HARRY J. COATES, JR., MAJ, USAF
Harry Coates, Jr. '55
Date of birth: September 28, 1931
Date of death: November 4, 1969
Harry is not listed on the 1955 in memoriam page and doesn't appear in the Lucky Bag for 1955 or 1951 (his plebe year).
Harry Jay Coates, Jr.
Yankton, South Dakota, Yankton County
September 28, 1931 – November 4, 1969
Killed in Action in Chu Lai, Vietnam
Harry Jay Coates, Jr. was born September 28, 1931, to Harry and Helen Coates in Yankton, South Dakota. He had three siblings: JoAnn, John, and Gene Coates. Harry grew up in Yankton and among his passions was football. First, he played football at Yankton High School and later he played at the University of Minnesota, from where he graduated in 1954. In December of 1955, Harry married his wife, Marilyn, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They later had two children: Lisa and Scott. Harry was known as a people person; he “was very active, played handball, football, tennis, loved his family, loved to travel…” according to his daughter, Lisa. His love of life contributed to his having many interests.
After graduation Harry was trained as a pilot in the United States Air Force at Webb Air Force Base in Big Spring, Texas. After additional training, Coates then served as a Flight Commander and instructing in jet trainers for an Air Refueling Squadron in Shreveport, Louisiana. In 1965, Harry was an Air Attache with the American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. While he and his family were stationed there, they traveled a great deal, including to Turkey, Greece, Egypt, and Italy.
On September 28, 1969, Major Coates, nicknamed ‘Pepper,’ was sent overseas to Chu Lai, South Vietnam, from Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. Major Coates was part of the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron. During his time in Vietnam Major Coates wrote many letters home to his family. In a letter dated October 30, 1969, his opening line was “Hello My Sweet Heart, the rain is pouring down outside and I’m dripping inside. This place is something else again when it comes to downpours. Have never seen it rain so hard for so long.” The letter went on to relate details of his recent combat sortie:
Directed fighters for the first time. We hit some sampans in a known V.C. area plus buildings. Brought the fighters in on the complex and they drew some ground fire. Someone shot a rocket propelled grenade which exploded just behind and under the fighters. After the fighters called in artillery to continue the job. Quite an experience, I’ve now got the feeling that the war is on.
He went on to talk about a rocket attack by the V.C. on his base. He even sent some of the shrapnel home to his son, Scott. Major Coates wrote that the rocket attacks were “more to harass than for the killing effect. Just like to keep the boys awake and wondering.” His letter also indicated how much he missed his family:
You wrote of a kettle of soup on the stove, can almost smell and taste the soup. Would give a lot to sit down to dinner with you and our two. Think our suppers have been some of our warmest family moments. It feels good to think of things we both treasure, like our moments together. It makes this separation bearable to think that someday we will do those things again….
Just days later, on November 4, 1969, Major Harry Coates, Jr. was killed in action while piloting a North American OV-10 Bronco aircraft on a forward air control mission in Vietnam. He was shot down as he was “directing tactical fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships against hostile positions and forces and relieving a beleaguered friendly ground unit.” The family was notified by Chaplain Ike Barnett from Barksdale AFB, as he was a family friend. On November 13, 1969, the Chaplain conducted a memorial service in Chapel 1 at the base. He started with these words: “What can I say about the closest personal friend that I have had at Barksdale AFB other than that he would not have been such a close personal friend had he not been the man that he was.”
The body of Major Harry Coates was returned to the United States and buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. His name is also on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall. Major Coates received the Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and the Vietnam Service Medal.
He is currently survived by his wife, Marilyn Coates Applequist of Minneapolis, Minnesota; his son, Scott Coates of San Francisco; his daughter, Lisa Coates of Minneapolis; his sister, JoAnn Nicholls of Yankton; his brother, John F. Coates of Washington, D.C.; and his other brother, Gene Coates of Madison, Wisconsin.
This entry was respectfully submitted by Michaela Kileyl. Fuerstenau, 9th Grade, Spearfish High School, Spearfish, South Dakota, on May 1, 2005. Information and approval for this entry was obtained from the Coates family via Lisa Coates, daughter.
From Wall of Faces:
He was a loved and loving father, husband, brother, uncle and son. He is greatly missed every day. His family and friends miss him and think about him daily.
From a proud daughter Lisa Coates, LKCOATES@FRONTIERNET.NET, 7/11/12
I went through FAC training with Harry in New Mexico and was serving with him at Chu Lai Vietnam when he was killed. Harry was fun to be around. He liked to laugh and tell stories. I often think of him and the others that were lost. KEN HOPE, 7/6/13
Killed In Action 4 November 1969
Major Harry Jay Coates Jr. was from Yankton, South Dakota and born on 28 September 1931. He was 38 and married when he died. Major Coates had 16 years of service and served 36 days in combat. He was a Helix Forward Air Controller assigned to the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Da Nang. He was flying OV-10A S/N 67-14676 with Captain Charles L. Karr and they were marking the position of a Viet Cong unit about 10 miles north of Quang Ngai. They failed to pull out of the dive and crashed close to the target. An Army helicopter searching for survivors found the crew dead at the scene. The cause of the crash was undetermined but was probably caused by ground fire. Their bodies were recovered and Major Coates’ name is located at 16W 027 on the Vietnam Memorial.
On the Vietnam Memorial Virtual Wall Harry's unit is listed as 20TH TAC AIR SPT SQDN, 504TH TAC AIR SPT GROUP, 7TH AF.