Through his music and friendship Christopher Patterson touched a lot of people in his short life, said mentors, friends and family members who remembered him Sunday as a young man who loved life, cared about others and died too soon.
Patterson, 20, was with three other soldiers Friday when an improvised explosive device detonated in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan, where they were serving with the Indiana National Guard. The servicemen were clearing combat routes for convoys to pass through, according to officials.
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A 2009 graduate of West Aurora High School, Patterson joined the National Guard while studying music education at Valparaiso University in Indiana. When his guard unit was sent to Afghanistan in November, the North Aurora resident could have stayed behind to continue his studies, but chose to join his unit overseas.
"He said 'I didn't join the National Guard just for money for school. I joined to serve my country. I have to be with them,'" his father, Robert Patterson, recalled Sunday from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where he and Christopher's mother were awaiting the arrival of their son's body.
Patterson dedicated his life to music -- singing, playing, performing -- and he planned to teach after college. Jonathan McLear, choir director and fine arts department chair at West High, taught Patterson for his four years of high school then developed a friendship with him after he left for college.
Patterson composed and arranged music during his time in the Valparaiso a cappella group VuVox, and McLear said he would often send pieces for the high school students to perform.
"He really wasn't in it just for himself," McLear said. "He was in it to help others. That's why he did music ed and not just performance."
Scott Ochander, Valparaiso spokesman, said Patterson also was involved in a professional music fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha, and toured with the school's premiere vocal ensemble, the University Chorale.
"As he progressed in his studies, his potential to become an excellent music educator was obvious," Ochander said via email. "He will be sorely missed by his peers and his professors."
Members of the West Aurora High School and Valparaiso communities are planning ways to memorialize Patterson but details were not settled Sunday.
His parents have not finalized plans for the local memorial service either. Patterson's younger brother, Carl, is set to graduate from Marine Corps boot camp this Friday. Eventually Patterson will be buried in Joliet after services at Moss Funeral Home and Immanuel Lutheran Church, both in Batavia, according to Pastor Ron Weidler.
Weidler has known the Patterson family for about a decade as members of the Immanuel Lutheran congregation. Weidler said Patterson was a committed Christian but never overbearing with his faith.
"He would just quietly, consistently, faithfully act with his convictions," Weidler said. "That's why he joined the National Guard, I guess. He really loved his country."
Patterson, who some called Red because of his hair color, came from a military family. Both of his parents served in the Navy and his older half brother was in the Air Force.
Kevin Warfel, 21, knew Patterson for most of his life through church. He said he spoke with Patterson last week through Facebook. Patterson told Warfel it was hot and humid in Afghanistan, but great over there.
Though Warfel was devastated by the loss of a friend he described as outgoing and always in a good mood, he said Patterson was doing what he wanted to do.
"That's why he signed up, because he knew he wanted to serve our country," Warfel said. "And I thanked him for that."
Robert Patterson recalled a time when his son, then a sophomore in high school, called his mother to say he had been beat up.
"The following Sunday at our church, the pastor asked everyone to pray for (Christopher)," Robert Patterson said. "He walked up to pastor said, 'I don't need prayers. I'm fine.' He said 'Pray for the kid who beat me up, he's the one who has problems, he needs the help.'
"That's just who he was."
• Daily Herald staff writers Marie Wilson and Matt Arado contributed to this report.