When America entered World War I in April 1917 Pete volunteered for military service. He was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant and was assigned to the 354th Infantry Regiment, part of the 89th Division. In May 1918 Pete’s unit was shipped to Montreal, Canada and set sail for Europe. The men arrived in late June and began weeks of constant training behind the lines.
That September the 354th participated in the battle of Saint-Mihiel, the first major victory for the Americans in the war. Soon after, the 354th was moved into the Argonne Forest about 25 miles northwest of Verdun, and it was not long before he distinguished himself in combat. An article was printed in the Manhattan newspaper publicizing Pete’s deeds:
First Lieutenant Vernon E. Bates, 354th Infantry, with 14 enlisted men, was in advance of his company near Barricourt, France, November 1st, 1918, when they were surrounded by enemy machine gun fire. He showed skill and bravery in handling his men, until wounded, and by his example, inspired them to resist until dark, when they extricated themselves, bringing back their dead and wounded.
A government document described his wounds as “machine gun bullets through right shoulder, left thigh, and right leg.”
The war in Europe ended not long after Pete was wounded and, after his recovery, he was shipped back home. Pete and Josephine lived in San Diego, California for a short while, but the two eventually separated. Pete moved home to Manhattan and got a divorce. In 1927 he remarried to a woman named Margaret Ratliff, with whom he would spend the rest of his life.
Sometime after the war ended Pete joined the American Legion, an organization founded by World War I veterans to look out for their interests. Pete was a very active member and in 1939 he was named commander of the local Manhattan Legion post. Pete’s connection with veterans would help define much of the rest of his life. He was active in supporting the war effort with the American Legion during World War II and, when the war was over, he did is best to make sure the memory of the fallen would be preserved.
Pete Bates is remembered today as the “Father” of the 101 list: the list of Riley County servicemen who gave their lives in service to their country in the Second World War. Pete personally conducted a search throughout Riley County to find the names and stories of these fallen heroes. His work now serves as the foundation and inspiration for the Peace Memorial Monument to all of Riley County’s war veterans. This monument is not only a credit to his work in dedication to their memory, but now serves as a dedication to his memory as well.