SD Vietnam War Memorial Dedication Please Support the Memorial Soldiers, Heroes, and teachers information



In Memory of Air Force Major

Harry Jay Coates, Jr.

Yankton, South Dakota, Yankton County

September 28, 1931 – November 4, 1969


Killed in Action in Chu Lai, Vietnam

Left: Coates at reception in Beirut, Lebanon, 1965; right: University of Minnesota, 1950

Harry Jay Coates, Jr. was born September 28, 1931, to Harry and Helen Coates in Yankton, South Dakota. He had three siblings: JoAnn, John, and Gene Coates. Harry grew up in Yankton and among his passions was football. First, he played football at Yankton High School and later he played at the University of Minnesota, from where he graduated in 1954. In December of 1955, Harry married his wife, Marilyn, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They later had two children: Lisa and Scott. Harry was known as a people person; he “was very active, played handball, football, tennis, loved his family, loved to travel…” according to his daughter, Lisa. His love of life contributed to his having many interests.

After graduation Harry was trained as a pilot in the United States Air Force at Webb Air Force Base in Big Spring, Texas.  After additional training, Coates then served as a Flight Commander and instructing in jet trainers for an Air Refueling Squadron in Shreveport, Louisiana. In 1965, Harry was an Air Attache with the American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. While he and his family were stationed there, they traveled a great deal, including to Turkey, Greece, Egypt, and Italy.

On September 28, 1969, Major Coates, nicknamed ‘Pepper,’ was sent overseas to Chu Lai, South Vietnam, from Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. Major Coates was part of the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron. During his time in Vietnam Major Coates wrote many letters home to his family. In a letter dated October 30, 1969,   his opening line was “Hello My Sweet Heart, the rain is pouring down outside and I’m dripping inside. This place is something else again when it comes to downpours. Have never seen it rain so hard for so long.” The letter went on to relate details of his recent combat sortie: 

Directed fighters for the first time. We hit some sampans in a known V.C. area plus buildings. Brought the fighters in on the complex and they drew some ground fire. Someone shot a rocket propelled grenade which exploded just behind and under the fighters. After the fighters called in artillery to continue the job. Quite an experience, I’ve now got the feeling that the war is on.

He went on to talk about a rocket attack by the V.C. on his base. He even sent some of the shrapnel home to his son, Scott. Major Coates wrote that the rocket attacks were “more to harass than for the killing effect. Just like to keep the boys awake and wondering.” His letter also indicated how much he missed his family:

 You wrote of a kettle of soup on the stove, can almost smell and taste the soup. Would give a lot to sit down to dinner with you and our two. Think our suppers have been some of our warmest family moments. It feels good to think of things we both treasure, like our moments together. It makes this separation bearable to think that someday we will do those things again….  

Just days later, on November 4, 1969, Major Harry Coates, Jr. was killed in action while piloting a North American OV-10 Bronco aircraft on a forward air control mission in Vietnam. He was shot down as he was “directing tactical fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships against hostile positions and forces and relieving a beleaguered friendly ground unit.” The family was notified by Chaplain Ike Barnett from Barksdale AFB, as he was a family friend. On November 13, 1969, the Chaplain conducted a memorial service in Chapel 1 at the base. He started with these words: “What can I say about the closest personal friend that I have had at Barksdale AFB other than that he would not have been such a close personal friend had he not been the man that he was.”

The body of Major Harry Coates was returned to the United States and buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. His name is also on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall. Major Coates received the Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and the Vietnam Service Medal.

He is currently survived by his wife, Marilyn Coates Applequist of Minneapolis, Minnesota; his son, Scott Coates of San Francisco; his daughter, Lisa Coates of Minneapolis; his sister, JoAnn Nicholls of Yankton; his brother, John F. Coates of Washington, D.C.; and his other brother, Gene Coates of Madison, Wisconsin.

Harry and wife, Marilyn with son, Scott, and daughter, Lisa, 1962

This entry was respectfully submitted by Michaela Kileyl. Fuerstenau, 9th Grade, Spearfish High School, Spearfish, South Dakota, on May 1, 2005. Information and approval for this entry was obtained from the Coates family via Lisa Coates, daughter.


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