Robert Alvin Bates joined the Navy days before his 21st birthday in January 1940.
He was a pharmacist’s mate and petty officer third class when he was killed on the U.S.S. Arizona in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
The written record of his early life is brief. Born Jan. 26, 1919, he lived with his parents, John and Louella, and three older brothers in Parmer County, Texas next to central New Mexico. The 1920 Census identified Mr. and Mrs. Bates as telegraph operators for a railroad. Ten years later, the family had moved about 200 miles east, to Knox County, where Mr. Bates and the two oldest sons were farmers.
More than 70 years after Robert Alvin Bates was killed, the Purple Heart awarded to him posthumously was found in a box on the street by a man in Bakersfield, California. He took it to a nearby Veterans of Foreign Wars post, which reached out to a high school teacher and his students to find the Bates family. They found a niece and nephew in Texas. The pair knew their uncle died on the ship, but little more, even though they had been looking for more than 20 years. The medal was delivered to the nephew, Mark Bates, a Marine Corps veteran.
Article from Bakersfield.com on Robert Bates missing Purple Heart is HERE
Sources: The Californian of Bakersfield, California; Census records, Navy muster roll, Texas birth record. Navy photo. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.