Love, military style
Local couple met, married while serving in different branches
November 11, 2008
When service members came to The Tavern, a hangout at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, they usually came looking for an evening’s entertainment.
Maybe a game of pinball.
But when Joan and Harold Bates met there about 40 years ago, they found something more enduring.
In 1968, Joan was a U.S. Army administrative assistant stationed at the missile range. Harold, a member of the U.S. Navy, was taking shore duties at the base, which also served as a Navy missile testing facility.
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When Harold and Joan crossed paths at The Tavern, they began a partnership that has lasted four decades and counting. The couple was engaged in April 1968 and married in August.
Sure, they had their differences.
They didn’t share the same service branch.
Their ideas of a woman’s place in the military didn’t jive, either. At least, not at first.
“A lot of people didn’t think (women) had any business in the military,” Joan said.
Harold was one of them.
“To be honest with you, even when I retired, I didn’t think women had any business aboard ship,” he said.
Their differing opinions made for some interesting conversations.
“We had some pretty good : discussions about women and their part in the military,” Joan said. “He’s from the old school where women didn’t do that kind of stuff.”
She chuckled as she spoke.
Harold, sitting in an armchair in the couple’s Craig home, looked back on his previous views.
“That sounds so old fashioned now,” he said.
“Yeah, it does sound old fashioned,” Joan replied, smiling. “But that’s you.”
Regardless of their differing opinions on gender roles in the military, they shared a desire to serve their country.
Joan joined the Army, bucking popular opinion because she was convinced it was what she needed to do.
“I just thought I was doing something for the country,” she said. “I don’t know that I was doing anything all that important but, to me, it was important.”
As for Harold, joining the military was an aspiration he’d had since childhood.
Still, living out that goal wasn’t always easy. Harold, who served in the Navy for about 20 years, said being a serviceman during the Vietnam War wasn’t always popular.
“You really weren’t appreciated,” Harold said. “But somebody had to do it.”
And following their joint callings wasn’t always easy. It required sacrifice.
Joan left the Army in 1969, but Harold remained in the Navy until 1981. During that time, he sometimes had to leave his family behind.
For instance, when Harold served aboard the USS Columbus in the late 1960s, he went on about six trips in which he was gone for six to nine months at a time.
Still, the couple found time to settle down and have a family. They have one daughter, Lena, and two grandchildren: Dru, 6, and Kestrel, 5. The Bates also have three step-grandchildren: Spring, 18; Preston, 16, and Gunner, 15.
On Thursday, Joan, Harold and three other veterans read aloud their favorite childhood stories to local children during a Veterans Day-themed story-time at the Craig branch of Moffat County Libraries.
In Harold’s view, current military members are especially deserving of recognition.
“I know a lot of people say World War II veterans are very special, and they were and are,” he said Thursday. “But today’s servicemen and women are all volunteers. There’s not a draftee among them.
“I think today’s young servicemen and women are, to me, really special.”
And, if there’s anything two veterans like Harold and Joan know about the military, it’s the importance of serving one’s country – a lesson they learned together.
Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org