Kelly Patterson was born on July 14, 1940, in Long Beach, California. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1959, and graduated with a commission as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy on June 5, 1963. After completing training at Fleet Training Center San Diego, California, Ens Patterson served aboard the destroyer USS Renshaw (DD-499) from August 1963 to September 1964. He then attended Naval Flight Officer training from September 1964 to April 1965, followed by RA-5 Vigilante training with RVAH-3 from April to June 1965, and A-6 Intruder Navigator/Bombardier training with VA-42 from June to August 1965. Lt Patterson served as an A-6 Bombardier/Navigator with VA-35 at NAS Oceana, Virginia, from August 1965 to November 1966, and then deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) from November 1966 until he was presumed killed in action over North Vietnam on May 19, 1967. He was officially listed as Missing in Action until declared dead on April 16, 1974, but his remains have never been returned to the United States.
His Distinguished Flying Cross Citation reads:
For heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight on 10 April 1967 as a naval flight officer serving with Attack Squadron THIRTY-FIVE, embarked in USS ENTERPRISE (CVAN-65), during aerial combat operations in Southeast Asia. Lieutenant Commander (then Lieutenant) Patterson flew as leading bombardier/navigator on a predawn air strike against a vital and heavily defended steel mill in the heart of North Vietnam. By navigating his aircraft at dangerously low altitude in instrument flight conditions, over mountainous terrain, he successfully evaded enemy defenses until within six miles of the target. Disregarding four surface-to-air missiles fired as his aircraft and numerous antiaircraft-artillery shells bursting around and ahead of him, he maintained steady radar tracking of the target until bomb release, ensuring an optimum bombing solution. Because of his superb navigational and radar-bombing skill, his bombs found their mark and inflicted heavy damage upon the target. Lieutenant Commander Patterson's performance contributed materially to the disruption of enemy war materials production and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.