A tribute of poster-sized images and collages of photos decorated the hallway outside the Batavia gymnasium hosting the funeral for Spc. Christopher Patterson Saturday.
There were images showing the face of a smiling, redheaded boy dressing up as a hero, and ones where, still a boy, he put on a real hero's uniform to go serve in Afghanistan.
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There were pictures of Patterson displaying his extensive musical talent on every instrument from a piano to a bongo drum that seemed in stark contrast to the images of him toting a gun while decked out in camouflage. But in the eulogies delivered by those who knew him, the photos became a clear memorial of two of the strongest loves in his life -- music and his country.
The 20-year-old West Aurora High School alumnus was killed Jan. 6 when an improvised explosive device detonated as he patrolled a combat route in Afghanistan as part of a unit to find and remove such devices. Three of his fellow Indiana National Guardsmen died along with him.
Mourners from at least two states filled seats from end line to end line on Immanuel Lutheran Church's basketball court Saturday. Among them were Governors Pat Quinn of Illinois and Mitch Daniels of Indiana. They praised Patterson, whose family lives in North Aurora, for giving everything even when he did not have to.
Patterson did not need to be in Afghanistan. He could have stayed at school studying music education when his unit was called to action. But Patterson chose to go with his fellow guardsmen.
"He was a joyful person," Quinn said about what he's learned about Patterson from his loved ones. "He loved life. But he understood that there are important things to do in life. The heart of America is the heart of a volunteer. We owe him a profound debt of gratitude for his purposeful life."
Daniels attended all four funerals for the fallen guardsmen. In doing so, he's learned what the poets say about death is true.
"The poet said that no man is an island, and no man dies alone," Daniels said. "That is true. But there are certain deaths that also enlarge and uplift us. This one does."
But the words of politicians didn't carry the emotional weight that poured out when Patterson's father, Robert, stood to deliver the unnatural act of eulogizing his son.
"He was about everybody else," Robert Patterson said through long, anguished pauses. "He was never discouraged. He was always there to cheer people up. Chris could tie religion to a lot of things. He showed his faith. He lived his faith. He was his faith.
"We had him for 20 years," Robert Patterson continued. "The nation had him for a couple years. He was our son, now your son. Our brother, now your brother. Our hero, now your hero. And he would want his battle buddies to know, who are still in Afghanistan, he is so proud of you for carrying on the fight, staying with the mission. You know that's what he would do."
Christopher Patterson designed his own military challenge coin, a medallion carried by service members to show they are part of a particular group. Patterson's parents plan to follow through with the production of the coin, which they will then give to their son's fellow service members in his memory.
Valparaiso University and the West Aurora High School Music Department have also established scholarship funds in Patterson's name.