in Pittsfield on Jan. 30, 1922, the son of Edward L.
Bates Sr. and Kathryn Reddington Bates, he attended
local schools and was a 1939 graduate of St. Joseph's
High School. Awarded the first Charles P. Steinmetz
scholarship, he attended Union College in Schenectady,
N.Y., and, after interrupting his education to serve
in World War II, graduated with a degree in electrical
engineering in 1948.
was the navigator on Crew 21that was shot down on May
14, 1945, after releasing bombs over Nagoya, an industrial
city called the Detroit of Japan. After a desperate
attempt to escape enemy waters, the plane was ditched
in the ocean about halfway between Japan and Iwo Jima.
was like a rock hitting the plane, you heard a thump,
thump, thump," Bates recalled in an interview 50
years later. "I looked out and saw a hole in the
left wing, so we cut the left engine. Then we started
to lose gasoline. I just kept thinking that I had been
served Mass that morning."
what happened next, Bates received the Soldier's Medal
for heroism. Once the plane was in the water, Bates
disregarded his own safety and helped three of his fellow
crew members reach a life raft, his citation said. He
then took command of the survivors and guided them through
a night of violent rainstorms, heavy seas and sharks
that circled their leaking raft.
were rescued the next day by the destroyer USS Doherty.
Bates was awarded the Soldier's Medal for heroism, the
Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal (with clusters),
the Purple Heart, and several battle theater ribbons.
his heroic acts, he was honored as grand marshall of
the 1995 Pittsfield 4th of July Parade.
returned from service, finished his education and spent
37 years working for General Electric Co., including
as manager of testing for GE's power transformer division
before retiring in 1983.
married Alice Beaulieu Bates, to whom he was married
for 56 years, until her death on June 15, 2003. They
have three sons, Robert P., John J., and Dennis R. a
daughter, Katie, 14 grandchildren and a great grandson.
Another son, Edward L. Bates III, who suffered from
disease thought to be related to Agent Orange he had
been in contact with during service in Vietnam, died
on Nov. 6, 1986, while awaiting a heart and lung transplant
the late 1970s, Bates became concerned about the use
of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, at the GE plant
and began trying to extract information from the company
about the health of the workers.
1997, he told a reporter that "at first, nobody
believed us. Nobody was paying attention."
supervisor and I, we were noticing that we seemed to
be going to about a wake a week for people we worked
with. It just started to seem out of the ordinary,"
was aware that PCBs -- now considered a probable cause
of cancer -- had been used at the plant since the 1930s,
and that it was noted as a possible health risk as far
back as the 1950s.
also knew from his own observations that a large amount
had leaked or spilled, contaminating the soil and the
Housatonic River. He began a campaign to get GE, Massachusetts
health officials and the EPA to investigate and conduct
a mortality study of his coworkers.
along with co-worker Charles Fessenden, tried for many
years to get hold of a worker mortality study that GE
had conducted in the 1980s. The controversial document
surfaced in 1991, but Bates believed GE had misused
data and produced a bad study meant to cover up the
link he was sure existed between the deaths and the
use of PCBs. Over the next 20 years, his family said,
he amassed more than 10,000 pages of documents, depositions,
and letters related to this investigation and subsequent
work and his voice became a central part of the push
to clean the GE plant and the Housatonic River, and
helped lead to the massive PCB-cleanup settlement among
GE, the EPA, Pittsfield and a half-dozen state and federal
agencies. The resulting cleanup has been underway for
the past six years.
October 2003, Bates was awarded a plaque from the Housatonic
River Initiative, an environmental advocacy group, for
his work. Timothy Gray, HRI's executive director, said
yesterday that Bates was a crusader for a cleanup before
HRI ever existed.
taught us so much about PCBs and the truth about how
much was in the environment, all contrary to what GE
and the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] was telling
the public," Gray said. "He cared about every
employee he ever had at GE, and I just can't say enough
about what he did."
Bates, Jr. died 26 August 2005 at the age of 83 yrs
old. He was buried with full military honors.
was a past president of the GE Foremen's Club, a member
of the GE Elfun Society, a 40-year member of the American
Legion Post 68, past director and member of the former
Stanley Club. He helped found the South Little League
in the 1950s. A registered professional Mass. Engineer,
he was a member of the Military Order of the Purple
Heart and a member of the Berkshire County Deputy Sheriffs'
Association. He was a longtime communicant of North
American Martyrs Church, a lifelong Red Sox Fan, and
enjoyed horse racing.