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Local Vietnam vet represents era of '60s on postage stamp

Friday, July 21, 2000

By Rachael Conway, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The world has gotten a lot smaller for a Beaver County man since he learned that a 33-year-old image of him jumping off a helicopter in Vietnam has been chosen to represent the war on a U.S. postage stamp.

  The Vietnam War stamp shows Jim Patton and two other members of the U.S. Army's 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), arriving by helicopter in Chu Lai in 1967.

"People have come up to me and congratulated me. And a woman hugged me in Wal-Mart the other day," said Jim Patton, a 53-year-old general laborer from Center. Patton said he led a rather simple and anonymous life until a few weeks ago, when news about his appearance on the stamp began to spread.

The picture featuring Patton was chosen last year to represent America's involvement in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War stamp appears on a sheet with several other 33-cent stamps commemorating the 1960s.

His image is immortalized with pictures of Neil Armstrong's footprints on the moon, Martin Luther King Jr., the Barbie doll and New York Yankee Roger Maris hitting his 61st home run.

Beaver Postmaster Charles Nowry said the 1960s collection had suddenly become popular in his post office.

  Jim Patton at the Beaver War Memorial. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

"It's created quite an interest," Nowry said. "I have people specifically asking for the '60s stamps. You hear it from veterans and from everyone else. That picture is getting quite a lot of press."

It seems everyone wants to talk about the stamp that shows Patton, who was getting ready to jump from a helicopter landing skid, and two other members of the U.S. Army's 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), when they arrived in Chu Lai in the spring of 1967.

Patton had been in Vietnam for less than a week when Sgt. 1st Class Howard C. Breedlove, an Army reporter, snapped the now famous photo.

"I saw all the reporters on the landing zone. They were always taking pictures," Patton recalled. "We didn't pay them any mind because we were going on patrol. They didn't ask your name or anything. I never gave it another thought."

Patton first saw the original war picture last spring in a veteran's magazine. The accompanying article, written about the Vietnam War in general, made no mention of the photo appearing on a stamp, he said.

"I recognized the other guys in the picture. You could see their faces," Patton said. "I just couldn't get over it. I was in this picture in a magazine and I said, 'I can't believe this.' "

He showed the picture to his family and a few friends. One woman enlarged the picture and gave it to Patton as a gift.

A few months later, when his 12-year-old granddaughter, Jennifer, called Patton at work to say she saw the same picture on a postage stamp, he didn't believe her.

"I thought there was an emergency when she called," Patton said. "She was jumping up and down and she said, 'Pappy, it's you. It's you.' "

Jennifer was right, and Patton was shocked.

"I thought you had to be dead to be on a postage stamp," he said.

Generally, that's true, said U.S. Postal Service district spokeswoman Diane Svoboda. In this case, though, the picture featuring Patton and the other soldiers represents the activity of war, not just one person.

The soldiers' faces were darkened during the process of transferring the photo to a stamp, Svoboda said, which is why knowing the identity of one of the men, who also happens to be local, is a rare and surprising occurrence.

"It's an honor to have someone from our area on a stamp," she said, adding that Nowry and other postal officials would like to meet Patton to express their appreciation for the sacrifices he made as a soldier.

"This is very unique," Svoboda said.

Patton said he probably wouldn't have recognized the faces of the men he only remembers as "Phoenix" and "Jacksonville" if he hadn't first seen the clearer picture in the veteran's magazine.

Patton isn't sure what happened to the other soldiers also featured on the stamp. But their faces, along with the countless others he encountered during his two years in Vietnam, are still fresh in his mind.

Vietnam veterans have always deserved recognition for their service, Patton said.

And being a part of that long-awaited recognition is something Patton treasures.

"This is the highest honor that a person can be given as a Vietnam vet," he said of appearing on the stamp. "I'm no hero, and this isn't for me. It's for all the others."

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