I was a 25-year old knucklehead know it all 1stLt and barely three years into my Marine career when I met up with 40-year old Patrick Leo Townsend who was in the last year of his Marine career. Pat and I developed a strong bond that started in Kansas City and continues to this day. It was one of the very rare times in my life that someone in a position of authority over me treated me as an equal. I hope I was able to convey to him through the years how much that meant to me.
Shortly after I arrived at District (9th Marine Corps District HQ in KC) Pat took me out to practice with the Marine softball team after asking if I played. It may seem odd but I think our friendship was sealed from my actions on the softball diamond. I didn’t realize it at the time but if I had been a jerk ballplayer, Pat and I never would have become great friends.
It may have been more complex in his mind but the way I understood Pat’s association with sports was pretty simple. Pat had been in combat and I hadn’t—still haven’t. For him team sports, both as a participant and an interested, even passionate, spectator was as close as you could get to the teamwork necessary in combat. I wrote earlier about Pat being a competitor. He knew combat and life were contact sports. Just like you had to engage the enemy in combat; the same was true about life, you had to participate in and engage life.
He knew that sports revealed character in ways that sitting in an office or going on a hike never would. We had some pretty spirited conversations through the years regarding ethics and character in all level of sports (or the lack of both therein). I am the richer for those conversations and his friendship.
As you read the many remembrances of the man, you will affirm what you already knew: the man loved life, he loved the people that he associated with in life–and they loved him back.