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Frisco STYLE Magazine

From Country Boy to War Hero

May 01, 2019 ● By Dawn Bluemel Oldfield

In June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. By July of that year, American troops entered the war on South Korea’s behalf. Three years later, on a cold day in January 1953, Bill Cates, a young man from Frisco, left his hometown for what would be an adventure that would never be forgotten. Drafted for military service towards the end of the Korean War, along with other recruits, Mr. Cates faced the challenges of basic training and advanced training to fight a war in a foreign country located 11,000 miles away in Asia. He left behind a sweetheart, his family and the only home he had ever known.

After 16 weeks of basic training in El Paso, Private Cates was transferred to Fort Sill Military Base near Lawton, Okla. Now an active octogenarian, Mr. Cates recalls, “Training in El Paso was intense. Weather conditions that year were cold with frequent snow flurries. It was good to be transferred to Fort Sill to await our orders. It brought me closer to Frisco, so when I had leave, I could easily visit home.”

Eventually, those orders to leave for Korea came. Mr. Cates shares, “The journey to Korea took 16 days on an old crew boat. It was a long and arduous trip. I hate water! And, when we arrived, it was very cold and rainy in Korea that winter. It was also foggy a lot, making it pretty dreary.”

Once established at his post, Mr. Cates served as a Radar Operator. He says, “My role was to find out where the enemy shells that were being shot at us were coming from or detect where their planes were and call out their mission. Basically, I would track them, using the most advanced radar of the time, and alert our unit to their locations.”

“Truth be told,” Mr. Cates adds, “I guess I had it pretty good during the Korean War. I endured some miserable weather but had a great unit. The Army food was not too bad, and I came home. It was a miserable 19-day journey back by sea, but I came home. After we returned stateside, I went back to Fort Sill and stayed in the radar section for a while, training new guys coming into the military.”

Mr. Cates came home to Frisco a sergeant. A humble man, Mr. Cates brushes this off and simply explains that he did his duty for his country and came home and picked up his life where he had left it. His Frisco roots run deep. He was born and raised on the corner of Independence and Eldorado Parkways when the area was just a rural farm outside of Frisco. The population then was around 735 people. He went back to his old job at Ford Motor Company and married his sweetheart. 

Mr. Cates smiles, saying, “I eventually left Ford and went to work for a power plant north of Frisco, starting in maintenance and working my way up to supervisor. I retired in 1992, but that did not last long! I took a job at a tractor dealership. Moving around tractors kept me busy.”

Today, Mr. Cates and his bride of 64 years, Lois, live in a house in the heart of Frisco, about two blocks from the home they built when they were newlyweds. Mr. Cates shares, “We still live about three or four miles from where we both grew up back when Frisco was country. We raised two fine sons, Michael and Scott. Both live nearby. I cherish the time Lois and I spend with our boys and three grandchildren, as well as getting together with friends on Friday nights.” 

Family, faith and community have been at the heart of the Cates’ long marriage. In 2013, the Cates were named Senior Citizens of the Year by the Frisco Chamber of Commerce. Then, in 2017, Mr. Cates received an unexpected phone call. The City of Frisco wanted to nominate him as their First Distinguished Veteran of the Year! Mr. Cates humbly shares, “It was pretty neat! Someone from the city called me on a Sunday and asked me to come to the City Council meeting. When I got there, they gave me this proclamation! All of my family came for the announcement.” Mr. Cates jokes, “I think they gave me this honor because Mayor Cheney wanted a veteran who was born and raised in Frisco, and I am the oldest guy they could find! Truthfully, I was Grand Marshall of the Community Parade that year and it was quite an honor. I hope that the City of Frisco continues this celebration of our military veterans.” 

Mr. Cates loves Frisco’s rich heritage and promoting it to newcomers and tourists, too. While he has slowed down a bit, Mr. Cates still volunteers at the Frisco Heritage Center as an ambassador to the city. Mr. Cates says, “I am the keeper of the keys for the Blacksmith Shop. Every third Sunday, local blacksmiths put on a demonstration and answer questions. It is a great presentation for adults and kids. We are quite proud of our little museum! It is an important part of our community’s history.” 

When asked about his longevity and positive outlook on life, Mr. Cates smiles, “Love people. Talk to people. Try to live a healthy life. Help your neighbors and try to stay busy every day! In one way or another, serve your country. It does not take long to realize what a great country we have here! Get to know our world because it is pretty amazing. Be proud of what we have and be proud of where you live.”

We thank Mr. Cates for his many years of service to our country and the community. The Korean War, also known as “The Forgotten War,” will never be forgotten by those who served there.