By Kendall Sparks
11:29 PM EST, February 22, 2013
Behind every hero, there is a story. As for Roy Bates, a local hero, his story about his battle in the Korean War and his recent honor is one that is memorable.
When an American flag arrived at the Bates’ home last week, the entire family was elated.
“Someone in Andy Barr’s office called me,” Roy’s wife of 60 years, Betty Bates, said. “They told me they were planning something special for my husband and they wanted it to be a surprise. And it was.”
The flag sent to the Bates’ home was flown over Washington on Jan. 28 and was then sent to Kentucky.
“He cried,” Betty Bates said of her husband when he first saw the flag.
“We all cried,” said their daughter, Charlene Hollingsworth.
Bates, who served in the United States Marine Corps, has been honored numerous times for his service, including when he was named Hometown Hero in 2006. In the hallway of his home, he has autographed photos from many prominent leaders, such has George┐H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“We asked for those honors,” Hollingsworth said. “But the flag we didn’t ask for. It just showed up out of the blue. It’s an honor for it to happen with nobody asking for it.”
Hanging on Bates wall is an illustration of two men carrying a wounded soldier. The picture was signed by the artist, Jack Cannon, in 1989. Bates identified himself as the wounded soldier in the image.
His birthday was approaching in early September while he was in Korea, and some other soldiers decided to have a birthday dinner outside of the command post. During their meal of beans and franks, the commanding officer informed them that he needed 12 volunteers for a rescue mission in which they would carry back the bodies of their fallen soldiers and rescue one survivor.
“The Marines do not leave anyone behind,” he said.
Bates and his comrades were on the road to their men when the enemy began firing. Bates had been the second to last man in the line, and he fired four rounds from his weapon and hid behind a bush.
“I watched the bullets dig a hole right under my feet,” he said as he recalled hiding behind the bush and being spotted by an enemy soldier. “They had laid land mines during the night up the path in which they knew we would have to come. If I had dove to the left, I wouldn’t have hit it. But I dove to the right, and I was on the mine with my stomach. I don’t know how I got off of it. It was the good Lord, I guess.”
Bates lost his left leg in the explosion.
He said the first man to his side was Norman Frazzini, a soldier who had signed to play baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates before he came to Korea.
“I remember him saying, ‘Boy, if you’ve ever prayed before, you better pray now.’”
Frazzini and another man, Royce Henry, carried Bates back to safety. Bates was declared unfit for further duty and spent 19 months in a hospital in Oakland, Calif.
Hollingsworth said Bates’ mother and two other women traveled to the west coast to see her son upon hearing of his injury. Hollingsworth said they were a poor family, so his mother sold crepe paper roses on the road to pay for gas.
“Now that’s a mother determined to see her boy,” she said.
In 1989, Bates saw Cannon’s image on the front cover of Leatherneck Magazine. He knew it was himself in the picture and he began to question Cannon’s authenticity.
“It was a rescue mission. Only 12 men knew about it. There was no way he could have known what happened,” Bates said.
Bates contacted Cannon for an explanation of his drawing and the accompanying story he wrote. Cannon had been sent to Korea initially as a combat artist. Upon arrival, he was converted to a sniper.
“He said he saw the whole thing,” Bates said. “He had been sitting on top of that mountain with a sniper rifle and saw everything clear as day. When I finally located him, he told me he had been shot through the face, and that he was the ugliest man in Albuquerque,” he said with a grin.
“The picture is one of the most precious things he has,” Hollingsworth said.
Bates said Frazzini and Henry were both decorated for hauling Bates out after he was injured. When he tried to contact Frazzini later, he learned that he was killed by a mortar round shortly after Bates’ rescue.
As for Henry, Bates met with him in Florida years later for a tearful reunion, complete with news crews and close family.
Bates’ legacy has been passed down to his grandsons, one of whom is a Marine and the other two are in the Army. Bates and his wife frame the boys’ pictures proudly in their living room.
“He wants there to be honor given to everyone,” Hollingsworth said. “We know he wasn’t the only one that was a hero, but honor just comes his way. People don’t forget him.”
As for his flag, Bates plans to have it professionally framed.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” he said about receiving the flag. “I never expected it. I┐wish it could happen to everybody. I’m just thrilled and appreciative.”