In honor of the approaching Veteran’s Day I’m featuring stories I’ve written about World War II vets. What an honor to interview them about their time serving our country.
This is my husband’s uncle. Do you know a WWII vet?
Tell a vet of any time period today (and every day) that you appreciate his/her service.
Being awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross medal and meeting an American president are just a few of the highlights of Wells County resident Homer Bates’ life.
Born in 1923, Bates grew up on a farm in Iowa. His family moved to Wells County before Bates turned 18 and he graduated from Union Center High School near Rockcreek Center.
In 1942 he joined the Air Force (then referred to as the Army Air Corps) at the outbreak of World War II. After testing high for skills needed to work with aircraft, Bates was sent for training as an aerial gunner to military schools in Miami Beach and North Carolina. He also was stationed in Louisiana and at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver.
As one in charge of firing guns on bombers, Bates was assigned to the 20th Army Air Corps 58th Bomber wing. During his wartime career, he flew in several aircraft, including B29s, F47s and F51s.
As the B29s were still in production at the time of Bates’ training, he and other gunners practiced on simulators using the B17 plane since it had similar controls of the B29. When it came time to practice actual shooting, the gunners experienced a different problem.
“Several of us in the plane shot painted ammo simultaneously at a banner flying behind a tow plane,” he said. “It served as a moving target and each of us shot a different color. We could tell by the colors of the holes who needed more practice.”
During the war, Bates flew 33 missions over Japan. His planes were often involved in combat and received heavy flak. For his bravery and contribution to the war effort Bates, a staff sergeant, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1945 he was also privileged to meet then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family as they toured an aircraft facility.
Military life had gotten into Bates’ blood. In 1954 he joined the Indiana National Guard until 1961. He then re-joined the Air Force for a year, and joined the Air National Guard full time until 1982.
During that same time, Bates worked as a dairy farmer in the Markle and Ossian areas and was employed by the Indiana Department of Transportation as a dispatcher. He and his wife Helen married in 1950 and had six children.
Currently a resident at River Terrace Estates in Bluffton, Bates is satisfied with his life. “I wouldn’t change anything,” he said.