SARALAND, Ala. (WKRG) — This is not a story about motorcycles. Yes, there are motorcycles involved in the story, but this is not a story about motorcycles. This is a story about solving a nearly 70-year-old mystery, a soldier making the ultimate sacrifice, and how his death ended up re-uniting his family after 7 decades.
In 1950 Master Sergeant James Gerald Cates was a young father. He had survived battle in WWII to come home to his family. Life in post-war America was good. Cates had served his country and had earned the precious time to spend with his family, including his 4-year-old son Bobby. Bobby Cates is now over 70, nearly 3 times the age his father was when he died.
But Cates had made a fateful decision to re-enlist. He knew army life, he knew war, but what he couldn’t know was that America would soon be involved in yet another global conflict, the war in Korea.
Cates was 29 when he found himself once again on the other side of the world doing battle in a strange land. And on October 25th he and thousands of other American boys fought, died and went missing in the historic battle of the Chosin River. 1,029 Americans were killed, more than 4,500 were wounded. But even more were missing in action after the battle. Cates was one of those 4,894 missing. Many of them are still missing, or their remains waiting to be identified.
But that is slowly changing. Nearly 70 years after that deadly day, the Cates’ family finally got answers and closure. Fast forward to May 2019. A bone and some teeth were all that remained of a solider killed in Korea. It was the bone that would ultimately solve this mystery. Turns out it was a clavicle. That’s important for two reasons that most people aren’t aware of. First, in WWII soldiers were given x-rays to test for tuberculosis. Second, your clavicle is as unique to you as your fingerprint. With the bone and the x-ray the mystery was solved. And that means there is still hope for other families waiting for answers.
Saturday, Cates went to his final resting place. He was reunited with his wife, the love of his life, who is already buried at Turnerville cemetery. The Patriot Guard provided a motorcycle escort from a Saraland funeral home to the cemetery were Cates was honored with “Taps” and a 21 gun salute. His son, and other family members took his remains his wife’s grave and laid red roses there.
There were more family members than anyone could have expected. News of the discovery of Cates’ remains spread on social media. Long-lost relatives connected on social media, including his grand-niece. In the end it was more of a family reunion than a funeral. No one at the funeral really new the hero they were honoring, including his own son. But when you look at a picture of the 29-year-old soldier taken 7 decades ago then look at his son, his grandson and his niece, you can see him in all of their faces.
It’s an incredible and inspiring end to a story, a mystery, a war-torn family. A man none of them knew has brought a family back together 7 decades after he was listed missing in action. And because of that, Bobby Cates feels like he knows his father better now than he has his entire life.
They may be on loud motorcycles, but the Patriot Guard is quietly serving our veterans and their families every day on missions just like this. And the Cates family says they are also incredibly grateful to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency which provided the funeral services at no cost to the family.
If you’d like to help, you can donate by sending a check or money order to
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency
2300 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-2300
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Chris Best is the News Director for WKRG. He’s a husband and father of four. He’s also a motorcycle enthusiast.