VETERANS DAY 2016
Seeing, knowing the enemy part of veteran's experience
By William F. West
Monday, April 30, 2018
Doug Bates knows firsthand what the enemy looks like.
When he was a soldier in the U.S. Army, he went to the South Korean-North Korean border and saw the Communist nation's troops. Later, as a North Carolina National Guardsman, he was in combat against anti-American terrorist forces in Afghanistan.
Bates earned a combat action badge for his service in Afghanistan. He was stationed there with an infantry company from Vermont, and he told of shooting at the bad guys and the bad guys shooting back.
“You could see 'em,” he said. “It was pretty close combat.”
“We got hit with IEDs. There were rockets fired at us. We had several what they call 'tactical engagements',” he said of the latter with a bit of a chuckle.
Bates came out OK. As for his fellow solders, he said, “We had some injuries, but we were very fortunate that we brought everybody back.”
Bates, 49, and a native of Currituck County, is a financial adviser with Edward Jones in Elizabeth City. He's also the veterans service officer for the Elizabeth City-based Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6060.
Bates joined the regular Army in 1986 and served for a decade. He started out as a bio-medical equipment specialist and repaired medical equipment. He served in that capacity for three years, two of them in South Korea.
Bates said going up to see the Demilitarized Zone was a surreal experience. “It doesn't really strike home until you actually see the enemy,” he said.
Technically, the fighting in the Korean War ended in a 1953 armistice, but the two Koreas continue to engage in a 24/7 Cold War standoff.
In the area of what had been the village of Panmunjom, stands three light blue United Nations buildings straddling a military demarcation line. The buildings remain for the Communist and western forces to have sit-down discussions and are open to tourists.
However, on each side of the border, North Korean troops and South Korean troops, backed by American troops, continue to stand guard and eye each other’s every move.
Bates recalled looking across the border at North Korea and their troops and also hearing Communist propaganda being blared from the North Korea's side of the line. He spoke of the sight of such hatred by the North Korean troops and their desire to want to come across and kill South Koreans and Americans.
“It doesn't really exist until you see it,” he said.
He also told of seeing, in the distance, a North Korean propaganda village, which is noteworthy for having a nearly 600-pound North Korean flag flying atop a tower.
Bates said that after returning to the U.S., he had to decide whether to reenlist or exit the Army, so he reenlisted and began working in intelligence gathering, which he continues to do to this day. He's also a Korean linguist.
He's presently a staff sergeant in the National Guard. He has also served in law enforcement in North Carolina, including as a Currituck sheriff's road deputy and as a school resource officer at Currituck High School.
He said he joined the Army three decades ago because he was seeking to earn money for college and also was looking to serve his country. He spoke of seeing war movies and wanting to be like heroes depicted on the big screen.
Additionally, Bates cited his family's military background. His father served in the Army and, most significantly, his grandfather Erwin was a Coast Guard veteran who was at Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941.
Asked about what Veterans Day means to him, Bates said, “It's important for us to remember the people that have fought and died for our freedoms.”
Specifically, Bates said that he believes there's truth in the saying, “All gave some and some gave all.”
“We have all given up something for the freedoms that we enjoy in this country,” he said.
“Everyone that has put on a uniform has done something in some way and had to give up something, some part of their lives, some part of their goals and dreams in order to protect everyone else's,” he said.
“And so I think it's important that we have at least one day when we remember the people that have done this, that have suited up and put on a uniform in service to our nation,” he said.
Bates also said that he believes the situation is better for veterans now than the days when more than a few returning Vietnam veterans were greeted with open hostility by anti-war factions.
“Our country is starting to take veterans and veterans issues more seriously than they have in the past,” he said.
“I've learned that our country, when in crisis, tends to come together. We're pretty divided right now over political issues and all kinds of things, but I think 9/11 showed us when it comes to brass tacks, we stick together and we come together as a nation,” he said.
Bates is serving in the National Guard in the midst of controversies going on right now nationally, with people declining to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or burning American flags and with football players declining to stand with their hands over their hearts for the National Anthem.
Bates made clear that he has no problem with the football players' right to protest and doesn't want to force patriotism on someone.
At the same time, he said that he believes there are other ways to take a stand and that the moment of the playing of the National Anthem shouldn't become like a lecture hall.
Overall, Bates said that, “I think it's important that we remember that these are freedoms that we enjoy because of folks like us, that have gone out and fought for these freedoms.”
“In other countries, those folks would not be free to express their opinions, even if we disagree with them. And so it's a wonderful thing that we have these freedoms and we're free to disagree with one another,” he said.
“One of the reasons I joined (the military) was so that we could have 'em,” he added.