Ten years ago on Oct. 6, 2013, Philomath native Cody Patterson was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan. Here, a display in the 3rd Ranger Battalion Area at Fort Moore honors fallen soldiers — Patterson's plaque is located on the right side, top row in the middle. (Photo provided by 3rd Ranger Battalion Public Affairs/Fort Moore)

As a youngster growing up in Philomath, Cody Patterson loved all things military.

Family photos from childhood show him dressed up as a soldier. When he was over at his grandmother’s house, he loved to throw his toy Army parachutists over the edge of the staircase and watch them float downward.

“Our grandmother would always say, ‘stop doing that’ and so I would be a lookout sometimes,” said older sister Nicole Patterson. “She would be in the laundry room and I would motion to him that it’s cool — the coast is clear.”

Cody never let go of his love for the military and eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army. While serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment, he was killed Oct. 6, 2013, in a suicide bomb attack during Operation Enduring Freedom in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

Cody James Patterson was 24 years old. The 10th anniversary of his death arrives Friday.

Philomath High School plans to honor Cody, a former standout football player and a team captain who wore No. 7, during Friday night’s homecoming game. Several family members are planning to attend.

Cody Patterson always wanted to be a soldier. (Photo provided by Letitia Williams)

“It’s important that we honor him. The players will wear his initials on their helmets with an American flag and coaches will have special shirts,” Philomath High football coach Alex Firth said. “We’re going to have the National Guard bring out their honor guard.”

Fans planning to attend will want to arrive roughly a half-hour before kickoff with the Patterson portion of the program to take place during pregame.

The team will march out onto the field in silence at approximately 6:42 p.m. carrying the Warrior banner and the American flag. Words will be shared followed by a moment of silence. The National Guard flag team will then march to the 50-yard line for the band’s playing of the National Anthem.

For the pregame coin toss, Firth said a member of the family will be invited to join players as an honorary team captain.

Nicole and another older sister, Letitia Williams, said they are pleased to see their brother remembered in such ways.

“It’s huge, it’s important,” Nicole said. “It’s things like this that remind us that it’s not just us keeping his memory alive. … Things like a hometown football game honoring him and a memorial road sign — those are things that remind people that he lived, he breathed, he walked. And it’s not just about the military side of him, too. There was a civilian side.”

A Fallen Hero Memorial Sign for Patterson was erected on Highway 20/34 in 2016. It can be seen on the right side of the road heading west into Philomath. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

The event makes sense with Cody’s love for football.

“Like our mom always says, sometimes the soldier’s honored but not so much the civilian,” Nicole continued. “And so when those things happen, like honoring him at a football game, that feels really big because he loved this town.”

Letitia, who lives in Las Vegas and is flying to Oregon to attend Friday night’s football game, said losing Cody went beyond the family. 

“You never want to imagine someone forgetting your loss,” Letitia said. “It wasn’t just my loss — my siblings, my families, our communities. You don’t ever want it to be just a highway sign, no way. He meant more to the community than that.”

A graduate with the Class of 2007, Cody was a popular student at Philomath High. In fact, he was chosen as Mr. PHS, the annual event that raised money for a children’s hospital. Nicole was among those in the audience.

“He performed ‘Werewolves of Philomath’ instead of ‘Werewolves of London,’” Nicole said in reference to the talent portion of the pageant. “He had the best sense of humor and was very talented. He was a self-taught drummer, just very talented.”

Cody Patterson, who graduated with Philomath High’s Class of 2007, plays the drums. (The American Fallen Soldiers Project display featuring Cody Patterson. (Photo provided by Nicole Patterson)

For those who knew Cody, he had a direct personality yet always seemed at ease. That’s how Nicole describes him.

“He always knew exactly what to say, he didn’t even have to try,” she laughed. “He was the king of one-liners; he always had the punch line for a joke — like perfectly timed without even trying.”

Letitia describes her brother in a similar vein.

“The calmness that he had with a smirk,” Letitia said when asked to describe Cody to someone who had never met him. “Just the side smile with kind of a head tilt like ‘pay attention’ — he was always aware.”

Cody came from a large family of seven children. Nicole’s dad, Randy, and Letitia’s mom, Nancy, married and when the girls were age 7, Cody was born. Other siblings include sisters, Taylor and Mara, and brothers, Kap and Eli.

Randy Patterson, his dad, died in March 2015 almost 18 months after Cody.

Asked about what’s been going through her mind as the 10th anniversary of Cody’s death approaches, Letitia said she wonders what he would be doing if he was alive at age 34.

“I always put it in perspective like where I was when I was 34 … I just always go through the timeline of where I was at different ages,” she said. “It’s so many years that he didn’t get to live and experience life.”

Cody Patterson (kneeling) appears in a family photo following a family member’s graduation. His sister, Letitia Williams, said this was the last photo in which all of the family members were alive. (Photo provided by Letitia Williams)

Nicole can’t believe it’s been a decade.

“It’s just surreal that 10 years has gone by,” Nicole said. “I mean, he’s forever 24. My oldest son is 25 and when he hit that age, where he was older than my brother was when he died, it was just mind-blowing.”

In the days following news of his death, Letitia most remembers being involved with all of the planning and meeting with the military escorts to go over details that ranged from flowers to the casket.

“I stayed so busy that it wasn’t until the day after the funeral when everybody flew home and left that I was like, ‘oh my God, this was actually real,” Letitia said. “It was so weird — it was like the heaviest weight in the world.”

Nicole said the service, which took place Oct. 20 at LaSells Stewart Center on the campus of Oregon State University, was the most humbling event of her life. She recalls the reaction when word got out that Westboro Baptist Church members planned to picket the funeral.

An image of Cody Patterson as part of a fallen soldiers display. (Photo provided by Nicole Patterson)

“A couple of Facebook groups ended up going viral and the whole town came out,” Nicole remembered. “I’ve met people over the years that are like, ‘that was your brother? Oh my goodness, I was there showing support to your family in silent solitude.’ And it just moves me in a way that I don’t even think I could ever put into words.

“It just shows that we’re all connected and that we show up as a community when it really is important.”

As one can imagine, Cody’s death impacted each family member in very personal ways. Nicole said she didn’t really know how to process her brother’s death and started drinking again after four years in recovery.

Said Nicole, “It got to a place where I could almost hear his voice — ‘this is not you, this is not a way to get through things, you know better than this.’”

Her life took a turn in a new direction on April 12, 2014 — Cody’s birthday.

“The day that he would have turned 25, I got sober. I’ve never drank since,” she said. “So every year that he’s been gone on his birthday, I just give him another year of sobriety as a gift.”

She also started participating in 5K runs and made healthy changes.

“Losing my brother kind of gave me a lot of clarity on how precious life is, how short it is, we’re not promised tomorrow,” she said. “I was like I can’t honor my brother in a way where I’m inhibiting my feelings and I’m avoiding things. It just gave me a reason to push forward.”

Cody’s presence continues in her day-to-day.

“I just remember thinking I couldn’t bring him back, obviously, and if I could twist any powers in the universe, I would,” Nicole said. “But all I could do is accept the fact that he was gone and then live my life in a way that would honor that sacrifice. I’ve done my best to live up to that every day.”

A closeup of a plaque attached to the base of a tree planted in Patterson’s memory 10 years ago at Peace Lutheran Church. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.