Posted on Mar 1, 1995

Question 6:

Who was the Union alumnus who won the Distinguished Service Cross in World War 1
for extraordinary heroism in action, became a federal judge and then a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals, and served as Secretary of War under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman?

Robert Porter Patterson

The Answer:
The name we were after was Robert. Porter Patterson, of the Class of 1912.

Born in Glens Falls, N.Y., he followed an older brother and two older cousins to Union, where he compiled an admirable record both in and out of the classroom. He won honors in history and government and in Latin and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He served on the editorial boards of Concordiensis and The Garnet, helped launch The Idol, described as a quarterly of “scintillating sarcasm;” was elected to the Philomathean Society and chosen for the Debate Team; managed the basketball team; and was elected vice president of the senior class.

After graduating cum laude from Harvard Law School and serving in France during World War I, he devoted himself to the practice of law. In 1930, he was named to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt named him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and a seat on the Supreme Court seemed to be in the future.

But in 1940, when Henry L. Stimson was named secretary of war, he insisted that Patterson be named his chief aide. Patterson began as assistant secretary of war, became undersecretary when the position was created in late 1940, and succeeded Stimson in September, 1945.

After the war, Patterson resumed his law practice while continuing to work for such causes as the Citizen's Committee to Support the Marshall Plan, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Citizen's Council on Civil Rights, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He was mentioned as possible ambassador to Great Britain, as a candidate for mayor of New York, and as a United States senator from New York.

On January 22, 1952, Patterson was killed in a plane crash as he returned home from visiting a client. He was not quite sixty-one. Four years before his death, the New York Herald Tribune had said:

“Mr. Patterson has been in war and peace a example of the public-spirited citizen. He has combined the work of a jurist with that of a soldier, and in both he has shown courage, high intelligence, and a devotion to democratic principles.”

Patterson is honored at the College by the Robert Porter Patterson Chair of Government, held by Joseph B. Board, Jr.

Although the spirit of our question sought Robert Porter Patterson, several of you pointed out that the puzzler was technically incorrect-that Patterson was undersecretary of war under President Roosevelt and secretary of war under President
Harry Truman.

We're happy to acknowledge all the winners, many of whom shared comments about Patterson:

Bernard Krause '39
, explaining how a staunch Republican like Patterson came to work for Franklin Roosevelt, said that in 1940 Roosevelt wanted a coalition government for what he saw as our inevitable entrance into the war. He was able to get Henry Stimson, a former Republican secretary of state, to be his secretary of war. Stimson, in turn, insisted on Patterson as his assistant secretary. Krause says that Patterson is credited with designing the unification that later became the Department of Defense.

Herbert H. Adams '44
, who says he wrote to Patterson in April, 1945, to “express my displeasure at my lot as an infantryman, having expected more from the
A.S.T.P. in which I enlisted.” To Adams's “great surprise and pleasure,” Patterson replied promptly, writing that “we still had to defeat Japan and he expected me and everyone in the services to do their duty.”

Paul Yergin '44
said that the day Patterson was appointed assistant secretary of war, he was at Fort Drum in northern New York taking part in basic training for the National Guard. “The officer sent to tell him the news found him at the mess hall peeling potatoes. Asking if this was indeed Private Patterson, he was told yes, then saluted and asked if the new assistant secretary would be so kind as to accompany him to headquarters. One of the biggest instant promotions ever in the military!”

Buddy Ottaviano '47
sent along a newspaper photograph of a helmeted Patterson inside a tank. The caption said, “Judge Robert P. Patterson,
newly named assistant secretary of war, gets some first-hand information about the operation of a tank-the 10-ton size-in the special course of military training for business men at Plattsburgh.”

Richard A.B. Mitchell '50
says that after the United States entered the war, Patterson was a leading spokesman for the military before Congress and toured both the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters of war. After the war, “he was given the choice of being appointed to
the U.S. Supreme Court or as Secretary of War by President Truman who, at his request, chose the secretary as where he was `most needed.' ”

Bill Allen '59 notes that Patterson loaned his name to the Amold Air Society Chapter when the College had Air Force ROTC.

Bob Bishop '43
remembers a Patterson visit to Union in December, 1942. Bishop, there to cover Patterson's speech as a college reporter for the Schenectady Union-Star, says Patterson spent most of the dinner hour talking with Washington on a telephone specially installed for him at the head table in Hale House.

Correct answers came from:

Frederick C. Fox, Jr. '26, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Glen Dalton '29, Prospect Harbor, Maine
Ellis Trombley '34, Schenectady
Tom Palmatier '36, Salem, N.Y.
William Ladue '38, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Bernard Krause '39, Oxnard, Calif.
Sam Hammerstrom '40, Camp Verde, Ariz.
Larry Pellettier '40, Ellicott City, Md.
Robert Ericson '41, Norwich, Vt.
John Boll '42, Middleton, Wis.
Robert Bishop '43, Scotch Plains, N.J.
Theodore Vinick '43, Schenectady
Herbert H. Adams '44, Las Cruces, N.M.
Edward Hennelly '44, Aiken, S.C.
Paul Yergin '44, Tucson, Ariz.
David Mandeville '45, Elmira, N.Y.
Joseph M. Hinchey '47, Stonington, Conn.
Orazio Ottaviano '47, Schenectady
C. Philip Boyce '50, Temple City, Calif.
Richard A.B. Mitchell '50, Monticello, N.Y.
Joseph Handler '52, Pittsfield, Mass.
David Weichert '52, Cranford, N.J.
William Holzapfel '53, Elizabeth, N.J.
David Balderston '55, New York City
Frederick Frank '57, Meadville, Pa.
William Allen '59, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Thomas F. Johnson '62, Annandale, Va.
Bill Spelman '75, New York City
Mike Jackson '91, Trophy Club, Texas
Bobbie Hlat, Athletic Department, Union
Arthur Richmond III (parent), Annapolis, Md.

George Robinson (parent), Middlebury,

Question 7:

This nineteenth-century ..educator was a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Union before becoming the president of Brown University. Two of his textbooks, Moral Science and Elements of Political Economy, were so important in Japanese higher education in the latter half of the nineteenth century that Keio University has a university holiday in his honor.

Send your answer to Puzzle, Public Relations Office, Union College, Schenectady, N.Y. 12308.