Memorial Day: Pvt. Albert W. Bates, 45th Division

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Albert W. Bates was my grandfather's youngest brother, five years younger. He was drafted into the Army at age 20, served in the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Division, the Thunderbirds. He is buried in Welch Cemetery near his parents and some of his siblings.


From the Oklahoma War Memorial, World War II, Part VI


ALBERT W. BATES, Private, U. S. Army. Home address: Estella, Craig County. Carl E. Bates, Father, Estella. Born July 15, 1922. Enlisted December 4, 1943. Decoration: Order of the Purple Heart. Died October 5, 1943, of shell wounds received in battle near Ponte, Italy.

From the Nowata Star, November 2, 1943:


Estella Man Dies in Action

Pvt. Albert W. Bates, Estella, brother of John Bates of Nowata, was killed in action somewhere in the North African theater of war on October 5, it wsa learned here today. He was 21 years old.

A war department message to his father, C. E. Bates, Estella farmer, gave no other details, stating that a letter will follow. The elder Bates believes his son was killed in Italy.

The county soldier had been in the service only 10 months. He entered the army from Nowata in December, 1942, and was assigned to the 45th division.

He sailed with that unit in the spring for North Africa and later took part with his buddies in the successful conquest of Sicily, going through that campaign unhurt.

Before joining the colors, he assisted his father with the management of the Bates farm, route one, Estella. He was unmarried.

The brother in Nowata is employed at the Benjamin funeral home. There are no other immediate survivors.

The World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing Army and Army Air Forces Personnel from Oklahoma lists Pvt. Bates as KIA.

Albert W. Bates' enlistment record says that he was a selectee and was enlisted in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on November 25, 1942. His civilian occupation is listed as "Semiskilled miners, and mining-machine operators."


The regiment was first committed to battle on 10 July 1943, in the assault wave of the landings on the island of Sicily, and suffered its first casualties there. Though enemy resistance was light, twenty-seven men were drowned in the landings. Among the first to die in battle were four resolute machine gunners that held their positions unto death to keep a German counterattack from overrunning a withdrawing rifle company. The regiment conducted another landing on Sicily, in an operation to leapfrog up the coast to by-pass heavy defenses. In debarking ship in one such operation a landing craft loaded with men broke free from the ship's davits and dropped on top of another loaded landing craft that had come alongside the ship: twenty-one men were killed in this single mishap. Regimental casualties on Sicily numbered close to 200.

Next, the regiment participated in the assault landings at Salerno, Italy, coming ashore the second day, 10 September 1943. They were immediately involved in fighting to break out of the beachhead, battling at such places as the Tobacco Warehouse (which changed hands four times on 12 September), Persano, and the Sele River. The regiment's 1st Battalion was hit by enemy tanks on 13 September and was surrounded and bypassed by the Germans, who moved toward the ocean, threatening the whole of the beachhead. Two of the division's artillery battalions, the 189th and the 158th stood in the way, stopped the Germans and saved the beachhead -- firing 3,650 rounds in a single day. The German defense was defeated on 17 September, and the enemy wave began to withdraw -- followed aggressively by the Americans. On 23 September Corporal James D. Slayton of K Company earned the regiment's first Medal of Honor by wiping out three German machine gun nests with rifle fire, hand grenades, and his bayonet. The next day the Regimental Commander's jeep ran over a German mine, and Colonel Ankcorn lost a leg. On 28 September 2nd and 3rd Battalions were bombed by American planes. On 6 October 1943 E Company was hit hard by an enemy counterattack, and was reduced to 45 men. Showers were arranged and clean clothes were issued to the men on 19 October -- the first such opportunities in more than forty days. With only brief spell in reserve, the regiment continued to battle the Germans, the mountains, and the cold until relieved from the line on 10 January 1944 after 72 days of continuous combat.


Salerno: American Operations From the Beaches to the Volturno (9 September-6 October 1943)

Reminiscences of the men of the 157th Infantry

Many thanks to the Find A Grave volunteers who post images and tirelessly document gravestones.

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Don Hellwege said:

The 45th Infantry Division Museum ( is in OKC, and has a number of interesting exhibits, including one of the nation's largest collection of military firearms and a collection of Bill Mauldin original drawings of the Willie & Joe cartoons. One of its displays also examines early Oklahoma Military history from the forts on Indian territory through the Civil War and WWI. A collection of military vehicles, tanks, aircraft and big guns is outside.

Admission is free (donations are appreciated) and it is close by a number of the other attractions in northeast OKC. I took my daughter there in December 2010 for extra credit for her U.S. History class, and she seemed to enjoy it. My father transferred from the regular Army into the 45th right after Korea.

From the History page: The 45th Infantry Division served with General George S. Patton’s U.S. 7th Army during the Sicilian campaign, and when the fighting was done, the commander had this to say about the division, “Your division is one of the best, if not the best division in the history of American arms.”

One interesting piece of trivia is that the Thunderbird insignia was adopted in the 30's to replace the earlier swastika insignia (

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