CORVALLIS, Ore. – Thousands of people gathered in Corvallis on Sunday to support and remember an Army Ranger killed in Afghanistan.
Philomath High School graduate Pfc. Cody James Patterson was killed by an improvised explosive device in a battle on Oct. 6.
Rangers from the 2nd Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord led hundreds of people inside the auditorium for the memorial service.
Randall Patterson said his son Cody knew he would serve his country at an early age.
"I think Cody knew when he was three or four years old," said Randall Patterson. "Especially when some movies came out like 'Saving Private Ryan' (and) 'Black Hawk Down.' That was his favorite movie. I think that's the day he realized exactly what he was going to be."
Patterson won the Mr. PHS pageant in 2007, the year he graduated high school. His senior year he was also captain of the school's football team. He enlisted after graduation.
“I can tell, looking out at the crowd, that he was loved by so many people,” said Patterson’s best friend, Tyler Lewis.
Lewis said even as a little boy, Patterson had a calling to serve his country.
“He knew serving his country was what he was going to do,” Lewis said. “I just want Cody to know that I love him. That I’ll always love him.”
Thousands of people showed their support outside Patterson’s public memorial at Oregon State University's LaSells Stewart Center.
Many supporters were there to peacefully keep protesters away. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who are notorious for picketing the funerals of military members and gay people, planned to protest outside the memorial.
The church members never showed up.
Once word got out that the church was planning the protest, an 'anti-protest' of sorts began to form on Facebook. Matt Enloe, a junior at OSU, started the Facebook page OSU Support for the Patterson Family. His goal was to bring people together to protect Patterson's family and keep the protesters from disrupting the service.
More than 2,500 people had joined the group by Sunday morning.
"We want to be completely peaceful, and we want to just represent the country that he fought and died for by having the American flag out here to keep the signs covered," said Joseph Hedberg, a National Guard veteran.
A large group of Patriot Guard Riders was among the large gathering around OSU's LaSells Stewart Center. One rider said he didn't expect protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church to show up, but said everyone would "keep it professional" if they did.
"The family deserves to have the funeral the way they want it," said Kat Sanderson with the American Legion Riders. "It's the right thing to do. I mean, it's really a good feeling to know that we still band together, we're still brothers and sisters."
At the time of his death, Patterson was serving his second tour of duty in Afghanistan with the 3rd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment. He was posthumously awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Purple Heart and NATO Medal.
Flags across Oregon were flown at half-staff on Sunday in Patterson's honor.
KATU’s Chelsea Kopta, KVAL News and The Associated Press contributed to this story.