Rear Admiral Earl Preston "Buddy" Yates, the first commanding officer of the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), died on September 13, 2021, at the age of 97 at his long-time home in Virginia Beach, Virginia. At age 19, Yates was the youngest ever to graduate from the United States Naval Academy. He obtained his commission in time to serve in combat as a gunnery officer aboard the destroyer USS Dyson in the Pacific during World War II. Toward the end of the war, he began flight training and over the course of his career flew virtually every aircraft in the Navy. As Commanding Officer of Fighter Squadron VF-41, and CO of Heavy Attack Squadron VAH-9, Buddy was among the first jet pilots to make nighttime carrier landings. He knew and flew with Chuck Yeager. He earned a Masters Degree in Aeronautical Engineering at MIT. He served twice as Aide to the Secretary of the Navy. His other commands are too many to list, but rising to the top are Carrier Air Group 8 aboard the USS Forrestal, amphibious ship LPD-1 USS Raleigh, NAS Whidbey Island, and Director of Plans for CINCPAC during the Vietnam war. While he loved every command, the highlight of his career was as first Skipper of the USS John F Kennedy (CV-67). His devotion to the ship and its crew has never wavered, including her successor CVN-79 USS John F. Kennedy. He was born December 23, 1923, in Winston-Salem, N.C. He graduated from Reynolds High School at the age of 15, where he maintained a perfect attendance record, played sports and was active in the theater. Too young for an appointment to the Naval Academy, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina, until, reaching the age of 16 he realized his dream of becoming a midshipman. His Class of '44 had an early graduation due to WWII, so at the age of 19, he graduated from the Academy. He then married his sweetheart Lucy Anne Welch of Annapolis, and went off to war. Buddy loved the sea. In retirement, he and Lucy moved back to their Virginia Beach house. They spent many wonderful winters on their boat, the Puka Kai, sailing to the Bahamas, where Buddy kept fit spearfishing for dinner. Buddy was committed to his family, being married for over six decades, and raising, educating, and loving his and Lucy's five children. Buddy had friends. Lots of them. His phone was always ringing. His house was always full of guests. During his Naval career and beyond, his best friends were his Naval Academy classmates, but his circle extended far beyond that, young and old. He kept up with his 1930's high school gang, "the Hunks", and he and Lucy would gather with them (and "the Hunkettes") regularly. In retirement, Buddy and Lucy were also part of a large coterie of friends from across the US who shared the same Bahamian anchorages winter after winter. He reached out to the Vietnamese immigrant community and made many friends there, an interest that was inspired by his service in Saigon. Buddy had endless interests, stamina and drive. He was a gardener, he could play the guitar, he could fix any household appliance or plumbing problem, he could paint portraits and landscapes, he was a carpenter, he was a masterful writer…on and on with his talents. He worked incredibly hard and was extremely demanding, but he was also charming and funny and knew how to have a good time. He told amazing, highly entertaining stories about his numerous brushes with death as a naval aviator. And he was well-known for making a killer rum goody and expertly plated smiley-face breakfasts with two sunny-side up eggs and curved bacon. Buddy was lucky. And he knew it. When Lucy died, Buddy designed a headstone for their gravesite at the Naval Academy Cemetery on a grassy hill overlooking the Severn River. Other headstones on the hill list accomplishments and commands of distinguished naval careers. Buddy and Lucy's headstone, by contrast, is utilitarian: a simple but comfortable bench. On one side of the bench base is engraved Lucy's name and a beautiful tribute. On the other side is his name and one word: "Lucky." Buddy was predeceased by his loving wife of 63 years, Lucy, and their eldest son, Eric. He is survived by his four children: Susan Stephenson (Russ), Philip Yates (Vicki), George Yates, and Abbey Yates; his beloved companion, Ute Philipp; his older sister, Betty Dize; ten grandchildren: Anne Huitt (Parker), Emily Bing (Hardt), Kelly Yates, Preston Yates, Betsy Yates, Cole Rawson, Rachel Yates, Lucy Yates, Lindsey Yates, Harriet Stephenson, Lee Stephenson (Eliza); seven great-grandchildren. He also had a very special love for his devoted first cousin, Dr. Walter Holton (Barbara). The family would like to acknowledge Dr. Joseph Kennedy and the staff of the Portsmouth Naval Hospital, who provided exemplary medical care to Buddy for many decades. The family will receive friends from 4 to 6 pm on Sunday, September 19, 2021 at H.D. Oliver Funeral Apts., Laskin Road Chapel. A funeral service will be held at 10:30 am on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 at the US Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland. Masks required. Burial will follow with full military honors in the US Naval Academy Cemetery. Reception to follow at the Naval Academy Officers' Club. Vaccination proof required. In lieu of flowers, please consider making donations to the Navy League of The United States, Hampton Roads, 600 Lynnhaven Parkway, Suite 202, Virginia Beach, VA 23452, www.navyleaguehamptonroads.org
, for the upcoming commissioning of the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) or to the Association of Naval Aviation, 1750 Radford Blvd., Suite D, NAS Pensacola, FL 32508, www.anahg.org
Online condolences may be made to the family at hdoliver.com
Published by The Capital Gazette on Sep. 16, 2021.