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Interview with Richard Bates [May 28, 2005]

Vera Clyburn:

Good morning.

Richard Bates:

Good morning.

Vera Clyburn:

My name is Vera Clayburn and I work at the Library of Congress. Today we are at the J. W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C. with the Red River Valley Pilot's Association, and this is the Non-POW Reunion, and we are with the Veterans History Project and today is May 28th, 2005.

Vera Clyburn:

I'm going to be interviewing Richard Bates today. Welcome Richard.

Richard Bates:

Thank you.

Vera Clyburn:

Richard, could you please just give us your name and your current address for the record?

Richard Bates:

Yes, Richard Bates. 107 Topez Trail, Forth Worth, Texas, 76108.

Vera Clyburn:

Thank you, Richard. Richard, when you look back on your military career, could you tell us were you enlisted or drafted for the service, how did you get into it?

Richard Bates:

For officers that are enlisted and drafted are terms that are nonresponsive. I was commissioned through the Air Force ROTC program at the University of North Dakota. I was commissioned in June of 1970.

Vera Clyburn:

Where were you living at the time?

Richard Bates:

I was a student at University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Vera Clyburn:

That was home for you?

Richard Bates:

No. Actually, that is a good question. I was born and raised in South Dakota. Myparents moved to Minnesota to Minneapolis during my high school years. The summer I got out of high school, I was in Montana working on the ranch and my folks moved to Chicago, so I was a homeless person.

Vera Clyburn:

What made you think to go the military route?

Richard Bates:

Well, my father was a Navy pilot during World War II, and so I had that exposure. I applied for and was given a nomination to the Naval Academy when I was a high school senior.I was an alternate, I didn't get a slot. But I was in college and in those days land grant universities required you to take two years of physical education or two years of ROTC. Since I was going up there on a football and wrestling scholarship, I entered in all of the physicals I wanted. So I decided to do ROTC, and while I was in ROTC I saw some films, F-4 and that pretty much dictated to where my interest was peeked.

Vera Clyburn:

Richard, when you joined usually there's some sort of initial training I guess like the boot camp?

Richard Bates:

There's no boot camp per se, but between my junior and senior year of college I had the summer camp which was a six week indoctrination and military indoctrination course. I did that in Spokane, Washington at Fair Child Air Force Base. That would have been the summer of 1969.

Vera Clyburn:

As you went through and you graduated and you had your first assignment, where was that?

Richard Bates:

That was at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento, California. It was initially I was not selected for pilot training. I was selected for navigator training and that's where that course was, undergraduate navigator training is what they called it.

Vera Clyburn:

Where did your assignment lead you after that?

Richard Bates:

Well, then I was lucky enough to be selected to fly in the F-4 phantom. And the training in that, for that was in California also at George Air Force Base near Victorville, California. So I did that training there. And from there I was assigned to Ubon Royal Air Force Base in Thailand. So that was my first operational flight.

Vera Clyburn:

And your first overseas was?

Richard Bates:

Was that.

Vera Clyburn:

F-4?

Richard Bates:

You bet. Probably the first time I had been out of the United States in my life I think.

Vera Clyburn:

What was your impression this first time out?

Richard Bates:

Well, I guess that it was a big world out there that I hadn't realized.

Vera Clyburn:

And at that time your assignment was as a fighter pilot?

Richard Bates:

Fighter pilot, actually in the back seater. The official title of the guy in the back seat was called a weapons systems operator, weapons system officer. So most of us were called Gibbs at the time. Guy in back.

Vera Clyburn:

Guy in the back?

Richard Bates:

So --

Vera Clyburn:

Okay, did you see a lot of combat? Was that the beginning of your --

Richard Bates:

Oh, yeah.

Vera Clyburn:

-- of your experience. And in the Thailand Air Force Base I think some of the pilots actually flew from there as a base over to Vietnam?

Richard Bates:

That's where all of your combat was. Your combat was in Vietnam. Thailand was adjacent to many, it would probably be akin to living in Richmond and having to fly to combat in Washington, D.C., if you will, that kind of a distance. It was very short. Just a 15, 20 minute flight into the combat areas.

Vera Clyburn:

Did you see a lot of casualties?

Richard Bates:

You know, when you are fighting your war from an airplane, it's a little more impersonal than when you are face to face with somebody on the ground. That doesn't mean that you are not aware of what is going on. When you say casualties, I suspect that from my experience with casualties was more among the guys that were shot down than there was among people, you know, the casualties that were inflicted.

Vera Clyburn:

Yes?

Richard Bates:

And there were several, there were several. And it was -- how do I say -- it was very -- as far as how you felt about it, quite often the guys were shot down, sometimes they were rescued. Sometimes you knew they were captured. Sometimes you didn't know they were missing.

Vera Clyburn:

Yes. Could you tell me about some of your most memorable experiences at that time?

Richard Bates:

You mean other than getting shot down?

Vera Clyburn:

I think that's a memorable experience. Were you a prisoner of war?

Richard Bates:

Yes.

Vera Clyburn:

Yes?

Richard Bates:

I spent the first six months flying combat operations and in six months I flew about a hundred and thirty-five combat missions, somewhere around 400 hundred hours of flying. I did, very quickly got into a special mission that was called a fast fax, or forward air control. Typically the forward air control mission is done by like assessment type airplane in South Vietnam where there were troops on the ground that you coordinated with and there were battles happening. The forward air controller talked to a guy on the ground, and he said essentially here is where the good guys are, here is where the bad guys are.

And then he would coordinate the fighter bombers to come and drop their bombs. In North Vietnam, first of all, the atmosphere was too dangerous for the small airplanes to fly number one. Number two, there were no, theoretically there were no, you know, good guys, we had no troops on the ground. So we took that concept of forward air control and we used the fighters in force and a few of us would spend essentially all day up flying.

Not necessarily dropping anything but looking for where the, you know, where the service air missel sites were and the guns and the trucks that were transporting the supplies to the south, and then we would have the fighters come in and control the strike. A more typical combat mission lasted anywhere from an hour to two hours. We were generally in the air about six. So I did that mission, that is what I was that -- that was my main mission over there. We also, among the squadron that I was attached to, also happened to be the first squadron in the Air Force in the world that dropped laser guided bombs.

We dropped laser guided bombs, the things so-called smart bombs that you hear about on the news. I think we were the first ones in the world to be dropping them operationally. Sometimes that gets a little bit lost. The people don't remember that. I did that for about, I flew for about, I'd say I flew for about six months. On the 5th of October of 1972 I was on a 4 air control mission and my airplane was shot down. Myself and the pilot in front were both forced to eject. We were both captured and taken as prisoners of war. That was the first day of my six month crash diet.

Vera Clyburn:

Do you remember much about the time or care to share any of that time when you were captive, what was it like, how did you handle the stress of being captured?

Richard Bates:

Oh, yeah. The shock of the shoot down itself is enough that sort of puts into I would say a little bit of a time war. We were in the area that was, you know, obviously highly populated and I was captured essentially immediately. I was in the southern part of North Vietnam about 350 miles or so I think from Hanoi which is where their main capital was in the north where all of the POWs ended up. So I spent the next two months there on the ground in a bunker or traveling on the way to Hanoi. It didn't take two months of travel, but initially they just kept me right on the ground.

And finally, we started moving north and both by truck and on foot and I got to get -- at that time I was reunited with my pilot, he and I were together. He was, he sustained two broken legs in the ejection of the small bone in your lower leg, fibula I believe, the small bone. So he was having a little bit of a trouble with the walking. But we, we stopped about two-thirds of the way in an area we think was near the City of Thanwaw and were kept for another week or two without moving and finally were put into a truck and spent all night and half the next day traveling into Hanoi until we reached the prison that everybody calls the Hanoi Hilton. From there it was another 30 days or so of solitary and an initial interrogation. And it was, there was physical, there was physical abuse.

I don't know that I can't very well say that, that I suffered what would be considered torture as some of the guys who were there for a year for every month I was there. The first day I was captured in the southern part of the country, I did get my arms, my elbows roped up and pulled back behind my back until my elbows touched which dislocated my shoulders. I spent about four hours like that. So you know, and I also suffered some physical abuse when I got to Hanoi that was mostly just beatings and getting struck with rifle butts and that sort of thing.

Vera Clyburn:

Was there anything that helped you get through that time? Sometimes people have had like their tokens, flag on their face or whatever to help them to endure a period of captivity?

Richard Bates:

You got, I say you found out very quickly if you were religious or not. I remember when I was, initially would recite the Lord's Prayer. I eventually very quickly I changed from the Lord's Prayer to the 23rd Psalm because of the part about the valley of the shadow of death seemed to be very meaningful. You did some mind games. Throughout my captivity where I tried to break my day up into periods of physical activity, mental activity and then rest. I had, I say my arms when they were tied up, my arms were pretty useless when they untied me. So I was initially just trying to get my motion, some strength in my arms. One of the things I started doing for the mental activities were I started thinking back on my life, and the different things and I tried to mind game. I tried to memorize all of the states. So I memorized the 50 states and I alphabetized them.

And then I tried to recall all of the capitals, so I did those and I did the capitals in the alphabetical order that I remembered the states. And then I alphabetized the capitals and set the capitals in alphabetical order. Then I did the states in alphabetical order of the capitals. I see South Carolina and West Virginia were wrong which really makes me mad now. Those are the only two mistakes I made. Then I tried to start remembering sometimes of my youth and I graduated with a high school class of I think about 96. I was able to pull, I was able to recall all of the names of 94 of my high school graduating class. There were two that I never got. And that didn't happen like over night. That was you either got 10 or 15 immediately. Then you get five or six more.

What was really amazing to me was your mind is, your mind is really an amazing machine I guess. Because you would have your mental periods and you were doing things and you do your exercises, then you are in your rest period. And you would be laying there just not thinking particularly about anything. Then all of a sudden some event or some name would float up from your subconscious, and it was as if someone walked up beside you and touched you on your shoulder and said you remember this? Wow! I eventually moved on to people I knew in college, and the list got to be, you know, at 1500 I quit.

Vera Clyburn:

Do you remember anything about the situation in terms did you have enough food, were there supplies enough for the need at the camp at the time?

Richard Bates:

Just a minute. (Pause.) I lost 60 pounds in six months which ought to answer the food question. I should go back now. I need to lose about a hundred. But maybe another 60 would be all right. But, not any, no adequate medical treatment of any kind. Food was just barely enough to sustain life. The food that they fed us in the prison in Hanoi was food they wouldn't eat themselves. So they had the, essentially they had one answer to medical problems and it was a white tablet which we were pretty sure it was a sulpha tablet, tablet sulpha drug, that was their answer to everything. Many of us had dysentery.

That was their answer to dysentery. I remember they were accusing me of not taking their medicine and I took their medicine and it, you know, it ran through my body almost as fast as I could take it. You know, it came out pretty much intact, so. I know one time I did have a roommate who was shot down and after I was and showed up in December and his airplane had been hit by a Sam and it was burned. He also had some shrapnel wounds, not very serious but, this maybe it's not sensitive, it's funny looking at it. He also the morning that he flew his mission and he got shot down he discovered that he had V.D. He told the Vietnamese capturers that he needed Penicillin and they gave him Penicillin for -- and the strain of V.D. was very strong and it required more than just one shot and they gave him two or three and that stopped, but as soon as they stopped, his symptoms returned, and so they gave him the sulpha tablets.

You know, every day if he took a sulpha tablet he had no symptoms, but if he missed one, the symptoms would, would return so really all he was doing was, you know, keeping it at bay. After the Peace Accord agreement was signed when the war was over just before we were released a couple of medics came into the area. I joked I said they brought a syringe and a wheelbarrow. I mean, it was the biggest bunch of Penicillin I had ever seen in my life. You know, I have got horses, and I don't even think I have given horses that much medicine, but they gave him one of the biggest doses of Penicillin I have ever seen. When he got released and got back to Clark we pretty much figured there was not a germ in his body. But that was about as good as it gets.

You will see that there weren't a lot of amputees over there. They didn't do that. They tried to set it or either you recovered or you died. You know, one of my guys over there had, when he ejected he caught his hand on the campy rail and it partially severed his thumb. Their answer to that was just to finish it, but there just wasn't any real medical treatment over there per se. It was some but it was pretty rare.

Vera Clyburn:

One of the things in some of the wars sometimes people would have international organizations coming in to check on the prisoners, nothing of that sort?

Richard Bates:

No, no, sir. The Red Cross, International Red Cross before I was a prisoner had been there once or twice. What they were allowed to see was extremely controlled. Extremely controlled. They were not allowed anywhere near where we were. Once again, within the last 30 days before I was released we all did receive Red Cross packages, but that was, you know, the last 30 days.

Vera Clyburn:

Within that time I'm sure you met a lot of people and some times they talk about people who were able to leave and bring back in information as such. Were there any times that you were able to get information out to comrades?

Richard Bates:

We had I believe a number, I think a total of seven early releases. Six of those were absolutely dishonorable as far as we were concerned. Our code essentially said I'll accept no treatment that's better than my fellow prisoner. Going home was better treatment. So six of those guys went home pretty much against orders. I realize that may sound very harsh, but that's the way it was. We had one prisoner who was -- again, this is a funny story if you think about it in some ways. He was a Navy seaman from South Dakota which is where I'm from. And he went through his boot camp in San Diego and then he was assigned to a cruiser that was on station off the Gulf, right in the Gulf there, just off, in Hanoi and Bien Hoa.

He had been in the Navy a grand total of ninety days I think, maybe a hundred and twenty days. I believe he worked in the mail room. One night the guns were going, the ships guns were going to shell harbor and one of the other sailors had gone up and seen that it was really wild, you know, it's like fire works. So Doug went up on deck to watch the guns shooting and had a concussion from the gun shooting and he fell overboard. He floated in the water all night and washed up in the high water and the next morning he was captured and taken as prisoner of war. He was a young farm kid, 18 years old, not particularly worldly, glasses, you know.

And the Vietnamese almost didn't, almost didn't know what to do with him. He got involved in the prisoner of war system. He without too much trouble convinced them that he was A, harmless and B, stupid. And since he was an enlisted guy, he was made to do a little bit more menial things, some manual labor type management things, sweeping doing this. One day he was sweeping and this is how little attention they paid to him. One day he was in the court yard of the Hanoi Hilton we called Heart Break Hotel, he was sweeping and sweeping and sweeping, and he was sweeping and pretty soon he was sweeping at the front door, and he's sweeping, and now he's standing in the streets of Hanoi, he's escaped.

And so there he was. He said here I am in my striped pajamas, a half a foot taller than everybody else. Even though I'm short, what do I do, what's my plan and where do I go. So he just kind of went back in. He was actually, they wanted to send him home because he was no good to them, to the Vietnamese in their eyes as, you know, propaganda wise.

Vera Clyburn:

Getting information that they could retrieve?

Richard Bates:

They were going to send him home and he wasn't going to go but he was ordered to go home because he was considered by us really a non-combatant type fellow. When he came home he brought the names of about 375 names of POWs, and other very valuable information. The names of prisoners, other prisoners, particularly prisoners who had not previously been known that they were POWs. I'm not saying that the other early releases did not bring back information that was useful to us. I'm just saying that their circumstances were different and they shouldn't have gone. But Doug was, Doug had brought back an awful lot of information.

Vera Clyburn:

I see. Do you remember the date your release came?

Richard Bates:

Oh, yes.

Vera Clyburn:

Could you share a little of that with us?

Richard Bates:

We were, part of the protocols of the Peace Accord, of course, was that we were, we had to be told and given pieces of paper that showed what the release terms were. I think within six or seven days of the signature of the protocol. So we were all put into an auditorium and they gave us this and passed these pieces of paper out. We went back and the release provisions were, they gave it three ways. You could be released, one camp, then the next camp and then the next camp or essentially you could release the first person captured was the first person released. The Vietnamese sort of did it both ways. They realigned the camps a little bit or brought someone or moved a few people around so they did in fact in essence both of those things. I was in a camp which was called the zoo at the time and on the 28th -- on the 27th of March of '73, the Vietnamese had told us that there was going to be a release and half of the camp was going to be released.

I was in the second half, not the first half. But there were some political snags that happened on that day and so the release didn't happen. It's interesting the Vietnamese felt all of a sudden that they had lost face because they told us that there was going to be a release and there wasn't. And so they didn't say anything more to us about release after that. Although the release that was suppose to happen on the 27th happened on the 28th. And that night as I was being locked into my cell, the guard that was doing the lockup kind of looked at us and said, you know, tomorrow perhaps, maybe if things go smoothly you go home, you know. And the next morning we got up and our cells were unlocked.

We had a court, each building had, also had a courtyard with the high wall around it. And one of the things I did I was an observer to communicate between groups. I got out the door and looked through, there's a crack that you could see in the main compound of the camp. And I went out and looked, I came back and went to the senior ranking officer and I said I think something is going to happen today. He said why. I said because I think I just saw Walter Conkrite walking across the field there, the dirt. In fact, it was him. They had oh, a week or two before they -- at one point in time they took you to a room that had a bunch of clothes, pants and shirts. You tried on pants and shirts until you found something that fit you, then they wrote down what the size was and that's what they released us in, just a pair of like dickies and shirt, buttoned shirt.

They also sent us, you know, they spent a lot of time, at least made a token effort in the last 30 to 60 days to show, you know, how nice they had been to us, sent a little gym bag with some of their soap and cigarettes and your tin cup that you went with. We had gotten these packages and some of the guys had gotten things from home. Very very few, but about a week before we were released we were told to take the things that we wanted to go home with and that we didn't necessarily need between now and the time we went home and put them in a certain area and they, what they did was they scrutinized those things just to make sure that there wasn't what they considered contraband going out.

I had such a poor reputation with the guards that when I got my stuff to go home, they had pretty much thrown everything away. So I got nothing back from that. But then one morning the release came, and they said take everything that you are going home with and leave it outside your room, and they locked the doors and so that we couldn't go back in. They then took us over to the head, we called the head shed, the main part of the camp and we went in these rooms and we found the bags with our names on it, and we put our clothes on. I was worried about shoes because I have got such big feet they didn't have shoes anywhere near big enough for me. Everybody else had shoes, you know, had shoes but me and although they did have a pair of shoes that I was able to get on and leave with. Then when we got on a bus and drove to the airport, and it was interesting. The drive to the airport was interesting in that we went across the Paul Dummer Bridge who was a Frenchman that built this concrete, steel span bridge across the Red River which is where the term Red River Valley Fire Pilots come from.

Initially that was where combat was up to Hanoi, you know. I had been one of the people to drop laser guided bombs on that bridge and knock it down. I mean, it's amazing how quickly they would rebuild. As I went across the bridge and you would see all of the girders and stuff and you saw the different levels of oxidation from the repair that they had done at the particular different times. Took us to the airport, and then we stood up in formation. A Vietnamese, one of our interrogators called our names out, and then we stepped forward and reported to an American officer and were handed off to another American who walked us out to the back of the airplane, we got on the airplane. And, of course, it was typical, you know, everybody held their breath until the airplane was airborne. Then it was a pretty good cheer that went up, but the real cheer went up when the captain came on the intercom and said that we had flown out of Vietnamese air space, so. And then they took us to Clark Air Force Base for the, for our initial screening at the hospital there.

Vera Clyburn:

Just one other question about life there. You mentioned I believe that some people had letters, so some mail did get through?

Richard Bates:

Some mail did get through, some mail got out. You were given a letter that was a piece of paper that was probably not much bigger than a postcard that had six lines on it.

Vera Clyburn:

So you were able to stay in contact?

Richard Bates:

I wasn't, I was not allowed to write any. I was never and I never received any. I was missing in action the whole time. Nobody -- in fact, it was sort of an unfortunate incident during when the Peace Accord was signed the Vietnamese handed the Americans a list of all the people that they had, and there were some families that were notified that your son's name was on the list who previously didn't know that their son was alive. I was strictly missing in action. We didn't have any airplanes around. We were flying single ship when we got show down. We had no chance to make a radio call.

Nobody really knew. There were some classified sources that said that a couple of Americans had been captured and at the time and date looked right, but that information was never shared with families because of the nature of the source. And when, when the list was put out, my wife was notified by the casualty people that my name was on the list. My parents who lived in another part of the country were notified that my name wasn't on the list. So that created some problems.

Obviously, I wasn't there to do anything about it. But all I can think about is that every time I have ever seen the lists when they had them, it was alphabetical. And when you get down to the Zs, there was another list of about 25 or 30 names and all of the names on that list were people who had been previously MIA who had never been on any of the lists before. And it was alphabetical and my name was on that list. So all I can think of is that the guy went to my parents, went to the Bs and said no, he's not there. But I pretty much knew I was alive all the time, so.

Vera Clyburn:

Did you get any medals from --

Richard Bates:

Well, I got two Purple Hearts. All you have to do to get a Purple Heart is bleed. It doesn't take much courage. You know, I had had distinguished flying crosses from other missions, previous missions. Of course, all of us that were shot down and prisoners later on they start, made the POW Medal Cross, of course we all got that.

Vera Clyburn:

So what was life like after getting out of Vietnam?

Richard Bates:

It was a whirlwind. The initial part was a whirlwind. You would always write about the 15 minutes of fame, everybody gets 15 minutes of fame at some point in time. I would have to say that -- and I had wanted to go to pilot training all along. For me I got to go to pilot training, and for me that was my reward. I had been in the process of trying to get to pilot training anyway. I had applied. There was a board in the Air Force that meets and a lot of those guys that are on active duty who had not done the pilot training to make a board.

So I did that. And then I went back and flew the F-4 again and I flew the F-4 essentially for the rest of my career or so for 20 years. It was, you know, I loved the Air Force, it was my life. I don't think that I went in the Air Force with the sole intent, at least not the conscious intent, of continuing to stay in. You know, I never thought about much past the four year commitment. I got to see a lot of places and do a lot of things. I love flying fighter planes, it's just, you know, I can't think of doing anything else. Flying airplanes is what I do.

Vera Clyburn:

Where were some of the other places you went in your military service?

Richard Bates:

I went to pilot training in Phoenix, Arizona, then I was stationed, I went back to George Air Force Base in California for the training. My life revolved around Victorville, California, and I did both my back seat and front seat training there. I was there for two tours as an instructor. And then I was stationed in the Hill Air Force Base in Utah was the first place I was stationed in the front seat which is a beautiful part of the country. I went from there to Hohenfels Air Force Base in Germany so I spent three years in Germany.

I love Germany. I then came back to George Air Force Base, Victorville, and I worked as an instructor pilot and I spent two years there teaching Germany pilots. They have their, most of the Germans do a lot of their training in the U.S. so my squadron, we were specifically paid by the German government to train their people even though we were right there on an American base, they leased our airplanes. I spent four and a half years at Edwards Air Force Base which is just about 75 miles west of where I was.

So I spent the last ten years of my Air Force career in Southern California on the desert, and four and a half years working at the Air Force Flight Test Center was more interesting because there are a lot of different kinds of airplanes there, and I got to do and see some things that a lot of other guys don't get to do. I enjoyed that.

Vera Clyburn:

So what was the date of your military --

Richard Bates:

Retirement?

Vera Clyburn:

Yes?

Richard Bates:

I retired on the 1st of August of 1990. And then I went to work for a defense contractor flying fighter planes, flying older airplanes, flying the F-100 and the F-86 which was the F-86 was the Korean War. The F-86 was the first swept flight fighter plane the United States had. It's a Korean War vintage airplane so it was flying in the early '50s. Then I flew the F-100 super saver which was another just post kind of Korea, kind of bridges the gap between Korea and Vietnam. Doing some things with that for the military actually, and then I went, and then that company sent me to Germany in '93 to do a contract with the German Air Force. So I have had along association with the Germans and German Air Force. So I lived for three more years over in Germany as a civilian. Eventually returned to the United States and for the last eight years I have been with American Airlines. I am not actively flying any more but I am an instructor on the assimilator, I am an instructor on the MD-80 airplane.

Vera Clyburn:

Were you able to take advantage of any of the GI Bills once you got out?

Richard Bates:

I actually did. I got, I got a rating in the 737 aircraft using GI Bill money.

Vera Clyburn:

When you reflect back over the years do you have any long standing friendships that you maintained or have you been involved in any of the Veterans?

Richard Bates:

Oh, yes. This organization the River Rats and the Non-POWS which is a separate organization. The Non-POWS is of course, an organization with POWs. The River Rats is the fighter pilots organization. I am past national president of this organization. But I will tell you that I go back to Minnesota once every 10 years for my high school reunion, I really enjoy it, I enjoy the people. But other than that, I have absolutely no contact with any of my high school friends. I have no lasting, I mean, we are all friends when we get there, but I'm pretty much of a foreigner to them because I don't talk like them, I don't have the dialect of the Minnesota, North Dakota people.

They think I sound like I am from Texas, but nobody from Texas would mistake me for a native. I talk too fast. My point is I have no friendships that lasted. Most of them didn't leave the Minnesota Dakota area, they just stayed right up there. And I don't have any lasting friendships from college. The friends that I have made and then lasted have been the I could do anything for you any time I call you at anytime or give you anything are the people that I flew combat with and the people that I was a prisoner with. Except for my wife, of course.

Vera Clyburn:

And his wife is here?

Mrs. Bates:

Hi, I'm Jeanette. Nice to meet you.

Vera Clyburn:

Well, my experience in the military, in the war essentially was the water shed experience in my life. It made me who I am. It shaped and formed who I was, and in some ways positively and some ways perhaps not so positively in that, you know, I went to the Air Force andimmediately I went to combat. As a 23 year old kid I thought this is what, this is what the military is all about, just get in an airplane and flying. I didn't have an appreciation for all of the larger part of the military system that is required and, you know, the logistical part, additional duties, and those things.

That's really essentially what makes it run as well. So it took me a while to figure out what it was all about so I was more naive in that respect. But on the other hand, all I wanted to do was fly airplanes. I had no desire to be -- I mean, when I was a lieutenant, oh yeah, I want to be the chief of staff and I want to be a general officer. That would have been great. All I wanted to do was fly airplanes. I was lucky enough to be able to do that for the most part my whole 20 years. For the most part I continued to fly airplanes when I got out, so that's what I do.

Vera Clyburn:

Rick, I guess the final question and opportunity for you is there anything else that you would like to share with us about your life, your experience, or anything just for the record because this will serve as --

Richard Bates:

Just that the military served me probably better than I served it. It was good to me and it was a good life and I would recommend it to anybody. I know different times create different situations and different generations, but I'm extremely happy that the military today has, seems to have a better public image than what it did than perhaps when I was in it, and it should. It's not made up of a bunch of cowboys, it's made up of a bunch of people who are just trying to do the best they can.

Vera Clyburn:

Rick, we thank you very much. This will serve as great research material for the future, and we do appreciate you spending the time with us and giving us your story.

Richard Bates:

You are welcome.

Vera Clyburn:

Thank you so much.

Richard Bates:

You bet.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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