William Francis Patten Jr.

June 5, 1928August 8, 2018
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William F. Patten

Patten, William Frances, 90, passed away in his sleep on Aug. 8 at his home in Burke, Va., following a life devoted to family, community, and country. A native Washingtonian and lifelong patriot, he lived in the Washington, D.C., area his entire life with the exception of his military service. As a youngster, he was a ball boy for his beloved Washington Redskins, and had childhood memories of huddling under the film projector while the team, including his lifelong hero Sammy Baugh, reviewed game films in the basement of the Mayflower Hotel. His father, Dr. William F. Patten, was a prominent physician who helped establish the medical qualification protocol for pilots for the Army Air Corps during WWI in Europe.

After the Day of Infamy on Dec. 7, 1941, when the enlistment lines stretched around the block, young William on multiple occasions attempted to join the Armed Forces to defend his country. His mother, Alva A. Dawson, received several calls informing her, “Mrs. Dawson, please come get your son again, 13-year-olds are too young to enlist.”

As a teenager, Billy (as he was called as a child) was a courier of documents to the Pentagon. While dropping off documents at the Pentagon in the spring of 1944, as the world waited for the Allied invasion, he overheard several generals discussing the date of June 5th. He naturally remembered that date -- his birthday. He returned home that day to declare that he knew America’s biggest secret: D-Day would occur on his birthday. No one believed him, however. The Normandy invasion actually began one day later on June 6th -- the assault was delayed a day due to inclement weather.

William’s stepfather, Air Force Major Gen. Donald Dawson, was a top assistant to President Truman and orchestrated the 1948 whistle-stop train tour considered instrumental in perhaps the biggest political upset of all time: Truman’s victory over New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey.

As a youngster his mother would drop him off on the west side of the Old Executive Office Building, where he would enter, make his way past a Marine Corps guard, and through a tunnel to the West Wing where he would greet his stepfather.

While attending American University and working as a lifeguard at the AU swimming pool, he met the love of his life, Margaret Francis Patten [nee Swann], later a University of Maryland student and Miss Maryland. Among pool-goers, he had a reputation for encouraging respectful compliance with pool safety regulations without ever having to raise his voice. Bill and Franny married Sept. 12, 1953, and would go on to have four boys and one daughter.

William was a letterman for AU’s basketball team, playing on the jayvee team and later at the varsity level for his beloved friend and coach, the late Mr. Hugo “Dutch” Schulze. They remained lifelong friends. Mr. Patten was a member of the class of 1951, being graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Schulze went on to become the University’s athletic director, and was inducted into the AU Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 1969. His dear friend Mr. Dick Taylor, an ace on the AU baseball team’s pitching staff, was inducted three years later in 1972. The two men first met as youngsters when Dick’s neighborhood sandlot football team would play against Bill’s team, which was known as “the P Street Pee-Wees.” Bill’s opportunity to serve in the military finally came in December 1951, when he received a commission as an ensign from the United States Coast Guard Academy Officers Candidate School in New London, Ct. He would later recount how, during his time in New London, he and a friend decided to canoe over to the nearby nuclear submarine base one evening to satisfy their curiosity. A guard at the base spotted their canoe, and warned in a no-nonsense tone that they would be shot and killed if they approached any closer to the top secret facility. Duly chastened, they promptly reversed course and rowed back to their barracks.

He went on to serve as chief gunnery officer on the USCGC Ingham. The Ingham is the most decorated vessel in Coast Guard History, and is the only American ship still afloat to have sunk a German U-boat during the Battle of the Atlantic during World War Two. During Bill’s service, the ship was assigned to patrol “ocean stations” in the rough and frigid waters of the North Atlantic, where swells of 40 to 50 feet were not uncommon. Its missions included meteorological surveys and reports, distress-call response, assistance with transatlantic jetliner navigation, medical assistance, oceanographic surveys, assisting disabled merchant vessels, search and rescue, as well as observation of Soviet trawlers and related activities.

On one occasion, when the ship’s captain neglected to retrieve a towed target buoy used during gunnery practice before getting the ship underway, the ship’s propeller was fouled. As an expert swimmer and former lifeguard, William volunteered to dive, sans scuba gear, to free the propeller so the ship could get underway.

His shipmates tied a rope around his waist so they could pull him back out of the freezing water if he became unresponsive. Just before he jumped into the waters below, the ship’s engineer appeared on deck bearing a jury-rigged gaffing hook. The crew was able to use the makeshift device to clear the propeller. That resourceful engineer quite possibly saved Bill’s life.

At one point during his service, he was assigned to attend anti-submarine warfare school in Key West, Fla., and his stepfather invited him to visit Truman’s Little White House. Attired in his dinner dress whites, he watched as the president and his inner circle drink bourbon, smoke cigars, and played a rather colorful game of poker.

Truman invited him to join the game but, as he was on duty the young officer politely deferred. The next day, he revisited his days as a lifeguard and swam in the ocean with the president at Truman’s Beach, while members of the Secret Service looked on.

Today, the Ingham is moored just a few blocks from the Little White House, as part of the Key West Maritime Memorial Museum. The Commandant of the Coast Guard declared it a national memorial to all 912 brave Coast Guardsmen who were killed in action in WWII and Vietnam. Their names are engraved on a memorial plaque on the ship’s quarterdeck. The Ingham was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1992, and it is the only Coast Guard cutter afloat today to receive two Presidential Unit Citations for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy. It is the most decorated ship in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard, and will soon be entering a $1 million dry-dock refurbishment to ensure she’s still afloat for her centennial celebration on June 3, 2036.

Following his Coast Guard career, William earned his Juris Doctor (LLB) degree from Georgetown Law School, graduating from the same class in 1956 as renowned defense attorney Plato Cacheris, a lifelong friend who also attended Western High.

From April 1956 to October 1957, he worked as a U.S. Civil Service Commission Investigator, conducting personnel investigations, including full field investigations, Veterans Preference investigations and Postmaster investigations.

He would go on to be admitted to practice law before all federal and local courts in the District of Columbia, as well as the United States Supreme Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia and Maryland. He spent nine years as an assistant corporation counsel for the District of Columbia in the civil division working with the late Hon. Joseph M. Hannon, who went on to become a D.C. Superior Court Judge; spent four years as a personal injury attorney working for Joseph D. Bulman, Esq.; followed by 11 years as a civil trial attorney for the firm of Wilkes & Artist in their office at 1666 K St. across from Farragut Square. He later devoted seven years serving as a staff attorney with the Department of Interior, Division of Surface Mining. At Interior, he worked with a fellow Western High graduate and dear friend, the late Richard R. Hite. Mr. Hite was the principal deputy assistant secretary of interior for policy, budget, and administration. Another lifelong friend he cherished was the late Mr. John Boothby.

The Pattens were a founding family in the Kings Park subdivision in Springfield, Va. Their neighbors there included the Alexanders, the Burkes, the Ondrofs, the Starrs, the Gunnells, and many others. Bill and Fran were extremely active in youth sports and community affairs. Bill co-founded and wrote the bylaws of incorporation for the Braddock Road Youth Club and the Parliament Pool and Swim Club. The family later moved to Burke Center. In 2016, upon the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the Braddock Road Youth Club honored Bill with a founder’s plaque at an awards ceremony commemorating the Club’s golden anniversary.

He is survived by children Vance (Debbie) of Dallas, Texas; David (Betty) of West Palm Beach, Fla.; Wayne (Debora) of Oakton, Va.; Kathleen (Matt Ingram) of Manassas, Va.; and Robert (Cindi) of Milton, Ga.; his brother James Patten of North, Va.; his sister, Diana S. Dawson of Sarasota, Fla., and 14 grandchildren.

Visitation will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 11 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Demaine Funeral Home, 5308 Backlick Road, Springfield, VA 22151. A funeral Mass will be held at Holy Spirit Catholic Church on Sept. 12 at 11:30 a.m. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations in his memory be made to USCGC Ingham at, c/o USCGC Ingham Maritime Museum, P.O. Box 186, Key West, FL 33041.

Burial will be at 2 p.m. on Sept. 12 at Quantico National Cemetery.


  • Visitation Tuesday, September 11, 2018
  • Funeral Service Wednesday, September 12, 2018
  • Graveside Service Wednesday, September 12, 2018

William Francis Patten Jr.

have a memory or condolence to add?

Mike Meredith

August 29, 2018

We are very sorry for your loss. Mr. Patten was a kind Catholic gentleman whenever we saw him at our office over the years. He was willing to take the time to talk and listen. Remembering him and his family in prayer.

Pax Christi,
-Mike M.

Matthew Ingram

August 17, 2018

I remember the day I came to you to ask for your permission to marry your daughter Kathleen. We were on a family cruise and I had finally tracked you down to your cabin. Nervously, I entered the room and asked if I could talk to you. You shot me a curious look and invited me to come in a sit down. We sat down and Mrs. Patten sat down next to us. I started to explain how much I loved your daughter and was there to ask your permission to marry his only daughter ( I felt no pressure). After listening to my rambling, you looked me in the eye and said "ask her" meaning Mom Patten. That's when I knew I was in. You will be missed and I will miss being there for you. Please give Mom a big hug from me.

Your Fifth Son,