Colonel (Ret.) Robert W. Gates, former Mayor of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, passed away on August 9, 2014. He was born in Bradley, South Dakota on January 23, 1919. Bob joined the Army Air Corps prior to World War II. He served his country in the United States Air Force from 1941 to 1972 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in April 1942.
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Colonel Gates was proud to have served our country in three wars. In World War II, he was the commander of the 88th Troop Carrier Squadron, a C-47 squadron that dropped paratroopers over Normandy on D-Day. Colonel Gates headed many task forces during his career and completed tours of duty during World War II, Korean War, and the Vietnam War in Alaska, England, France, Italy, and Belgium. In 1955, he commanded the 4087th Air Transport Group, which had the job of air supply for the Distant Early Warning Line across the Arctic. Gates then commanded the Huron Task Force, which established the Huron radar sites on the Greenland ice cap. From 1956 to 1957 he was the commander of project "Ice Skate," which completed the construction of a permanent base on a floating ice island near the North Pole, as part of the United States' contribution to the International Geophysical Year.
In 1967, he took command of the 6200th Material Wing at Clark AFB in the Philippines. He then became the Inspector General for the 13th Air Force. Colonel Gates was the first commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field. While its commander, the 1st SOW received numerous awards, including the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award and Hurlburt was named the Most Improved Base in the Tactical Air Command.
Colonel Gates' military decorations include the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation medal, and the French Croix-de-Guerre. He also received a Presidential Citation from President Franklin Roosevelt. He logged over 16,000 hours of flying during his career in several aircraft including the C-47, C-3, PT-19, BT-9, AT-9, C-60, B-26, A-26, B-24, SA-16, C-54, C-119, C-82, SH-53, H-1, P-40, P-38, F-80, T-33, T-39, C-130, C-46, and the C-118.
Upon retirement from the Air force in 1972, Bob began a career in real estate. He continued his public service in the Fort Walton Beach area, devoting his efforts to the construction of the Bob Hope Village, a local retirement complex for widows of servicemen. In 2003, the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation donated the funds for the construction of the Bob Gates Welcome Center at Bob Hope Village. Bob was a member of the Elks, Daedalians, Krewe of Bowlegs, Veteran of Foreign Wars, Air Commando Association (inducted into the Hall of Fame), a founder and charter member of The American Air Museum in Britain, and a founder and charter member of the Air Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base. In 2007, Bob received the USO Spirit of Hope Award for his lifetime contributions to the USO. Bob's passion for the USO began in 1942, during Bob Hope's first USO tour ,when then Lt. Gates was assigned to fly Bob Hope and his troupe around the Alaskan and Pacific Theatres. On the very first trip to Alaska, Colonel Gates and Bob Hope began a lifelong friendship. Colonel Gates piloted many more USO tours for Hope, including several to Vietnam.
Bob is survived by his five children, Robert W. Gates II and wife, Linda of Bell Buckle, Tennessee, William (Bill) Gates and wife, Elaine of Fort Walton Beach, Michael and wife, Cindy of Shalimar, Florida, Kimberly Gates Keeler and husband, Jim of Shalimar, and Kathleen Gates Ard and husband, Rob of Fort Walton Beach. These children gave him ten wonderful grandchildren, Paula, Robert W. Gates III, Steve Gates, Matthew Gates, Sarah Gates, Mary Kathryn Gates, Peyton Keeler, Austin Keeler, Trevor Ard and Kendall Ard. Bob is also survived by his sister-in-law, Mary Gates and ten great-grandchildren. Bob also leaves behind his loyal companion, Lucky, his rescued dog.
Bob is preceded in death by his parents Ray and Iva Gates, brothers, Ellis and Donald, and sister, Dorothy. Funeral services will be entrusted to Emerald Coast Funeral Home. The family wishes to thank all the people that provided care and comfort to our father. Visitation will be on Wednesday, Aug. 13, at 10 a.m., followed by a funeral mass at 11 a.m. at St. Mary's Catholic Church. Burial will follow at Beal Memorial Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Air Force Enlisted Village, Shalimar. Expressions of love and sympathy may be viewed online at www.emeraldcoastfuneralhome.com.
Emerald Coast Funeral Home
113 Racetrack Rd NE
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547
Published Online in Northwest Florida Daily News from Aug. 11 to Aug. 13, 2014