A Korean War veteran from Saugus is set to receive the Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal tomorrow – 62 years after he served
By Mark E. Vogler
Donald Patti didn’t have a job lined up and had no college plans when he graduated from Saugus High School in July of 1952.
So, just a day later, the 18-year-old aspiring Marine got on a bus bound for North Carolina where he expected to train for duty during the Korean War.
“I put in for Korea, and we were waiting in Japan to get our orders,” Patti, 84, of Saugus, recalled of the circumstances that spared him combat duty, but forever changed his life.
A commander read out the names of two Marines – including his own – and asked them to step forward, according to Patti, who was among a group of 87
“He told me and the other guy ‘You’re staying in Japan and the rest of you are going to Korea’,” Patti said.
“They needed a sheet metal man to work on the planes,” he said.
So, Patti, who was a member of the Marine’s Air Wing, spent most of his time during the Korean War repairing aircraft to return to the combat that he had avoided.
“I’m not a hero – just a regular guy that was repairing airplanes. That was my job,” he said.
But tomorrow (Saturday, Aug. 11), Patti will be among a group of Korean War veterans who will be honored for their service more than 60 years later.
The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Boston, in partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, will be awarding the Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal to local Korean War Veterans at a ceremony to be held in the Hall of Flags at the State House. Patti is the lone Saugus veteran receiving the medal.
“They’re just doing what they should have done years ago, but I’m glad to be recognized,” Patti said.
“I can’t complain, because I’ve had a very good life. Maybe some of my old classmates will find out where I am now,” he said.
How he met his wife
As fate would have it, not going to Korea led to Patti meeting the love of his life – a Japanese woman whose brother worked on the base with him. Patti couldn’t speak Japanese and Hisae Nakata couldn’t speak English.
But they caught each other’s eyes, fell in love and their marriage lasted for 60 years before Hisae passed away in 2014 at the age of 82.
“I miss her a lot,” said Patti, who still lives in the three-bedroom Cape-style home on they bought on Harrison Avenue in 1964.
After Patti discharged from the Marines as a sergeant, he found work at General Electric in Lynn, where he worked as a welder for 34 years. So did Hisae, who worked as inspector at GE-Lynn for 25 years until her retirement.
Patti and his wife enjoyed traveling, including numerous trips to Niagara Falls and Canada. They also enjoyed dancing and spending time at their hunting camp in Lexington.
“I was well-married,” Patti said.
“We got married three times – in the consulate, in a Buddhist temple and by a chaplain. And we had a very good life,” he said.
Hisae’s presence still lingers in the house. Patti loves to show off some photos of the couple, including a large photo taken of the couple in September of 1956.
Patti’s other loves – fishing and hunting – are also evident on the walls and shelves throughout his house.
He has a collection of large wooden duck decoys. And there are several different species of ducks that he shot which were stuffed and preserved and now mounted on the walls of his house.
“That’s why it’s called ‘The House of Quacks’,” he quipped.
“I’m a survivor. I can’t lead this planet yet. I fish. I hunt. I walk and I talk,” he said.
Patti said he tries to walk a couple of miles each day for his exercise. He also enjoys telling stories for visitors.
A couple of war stories
Patti has spent most of his life in Saugus. He was born in Chelsea, one of five children – four of them boys.
He has a few favorite stories he likes to share with his family and visitors.
Like the one about his late brother, Raymond Patti, Sr., who was a sniper with the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
“My mom wanted me to go visit him in Korea,” Patti said.
For pure, logistical reasons, that wasn’t possible. Patti had his eye on the girl he would eventually marry. And he wasn’t about to jeopardize that. Had he tried to go to Korea during wartime, he may have had difficulty returning to Japan.
Then, there was the assignment that Patti had in Seattle. He had to check out a .45 caliber gun for protection. He needed the weapon to carry out orders to board a ferry and pick up some money to pay service people.
Patti also likes to recall the story about his unsung heroic deed at a Marine base in North Carolina.
He recalled spotting a fire under a plane. A worker had fallen asleep inside the aircraft and had set the blaze accidentally.
Patti said he quickly extinguished the fire.
But his sergeant major (“He didn’t like me.”) didn’t write up a commendation for Patti and never acknowledged the incident, he said.
“That’s what I should have gotten a medal for. I figure I saved 32 planes that day by putting that fire out,” Patti said.
“If that plane had gone up in flames and exploded, it would have done a lot of damage. A lot of people could have been hurt,” he said.
Tomorrow, Patti will be able to share some of his favorite stories with fellow Korean War veterans and some of his family who will accompany him to Boston for the medal ceremony at the State House.
“We’re excited for him. It’s quite an honor. He took care of a lot of planes,” Patti’s brother Bruce, of Melrose, said in an interview this week.
“We’re just very proud. He’s led a good life and he’s a good role model for kids,” said Tina Patti, Bruce’s wife.
The couple will be among Marine Sgt. Patti’s guests who will be accompanying him on a bus ride from Wakefield to Boston tomorrow.
The Ambassador for Peace Medal is a commemorative medal that expresses appreciation from the Korean government to American servicemen and women who served in the Korean War. Veterans who served during the Korean War from June 25, 1950 through July 27, 1953 are eligible to receive the medal. Veterans who participated in UN peacekeeping operations until the end of 1955 are also eligible.
The commemorative medals may also be awarded posthumously. The next of kin, such as the spouse or descendants, may apply for the medal on behalf of the deceased veteran.