WWII vet Rep. John Yates remembers sacrifices to win a war

WWII veteran and Georgia legislator John Yates was the keynote speaker at Friday’s ceremony in downtown Fayetteville to mark the 71st anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Photo/John Munford.

As a World War II veteran, Georgia Republican legislator John Yates, 95, remains standing as one of the few living links in the Fayette area to that pivotal time in American history.

Yates, whose district includes the southern tip of Fayette County, provided brief remarks Friday about the significance of remembering the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor base in Hawaii 71 years ago. Yates addressed a small but hearty crowd of mostly veterans in front of the American Legion Log Cabin in downtown Fayetteville.

The Pearl Harbor attack throughout the Pacific cost the lives of more than 7,100 American servicemen, and it also became the U.S. path of entry into WWII, which ultimately led to the defeat of the Axis allies of Germany, Italy and Japan.

“It actually started the war and did President Roosevelt a favor because even though he had given Great Britain 50 over-age destroyers, he was still promising to keep us out of the war. And this catapulted us into the war and ... he knew we had to take care of Great Britain or else we could never invade Europe and take care of the Nazis,” Yates said.

Yates noted that by the end of the war, some 292,000 Americans had paid the ultimate sacrifice to their country by giving their lives in the effort to defeat the Hitler-led Nazi regime and force the surrender of the Japanese military as well. Another 671,000 were wounded in the effort.

“It was a horrible thing. War is a horrible thing,” Yates said.

Yates said the attack helped Roosevelt get into the war because “Americans are slow to anger.” Following the Pearl Harbor attack, the nation’s motto became “Remember Pearl Harbor,” Yates added.

“Nothing started us like ‘Remember Pearl Harbor,’” Yates recalled. “It was just like a magnet. And immediately people would join in. ... This catapulted the whole nation and it was just a fantastic thing that people got together, and it’s a shame that we can’t do that these days. Everybody chipped in and did what was necessary whether you were serving or if you were on the homefront.”

Yates and his five brothers served in the military during the war. Although one was hospitalized and two became prisoners of war, “everybody came back okay,” Yates said, adding that he sympathized for his mother, who also was a widow.

“We should never forget to think about and pray for those and help those who serve and the families of those who serve,” Yates said. “That’s the American Way and I urge all of us to do that again.”

Yates represents part of Fayette, Spalding and Henry counties in his 73rd district seat in the legislature. He is chairman of the defense and veterans affairs committee and offered his help to veterans in the crowd, noting that veterans have to ask for any benefits they are entitled to because of their service to the country.

Yates will begin his 21st year of service as a legislator this January.

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