Retired Col. John William (Pat) Mitchell, Jr. passed away after a fierce but brief fight with COVID-19 on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Inverness, Florida.
A military brat from birth, Pat lived all over God’s green earth, from Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he was born on Sept. 29, 1945, to Misawa, Japan, where he earned the rank of Eagle Scout and graduated high school in 1963. He was raised by his mother, Ilileen (Irish) Montgomery and stepfather John (Monty) Montgomery, along with his grandparents, Ora and Onetta McCormick (both deceased) and his father, John Mitchell, Sr. (deceased).
Pat leaves behind his bride of 51 years, his “Ruthie,” Ruth Ann (Dion) Mitchell. Together they raised four children: Monty (Tonna) Mitchell, Dionna (Tom) Ford, Shawna (Mike Plant) Mitchell, and Tamara (Daniel McDonald) Mitchell, all “outstanding,” as Pat said many times himself. Pat was excited to discover a bonus daughter, Beth (Mike) Bostrom, late in life. He delighted in his grandchildren, Tyler, Mackenzie, Kieran, Ailia, Rhonin, Toryn, Ryann, and Logan, who will remember dancing, fishing, and riding in the golf cart with their Grandpa/Papaw. He is also survived by two sisters, Lonnie Hester and Bobi (Jim) Norris, and a host of great-grandchildren, nephews, and nieces. Pat was preceded in death by his brother, Mike Montgomery.
Pat loved each member of his family with a passion, but PTSD sometimes robbed him of the means to clearly express it. We knew, though, especially as the years softened that gruff exterior. With every silly dance, every team coached, every holiday dinner and prayer, and every time he bragged on us until we rolled our eyes in mock embarrassment, we felt his love and pride.
Pat proudly served our country for 30 years. He joined the United States Army in 1964. He spent time as an enlisted man in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Germany, and graduated Officer Candidate School in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1965. Pat then served three tours in Vietnam, first in Battery B, 6th Battalion, 29th Field Artillery, 4th Infantry Division (1965–1966), then in Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 33rd Field Artillery, 4th Division (1966–1967); and later with 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) (1968–1969). He spent three years as advisor to the Royal Thai Field Artillery in Thailand from 1971–1974, then returned home to serve as an ROTC instructor at Kansas State University. He left the Army and earned a criminal justice degree from Park University in Missouri. He spent the final 18 years of his military career as a full-time technician with the Kansas Army National Guard, retiring in 1994.
Pat’s dedication and bravery shone bright throughout his service. He earned a variety of medals and honors, including the Army Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal with Valor (two oak leaf clusters), Meritorious Service Medal (three oak leaf clusters), Air Medal with Valor (four oak leaf clusters), Joint Service Commendation Medal, and many others. He was inducted into the Fort Sill Artillery Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame and the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara. More important than his formal decorations, Pat was respected and beloved both by those he served under and those he commanded. He was known for meticulous involvement in every detail of his command, his knowledge and diligence, and his fun-loving personality.
Pat remained committed to his fellow service members after retirement, serving in the American Legion Capitol Post 1 and VFW Post 4337, participating in Vietnam veteran (Spotswood Dewitt Chapter) reunions, and fundraising for the Fort Sill Artillery OCS Heritage Center and Honor Flight of West Central Florida. Moreover, he touched hundreds of lives as a coach with his daughters’ summer softball teams, as well as in the Shawnee Heights school district as assistant coach for the girls’ high school softball team, substitute teacher, and school bus driver.
Pat spent the last six years living his best life with his bride and his cherished service dog, Laddie, at his side in Inverness, Florida. He spent much of that time at the Inverness Golf and Country Club, golfing and joking with his friends, the “Nooners.” In between rounds, he, Ruthie, and Laddie traveled the United States, visiting family, attending reunions, and enjoying the country for which he had given so much of himself. One of his special joys was touring Civil War battlefields, and he faithfully took Ruthie to Decorah each year to see her eagles.
A family-only memorial service with military honors was held on Sept. 1 at Chas E. Davis Funeral Home, after which he will rest in Arlington Cemetery, Washington D.C. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made in Col. Pat Mitchell’s name to the Artillery OCS Heritage Center, http://www.artilleryocsalumni.com/support.html, or to Honor Flight of West Central Florida, P.O. Box 1046, Inverness, FL 34451.