James Edward Bates Jr.
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James Edward Bates Jr.
The family later moved to Muskogee when Jim was 12. His father, who had grown up on a farm in Tennessee, bought one on the outskirts of Fort Gibson, where Jim was raised during the Great Depression and would milk cows before heading to school. Years later he would credit a bumper crop of asparagus with providing the money needed to finance his college education. He graduated from Fort Gibson High School in 1935, first attending Muskogee Junior College before transferring to the University of Oklahoma, where he received his degree in business in 1939.
Jim began his career as a federal employee working as a cost accountant with the Army Corp of Engineers in Little Rock, Arkansas. In February 1942, following the outbreak of World War II, Jim enlisted in the Navy, where he would serve for 45 months on active duty. He trained at Notre Dame and Northwestern universities, then served as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School at Notre Dame. But Jim wanted to see action, and in return for putting in time as an instructor was promised duty on a battleship.
He was assigned as an anti-aircraft officer in the Pacific to the USS Pennsylvania, sister ship to the USS Arizona that was sunk at Pearl Harbor. His shipmates included a young Johnny Carson, who went on to become one of television's most famous stars as the host of The Tonight Show, and Dick Klein, who started the Chicago Bulls NBA franchise. Jim also served briefly with James Roosevelt, keeping the president's oldest son company one night during watch while listening to him tell of receiving a pair of socks from his mother, the First Lady. Three decades later Roosevelt would be the commencement speaker at Jim's son's college graduation.
In 2 ½ years as a gunnery officer directing anti-aircraft fire, Jim saw combat 15 times, including during six of the largest naval battles of World War II as Pennsylvania's guns supported the amphibious landings of troops seizing control of such key territories as the Marshall Islands, Mariana Islands, Palau Islands, and the Gilbert Islands. In October 1944 during the liberation of the Philippines Jim was involved in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history for which he received the Navy Commendation Medal for his role in repelling Japanese suicide planes heading toward the ship. On the night of August 12, 1945, while anchored with the U.S. fleet in Buckner Bay off Okinawa, the Pennsylvania was struck by a torpedo dropped by a Japanese plane that had flown in under the cover of darkness. Twenty of Jim's shipmates near the blast were killed. Jim was watching a movie with some of his other shipmates and was knocked to the floor by the powerful explosion. Three days later Japan surrendered. Instead of heading to Tokyo for the formal signing, Jim's badly damaged ship had to be towed to Guam.
It was during his Navy service, in April 1945, while the Pennsylvania was undergoing repairs at Hunter's Point in San Francisco that Jim visited the officer's club. While playing a dime slot machine in the doorway he hit a jackpot that spilled $25 worth of dimes onto the floor. A young WAVES cryptographer stationed at Hunter's Point, Ruth Converse, from Seattle by way of Alaska and Columbus, Ohio, and her friends pitched in to help him collect his winnings off the floor. He asked her to dance, then to have dinner with him on the Pennsylvania, where on Sundays they were allowed to order steak, a wartime scarcity. She accepted. They married on November 1, 1945, and remained married for 73 years until Jim's death.
Jim was a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve for more than 15 years, achieving the rank of Lieutenant Commander. After the war, Jim served as a Congressional liaison officer in Washington, D.C. fielding requests from representatives seeking discharge requests for constituents, later recalling having to deal with an especially demanding young congressman from Texas named Lyndon Johnson. After leaving the service, Jim went back to work with the Army Corp of Engineers before joining his father with the Drauhon's Business College in Muskogee, where he taught accounting and other business courses. He rejoined the federal government as a civilian with the U.S. Air Force in Topeka, Kansas, for what would be the rest of his career, transferring to San Antonio, Washington, D.C., and finally, Los Angeles, where he and Ruth, a Los Angeles elementary school teacher, would raise their three sons. Jim's first offices there were in the heart of Hollywood next to those of the famous Central Casting talent company. Jim's days were frequently interrupted by knocks at the door from aspiring actors and actresses who were lost.
For 17 years Jim served as chief of the West Area Office Headquarters for the United States Air Force overseeing personnel management evaluation and administrator for 13 Western States and the Pacific. Jim was awarded the Exceptional Civilian Service Award for excellence by the Air Force and was listed in Who's Who of the West. He traveled to 42 countries during both his Naval service and through his job with the Air Force, including one trip around the world, and was frequently was invited to speak at events at bases. He retired in 1972 but continued to independently consult the federal government such as serving to arbitrate personnel cases. He and Ruth returned to Muskogee in 1981, purchasing a home built in 1929 that they renovated. They frequently traveled, and Jim became an avid gardener, growing tomatoes, fruits and other crops in his backyard. He and Ruth were active with the Presbyterian Church of Muskogee. In 2015, Jim and Ruth celebrated their 70th anniversary with a special event at the church. This past November, Jim's family, and friends gathered at Mahylon's barbecue to celebrate his 100th birthday.
Next to his family, Jim's main passion in life was Oklahoma football that continued up until the day he died. He could name virtually every player on the roster, where they were from, where they went to high school along with their strengths and weaknesses. He was a season ticket holder for many years. Prior to the 2007 season when a group of players was competing for the starting quarterback position, The Daily Oklahoman called fans, including Jim, to print their opinions on who deserved the job. Jim didn't hesitate to volunteer that it should be Sam Bradford, who won the job and would later win the Heisman Trophy. On his 90th birthday in 2008, then-coach Bob Stoops sent Jim a personal birthday card wishing him well.
Jim is survived by his wife, Ruth, of Muskogee; sons John (Linda) of Tulsa, William of Muskogee and James (Denise) of Arcadia, Calif.; grandchildren Johnny (Kristin) of Oklahoma City, Laura Sherrill (Marc) of Nevada City, Calif., Tara Gellene (Clinton Miller) of Brooklyn, N.Y., Michael Bates of Los Angeles, Jeanette Bates of Cypress, Calif., and Natalie Cole (Tyler McQuiston) of Washington, D.C.; great-grandchildren Elizabeth Sherrill of Nevada City and Ava and Cooper McQuiston of Washington, D.C.; niece Sharyn Pankey (Larry) of McKinney, Texas; niece Ann Sharp and nephew Robert Sharp, both of Berkeley, Calif. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Katie Sue (Mrs. Bernie) Toler of Muskogee.
A celebration of Jim's life will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 13, 2019, at the Presbyterian Church of Muskogee, 2000 Haskell Blvd, Muskogee, OK 74403. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation (AMDF) https://www.macular.org and the Gospel Rescue Mission https://grmmuskogee.org in Jim's memory.
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