Gone, yes — but never forgotten
|Photo gallery: The Last Marine|
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
Marine Capt. Damon Torres stood over the grave of Pfc. W.C. Patrick Bates yesterday and thought of his men as they stood at parade rest to honor the last Marine killed in World War II.
"Private 1st Class Bates' sacrifice will never be forgotten," Torres said under cloudy skies at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. "The Marines of today will not allow it. Private 1st Class Bates will forever remain a member of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, for he is another guardian angel to watch over today's Marines as we continue our fight to preserve freedom."
Bates, of Crane Hill, Ala., was 20 years old — and a member of Kilo Company — when he was shot by a sniper on Guam on Dec. 14, 1945.
His death came nearly three months after the Japanese formally surrendered aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.
Torres, the commander of Kilo Co., 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines based at Marine Corps Base Hawai'i at Kane'ohe Bay, yesterday led a detail of eight Marines who have served at least one tour in Iraq.
"Patrick Bates died over 60 years ago," Torres said. "I wanted my Marines to relate his sacrifice to what they do to today. My job is to train and lead these Marines. Pfc. Bates continued to do his job after the war was over."
The brief ceremony came as a surprise to Bates' family in Coleman County, Ala., population 80,000.
"It's all very touching," said Bate's nephew, Michael Bates, 41, who manages a restaurant called Jack's Family Hamburger. His late father, Wylmer, was Patrick Bates' youngest brother.
When Michael Bates was read Torres' remarks about his uncle yesterday, he said, "That's was very thoughtful of him. It's all very nice."
Patrick Bates was born on Oct. 7, 1925 and became the third and last brother in a family of 10 boys and girls to join the fight.
"He was older than me when he went off to war," said his sister-in-law, Erma Bates, who is Michael's mother. "He never got the chance to marry and, of course, he never had any children."
Although she was seven years younger than Patrick, Erma Bates remembers her future brother-in-law.
"He was handsome," she said. "He was a nice-looking guy. He had dark eyes and dark hair that had a lot of body that wanted to curl."
When the Japanese surrendered and the war was officially over, "Mommy and Daddy thought he'd be home," Erma said.
Bates instead ended up buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific when it opened in 1949.
Last week, cemetery clerk Duane Vachon was reading a December 1995 article in VFW magazine about Japanese "zanryusha" — stragglers — who continued to fight the war in remote Pacific islands, such as Guam.
The article made a brief reference to Bates and his Punchbowl burial and Vachon told cemetery director Gene Castagnetti, "Did you know we have the last guy killed?" Castagnetti said.
Castagnetti, a retired Marine officer, contacted the Marines in Kane'ohe. The Marines yesterday dispatched Capt. Torres and his men to Bates' grave.
"It's a story of compassion," Castagnetti said, "and Marines taking care of their own."
To Torres and his Marines, yesterday's ceremony means that "Pfc. Bates still lives."
"Sixty years ago, Patrick Bates probably didn't think that we would still honor his name, but we do," Torres said. "And when that day comes for me, I hope it's still true."
Reach Dan Nakaso at firstname.lastname@example.org.