Ron Chase served in the U. S. Army during the Vietnam War in Korea and Alaska. The subject of Chase’s book, The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery (Down East Books, 160 pp., $16.95, paper), Bernard Patterson, also served in the Army. As a nineteen year old during the peak of the Vietnam War, he was a tunnel rat for three tours of duty.
The prologue notes that like “hundreds of thousands of other young men who served during the Vietnam era, we both returned disillusioned, distrustful of our government institutions and with an abiding sense we no longer fit neatly into the society we left.” Patterson deals with his disillusion by robbing the Northern National Bank in Mars Hill, Maine, on November 12, 1971. He escapes with $110,000. When I read the details of that robbery, it seemed like a comedy of errors as Patterson muddled his way through the event and escaped.
When Patterson is interviewed later about what caused him to rob the bank, he says the federal government promised to pay for his college education, but when he asked for the money, the government refused. Patterson—all of five-feet, three-inches tall and 140 pounds—uses the considerable skills he learned in Vietnam as a tunnel rat and paratrooper to elude capture for seven months. He had been awarded four Bronze Stars for valor.
One of his neighbors in Mars Hill say that “he was alright until he came home from the Army.” I heard that often myself, and when I heard it, I had the thought that many Americans wished that Vietnam veterans had not returned from our war.
By the time Patterson is captured, he’s traveled 20,000 miles in seven countries on three continents. He is much underestimated by the FBI and other law enforcement personnel who pursue him. Someone asks: “How did an unsophisticated, under-educated young man from rural Northern Maine elude the might of American law enforcement?”
I suggest that you read this fascinating book for the story alone, including finding out in detail where the money winds up. In seven months Patterson spends the $110,000 on what’s often referred to as “wine, women and song.” Actually, not that much song, but a lot of wine, the most expensive that Switzerland, France, and England had to offer.
Ultimately, Bernard Patterson remains a mystery. As the author says, “he has an enigmatic, convoluted, uncompromising persona.”
I highly recommend this book to those who want to learn about what one Vietnam veteran chooses to do with his life after coming home from the war.
Patterson pays the price for his bank escapade. After a lengthy time in prison, he settles down to become a pot farmer and dealer. His time in prison had been spent learning about marijuana horticulture; he learned it well.
The author’s website is ronchaseoutdoors.com