It is not the biggest or most expensive tombstone in Claremore’s Woodlawn Cemetery. Still anyone passing by can’t help notice its existence. The gray marker has been standing in place for 100 years.
The words chiseled read simply:
John Moore Kates
Lieut. Commander U.S.N.
1890 — 1919
When my father-in-law died in 1980 was the first time I saw tombstone. He was buried across the road a short distance away. I must admit the old dates caught my attention first. That was a long time ago
The name Kates also seemed familiar. It should have as it turns out. It just didn’t click at the time.
As the following years came and went and more trips to the cemetery followed, each time the Kates grave site caught my interest. Questions arose like who was he and did he die from injuries suffered in World War I, and if not, why did death come at his early age?
Curiosity grew with each visit. Finally, after more than 39 years, it was time to do a little research. The following is what I found.
First of all the name Kates should have been remembered. Albert Linwood Kates was an early Claremore pioneer and the owner and editor of The Claremore Progress.
John Moore was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Kates. He was born June 27, 1890 in Bridgeport, New Jersey. The family moved to Claremore shortly afterwards after A.C. purchased The Progress sight unseen.
Apparently a well-behaved but fun-loving youngster, John was a familiar visitor to neighbors and local businessmen while growing up. He was one of two members of the 1907 graduating class of Claremore Academy. His classmate Riley Crittenden preceded him in death.
After attending Oklahoma University for a year and half he left for the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He had been appointed by Congressman James S. Davenport.
During his senior year he served as captain of the rifle team.
Upon graduation in June 1913 with the rank of ensign, Kates was assigned duty on the U.S.S. Utah. The following year his ship and the U.S.S. Florida were the first two battleships to arrive during the occupation of Veracruz.
While on leave back home he married Sadie P. Thompson of Vinita. She was able to join him later when he was assigned to serve in China.
Having advanced in rank to lieutenant commander, Kates at the time of his death was serving as an instructor for the Department of Navigation back at the Naval Academy.
He had been taken to the academy hospital when death occurred at 4 p.m. on January 13. Influenza followed by pneumonia was the cause.
His parents were on their way to be with him when they were stopped at the St. Louis train depot. Friend and neighbor Dr. A.L. Kaho receiving the sad news back home and was able to notify the Kates by telegraph wire.
Services were held at the academy with all base flags being lowered to half-mast. Burial could have been in Arlington Cemetery upon request but that was not the family’s wishes.
Instead the remains were returned to Claremore and a full funeral service took place at the Kates family home, 213 E. Third Street (now Will Rogers Blvd.)
A full military escort was provided by Company L, 3rd Regiment of the Oklahoma National Guard. Ones attending the funeral walked from the home to Woodlawn. A bugler sounded Taps.
The casket was placed in the concrete base vault beside his baby sister Helen who died when John was small.
Survivors included his wife Sadie, his parents, and two brothers, Will C. Kates of Claremore and Harry Kates, serving in the U.S. Army.
John Moore Kates was 28 years old.
Now after a century of time his concrete marker at Woodlawn remains at attention, watching over the resting spot of a young man taken much too soon.
Larry Larkin is a columnist for the Claremore Progress.