What are you doing now: Easy Company 506th PIR, 101si ABN Division
Partook in liberating France and a German concentration camp before ending the war by captured Hitler's Eagle's Nest fortress at Berchtesgaden in 1945
PANAMA CITYBEACH — Roy P. Gates said several times he was not a hero, but the men gathered at Eastgate Christian Fellowship Tuesday evening were not buying it.
Gates, a former paratrooper, served in World War II in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, which was made famous by Stephen Ambrose's book, "A Band of Brothers." It was later turned into an award-winning HBO Cinema production.
"The real heroes are the men that are still over there under the ground," Gates told the church members.
Gates, long since retired and living in Seagrove Beach for nearly 20 years, was invited to speak to the church's men's group, which is similarly named "a band of brothers" and focuses on themes of manhood and Christian duty. The group, which meets the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, recently watched the film and was chomping at the bit to question the veteran.
Hunched and wrinkled and sporting a cane, Gates answered questions with a twinkle in his eye and self- deprecating humour. Asked what he did after the war ended, Gates said, "I drank a lot."
Gates said he joined Easy Company late, after it had performed many of the feats it is remembered for. He came in as a 2nd Lieutenant shortly after the carnage at Bastogne during the notoriously frigid winter, marched up the Rhine and was at Adolf Hitler's Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgaden for Victory in Europe Day.
He talked about Easy Company's first commander, Dick Winters, who eventually became the battalion commander, and men such as Shifty Powers, Earl McClung, and Paul Rogers, all made famous by Ambrose's book and the HBO film it inspired.
Gates, now 46 years sober and much wiser, said he relishes talking about the war and the men he served with. He mentioned seeing the emaciated bodies of newly liberated concentration camp prisoners.
"Some of them died from the excitement of being liberated," Gates said.
Question after question was asked to the man who casually recalled driving around in one of Hitler's Mercedes.
Riley Woodrum, worship leader at the church and organizer of the men's group, said the group has no format but finds value in playing battle-oriented films that can resemble the Christian struggle. He said much can be learned from films like "Band of Brothers" and men like Gates.
"We see elements in movies and literature that relate to the Christian journey," Woodrum said.
The other men present seemed to agree. When the questions ended, a line of men stretched across the room to shake hands with the veteran.
Other Comments: Awards: CIB, Jump wings, ADM, EAME, WW II Victory, Army of Occupation, French Croix de Gueere, Dutch Order of the Orange, Belgian Croux de Gueere, PUC, Meritorious Unit Award.
ASN: Enlisted 38413457
Enlisted in Huston, TX. County: Fort Bend
4 years of college Single, without dependents Selectees (Enlisted Men) From New York
Enlistment for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law