Greencastle son is remembered on banner

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Members of the Rescue Hose Company draped the memorial over a fire engine. Pictured, from left: Craig Myers, Matt Bowman, Tyler Myers and Eric Poe. Creator “Tiger” Patrick considered the banner “sacred”.

A banner being carried across the United States draws sober reviews at each stop.

Joe “Tiger” Patrick, a Rhode Island native, was in Greencastle Oct. 1. He started walking April 27 in California, and will conclude his journey this month in Washington D.C.

Patrick, a Desert Storm veteran, has made a memorial panel he calls “Faces of Our Fallen”, which last Tuesday showed 6,722 faces of men and women killed in Iraq or Afghanistan since Sept. 12, 2001. The number already needed to be increased.

One picture on the 200-square-foot panel was Master Sergeant Benjamin Franklin Bitner, who died in the line of duty in Afghanistan on April 23, 2011. The Greencastle native was 37 years old and left behind a wife and two sons. He had last lived in North Carolina.

Patrick called the Rescue Hose Company in advance to ask for a place to sleep, and to meet the parents of Bitner. Roger and Bev Bitner met him at the fire station. They presented Patrick with their son’s dog tag, and signed a firefighter jacket he planned to donate to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md. the next day.

Patrick, 50, said it was fate that he passed through Greencastle.

“It’s an honor to be at a fire house where Ben served before he became a soldier.”

Firefighters also carried an esteemed position in his eyes. They were the first victims in the war on terrorism, when they rushed into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001 to save others.

Patrick made it his mission to personalize the sacrifices made by the U. S. military.

“I believe we’re fighting a war my generation wasn’t allowed to end,” he explained. “The next generation picked up the gauntlet and is dying for the cause. This is an opportunity for people to see the faces behind the numbers.”

The reaction is similar each night when he stops at a fire station or veterans’ club to sleep.

“They say, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize there were that many.’ This is a reminder they are still vibrant souls. Real people are being killed.”

Patrick obtains photos and rankings from the Internet after the Department of Defense releases the identity of the casualties. Pennsylvania has lost 285 soldiers.

Family members usually cry when they see the banner.

“For every face, there is a set of parents,” Patrick continued.

He wore a T-shirt in honor of a 20-year-old fallen soldier. The back read “In the end, my friend, we will all be together again.”

Patrick planned to donate the memorial banner to the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs.