awarded the Outstanding Civilian Service Award by Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno, during a Twilight Tattoo, May 23, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.
Since its founding, ASA has become incorporated as a non-profit organization that links individual units in all branches of the military with communities across the country.
Each morning, Patterson walks across her house with five cups of coffee into her crowded office and gets to work. She wishes she had more help because there's so much to do, but she perseveres.
Although she's been written up in articles across the country, when she has the time, she continues to write a book about her experiences and continues the dream of her brother.
SAN MATEO ADOPTS JOE'S UNIT
In 1967, 19-year-old Sgt. Joe Artavia, with A Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, wrote from Vietnam and asked his big sister, Linda, to do something to help raise the morale of his unit.
Joe told his sister he believed that the Soldiers charged with fighting an unpopular war desperately needed to feel the interest and concern of communities back home. He asked that she get her city to "adopt his unit."
Linda, living in San Mateo, Calif., at the time, convinced her hometown to adopt Joe's unit in Vietnam, but it wasn't easy.
"Remember, the year was 1968, and the tide had turned in the country," Patterson said. "The media focused on antiwar sentiments and demonstrations, and burning draft cards. No one wanted to publicly show any support for our troops because that meant they supported the war."
Council members of San Mateo, Calif., had initially said Joe was not from San Mateo.
"I stood up and said he wasn't from Vietnam, either, but was fighting a war there," she said. "Suddenly, the council unanimously passed the resolution of adopting his unit and named me to lead the program on behalf of the city in their community."
As a result, the morale of Joe's fellow Soldiers was, in his own words, "raised as high as the clouds."
Three weeks later, on March 24, 1968, Joe was killed in a firefight. He'd been trying to aid a fallen trooper.
To this day, the men in his unit gratefully remember him and Linda each time they look at their cherished medallion that reads, "City of San Mateo, Adopted Son," presented to them by Linda in a Christmas card from the city.
LINDA VISITS VIETNAM
During Christmas 1968, 27-year-old Linda decided to travel to Vietnam and personally deliver San Mateo Christmas gifts to their Soldiers. A medallion was cut with the city seal which read "Adopted Son" on one said, and Soldier's name engraved on the other side.
The trip took 10 days, while she waited at Camp Eagle for her brother's unit to cut through the jungle to reach her. Many of the men carry the medallions to this day.
"I was determined to deliver those medallions in person, cutting through any government red tape. Call it innocence or stupidity, I took out a personal loan for half my plane ticket, which was $500, receiving a matching donation from a women's sorority club which paid for my round-trip ticket to Vietnam," she said. "All I had on me was a passport, 40 dollars in cash, and a letter of introduction from my mayor in case I ran into trouble."
ASA IS BORN
"That's why America Supporting Americans happened," Patterson said. "I truly dedicated myself to saying America will never turn her back on our brave servicemen and women, regardless of one's political beliefs."
One of her projects was a memorial wall to the first unit adopted.
On Aug. 9, 1974, the same day President Richard Nixon decided to resign, Patterson was about to unveil a two-year-long project known as the San Mateo Memorial Room Wall. It was a display commemorating the first unit adopted. Letters, memorabilia, photos and artifacts tell the story of the city that stood up for one unit during the Vietnam War.
After Vietnam, it wasn't until Desert Storm that really set it off and launched ASA, however.
She said she had senators and congressmen who had heard about what San Mateo had done during the Vietnam War for one unit and decided to write to their constituents to encourage community adoptions. Thankfully, that war ended in a 100 days. But during that time the country made an about face and indeed rallied behind their Soldiers.
"The country came together and supported every single Soldier, Marine, and Sailor," she said. "When the government officials realized that one city had done something during the Vietnam War, they turned to me and they sent out many letters, I've got a file cabinet full of letters from congressmen and senators."
Mayors wrote Patterson and asked how to adopt a unit. She said it all "happened in a flash" and that it set her off to get ASA incorporated as a non-profit.
Today, she said, she still needs the same kind of response.
"Imagine if I had the support of those senators and congressmen again?" she asked. "Imagine if I had a little bit of support from people who could do the follow-up systems for me so I could travel and talk to service members on different bases, and cities, mayors and communities."
In May, over Memorial Day weekend, the city of San Mateo recognized the 40-year anniversary of the welcome home for their adopted sons. Many from Joe's company, Soldiers from Fort Campbell, Ky., home base of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), came out to attend San Mateo's celebration. They called it "Operation Eagle Visit," Patterson said.
"In one sense, I only had one unit to concentrate on when I went to Vietnam," she said. "Today I have hundreds. I no longer have the personal connection I once had with my units, but instead, willingly give that up to my community leaders to carry their own community support. I'm inspired to hear their individual enthusiasm and community relationships becoming a family unit, their units and citizens. They report back to ASA and love sharing community involvement."
Patterson said she'll just keep working until her last breath towards seeing ASA connect even more towns with a unit.
"I know it's out there. I feel it, and I've gotten feedback from communities that say this is the best thing that ever happened to them," Patterson said. "My leaders in the communities are so proud of what they're doing, and they inspire others."
"My brother Joe said it best when he said, 'it would bring our morale as high as the clouds,'" Patterson said. "It has for me, and that can't get any higher."
To learn more about Americans Support America go to http://www.asa-usa.org.
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