Despite a globe-trotting military and political career that spanned more than 40 years, Mattis has kept coming back to Richland — for high-school reunions, jury duty, visits to the local VFW and to serve on the board of the local food bank.

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Defense Secretary James Mattis, who unexpectedly announced his resignation on Thursday, has deep roots in Eastern Washington, returning over and over to his hometown of Richland.

Despite a globe-trotting military and political career that spanned more than 40 years, Mattis has kept coming back to Richland — for high-school reunions, jury duty, visits to the local VFW and to serve on the board of the local food bank.

Prior to his 2017 appointment as defense secretary, he listed a modest wood-frame house, built decades ago for workers at the nearby Hanford nuclear site, as his residence. Like most Richland families in the middle of the 20th century, Mattis’ father worked at Hanford, the site which made the plutonium used in the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.

“I owe this town a great deal because it gave me the values that allowed me to be where I’m at today,” Mattis said in a 2011 speech to the Richland Rotary Club. “It was this town that formed me.”

Mattis’ resignation letter Thursday echoed themes from that speech, delivered to just a few dozen Richland Rotarians.

Mattis told them he would be comfortable with whomever the American people elected as commander in chief, and would strive to carry out that president’s orders. But if ever asked to do something he considered “immoral,” Mattis declared, he “would be back fishing on the Columbia River tomorrow.”

In his resignation letter, Mattis laid out his vision of military strength as inextricably linked to America’s “alliances and partnerships.” He praised NATO and warned that China and Russia “want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model.”

“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held,” he wrote.

Then he bluntly told President Donald Trump why he was resigning: “You have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects.”

Jim Albaugh, a retired CEO of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division and a high-school classmate and longtime friend of Mattis’, said Thursday he was surprised about his friend’s decision to leave the Trump administration. But he thinks it’s clear from the letter of resignation that Mattis has serious differences with the president, and “One thing about Jim, he has very very high integrity.”

“I feel like the letter was a profile in courage. I feel like the nation and the troops will miss his leadership,” Albaugh said.

Albaugh says that he’s unsure whether Mattis will return to live in Richland, but noted that Mattis’ mother still lives in the family’s Washington hometown.

“Jim often says he likes it better west of the Rockies,” Albaugh said.

As for his friend’s future: “You haven’t heard the last from Jim Mattis. … His advice is valued by many.”

Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican who represents Eastern Washington, said he was grateful for Mattis’ service.

“Our nation owes him our gratitude,” Newhouse said in a prepared statement. “Secretary Mattis has shown himself to be a man who exemplifies duty and patriotism and a true model, not just for every young Tri-Citian, but for every American.”

[Related: ‘A morning of alarm’: Mattis departure sends shock waves abroad]