George Bateman, U.S. Navy

Medals and Awards: Vietnamese Service with 3 Bronze Stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960 Device, National Defense, Regular Navy Good Conduct medal (Issued by Dunkirk NY Naval Reserve Unit 3-20s), Naval Reserve Meritorious Service Medal (Issued by Dunkirk NY Naval Reserve Unit 3-20s during Bateman’s 7 years drilling with the unit).

Robert George Bateman was born July 26, 1942 in Saint Valentine’s Children’s Hospital in Wendell, Idaho. Bateman had been given the name “Robert” by his parents Ivan Oliver Bateman and Dora Mabel (Conklin) Bateman at birth. Bateman’s parents chose the name “Robert” in honor of Bateman’s grandfather Robert Conklin, and the middle name “George” for his grandfather George Bateman; family in Idaho always called Bateman “George.” When Bateman reported for duty to his assigned Naval station as a young man, there were so many sailors aboard the USS Caliente who were already called “Robert” or “Bob” that Bateman continued to use his middle name. Being “George” was just easier.

Bateman’s father Ivan was a hard-working farmer, toiling from dawn until after the sun went down on his 200-acre farm in Jerome, Idaho. With the changing seasons came different types of work, but all of them were hard physical labor. During the winter months the ground may have been frozen, but the Bateman family continued to milk their dairy cattle and ready their farm equipment for the spring planting season and summer crop harvest. Bateman’s father and mother ended up divorcing, and his father married Edna Bean. From that union, Bateman’s family grew to include halfsiblings Joyce Edna (Peck), Owen Stephen Bateman and Jesse Ivan Bateman. Eventually, as Bateman and his stepsiblings grew up and moved on to start their adult lives, Bateman’s father and stepmother were no longer able to run the farm. The couple moved into town in Jerome, and Bateman’s father started work at the Twin Falls, Idaho stock and sales yard. This work was also long and hard, with the day starting before the sun came up and ending well after dark, when the last head of cattle had come in through the sales gate and been counted. But while they still lived in the country, Bateman and his siblings attended the Appleton Grade School located near their home. After he completed eighth grade, Bateman started high school at the Junior/Senior High School in Jerome.

Robert and his siblings were raised by his stepmother Edna, who helped on the farm in addition to keeping the house. Robert did not see his biological mother Dora, nor did he have contact with her during his early formative years. When he was in his teens and the opportunity to know his mother arose, he took it, moving to the Reno-Sparks, Nevada area, where he finished high school at Sparks Nevada High School in June of 1962.

While still in his junior year in high school, Bateman was honored by the Reno Lion’s Club with a corneal transplant to restore partial sight to his right cornea, which had been damaged in an accident in his childhood. Bateman traveled to San Francisco, California for the operation, where the pioneer doctor Ben Hogan performed the surgery. The donor was a prisoner in Alcatraz Prison.

Bateman’s first after-school job was at a place called Johnnie’s Spuds, a potato processing plant located just outside of Sparks in one of the canyons. His duties included unloading the sacks of potatoes that came in to the plant on the tractor trailers, hauling them into the warehouse, and washing down the equipment and processing areas. After he graduated from high school, Bateman kept working at the plant, becoming a full time employee. He continued to unload trucks, but learned other jobs in the plant as well, and filled in where he was needed. He worked on the machines and helped the drivers and salesmen load the finished products onto their trucks for distribution. Hash browns, french fries, foil-wrapped baked potatoes, and potato chips were delivered to various clubs and restaurants in the area. On Saturdays, he went with the delivery salesmen on their routes, and when a driver left the company, Bateman moved into his position. He already knew the routes and protocol, and it was an easy transition for Bateman.

Things changed in the fall of 1963. Bateman received his notice from Uncle Sam; he was being ordered by the Draft Board to report for an Army physical in preparation of joining the United States Army. However, Bateman’s stepfather was in the Navy, and had been in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 when it was bombed by the Japanese. Because of this family history, Bateman thought the Navy would be a better choice for him. He didn’t know if he could switch branches after he had received his draft letter, though, so he stopped into a Naval recruiter’s office in Reno. The recruiter told Bateman that he could join the Navy as long as he could pass their entrance exam. As he was an intelligent young man, Bateman passed the test and completed all the necessary paperwork within a week. He was officially a sailor, and the Navy welcomed him into its ranks for the next six years.

Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts. The complete story can be read at www.observertoday.com

Robert “George” Bateman received orders to report to San Diego, where he would complete boot camp at their Naval Training Center. Normally, the process would have taken 13 weeks, but Bateman completed it sooner.

The training center closed for Christmas, but Bateman didn’t want to exercise his earned leave time. He was assigned to a special company, Company 526. He was selected by his company’s members to be Laundry Petty Officer 3rd Class, and given a patch featuring a figure 8-shaped knot, which meant “You’re 3rd Class, Knot Nothing.” On Feb. 28, 1964, Batman reported to the USS Caliente AO-53 in the Portland, Oregon shipyard. The ship was in dry dock then, being updated for service in the first fleet of U.S. ships to go to war in Vietnam. The USS Caliente was a fast, refueling fleet Oiler. When Bateman first saw the Caliente, it was in “X mode,” being overhauled and crawling with Naval personnel and civilian contractors. While this took place, Bateman and the rest of the crew lived on an APL, an Auxiliary Personnel Lighter. This was a barge used to house sailors along the pier as their ships were being worked on. Living there temporarily made things easier for the sailors, who could stay out of the contractors’ way and get a break at night from their working hours readying the USS Caliente.

After a few weeks in X Division, Bateman was greeted by the ship’s Chief Master-at-Arms and taken aboard the Caliente AO-53 to meet his Division Chief for the first time. He was assigned to the ship’s Boiler Division, to train to repair all the equipment associated with steam propulsion systems. After a brief time assigned to the Boiler Division, the chief boiler tender selected Bateman to be trained as the ship’s “oil/water king,” which meant his duties were to test all fuels to be used by the Caliente and any combat ships the U.S. serviced in the fleet during the Vietnam tours. For this training, Bateman was sent to San Pedro, California for five weeks of fleet petroleum school.

After completing that training, Bateman was sent to Long Beach Naval Shipyard for boiler water testing school for one week. There he learned to test boiler feed water, test boilers, add boiler compounds to maintain limits, read boiler blow downs schedules and keep boiler records and logs. Another responsibility of Bateman’s new title was to make sure that the ship’s “potable water” (usable water) tanks were topped off before the ship went to its station off the Vietnam coast. This included keeping usage records and tracking gallons used per man, as the rule was that boiler tender’s feed water comes before potable water for showers, etc. in the “head” (bathroom). This meant that Bateman had to, at times, put chains and padlocks on the doors of these areas, to ensure that the ship had enough water to carry out its duties.

While the USS Caliente assumed its position off the Vietnam coast, one of the crew’s duties was to supply potable water to coastal ships Mine Sweeper Ocean and Mine Sweeper Coastal, since they didn’t have evaporators onboard to distill seawater to potable water. There were also requests from large combat ships for potable water, but those ships had more engine rooms and thus more evaporators than the Caliente could sufficiently supply.

On Nov. 1, 1967, Bateman was released from the USS Caliente AO-53 in Long Beach, California, six days early, since the ship had to service other ships around the California Coast, and the Navy wanted to avoid the trouble of paying Bateman Inconvenience Pay.

Bateman hadn’t lost any of the ambition that buoyed him throughout his early years. Instead of frittering away his spare time in the Navy, he studied, and exited the regular Navy as a Second Class Boiler Tender Petty Officer. He moved to western New York and joined the Dunkirk Naval Reserve 3-20s to complete the last two years of regular service, and re-enlisted three times. Within the first two years, he was promoted to Boiler Tender First Class E-6. This was all while Bateman held a job at Ralston Purina as a maintenance man. He retired from Ralston Purina after 22 years of service.

Bateman lives in Forestville with his wife Bonnie Lee Klepfer, where he helps raise his three stepchildren.