WKU unveils bell tower memorial featuring Yates

In honor of Eric Yates, a A WKU Army ROTC graduate who was killed last year in Afghanistan, WKU hosted a ceremony to celebrate his life and inducted him into the ROTC Hall of Fame.

Michael McKay

During a Veterans Day ceremony at the Guthrie Bell Tower on Friday, members of the audience were asked to raise their hand if they had served the country.

Dozens of hands went up.

1st Lt. Eric Yates was not able to raise his hand, but a visual reminder of his service will soon be installed in the bell tower.

Yates, a member of the WKU class of 2008, was killed in Afghanistan on Sept. 18, 2010, while deployed with his unit from Fort Campbell.

During the ceremony, a replica was unveiled of the new granite panel that will be installed in the tower featuring Yates and 13 of his friends who served in Afghanistan.

Yates’ family and members of his unit, Company B, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell were among those in attendance.

Yates’ mother, Cathy Yates, was a key figure in getting the granite panel added. She said she wanted a statue of her son but was happy that the panel included his friends.

“That way he’s not alone,” Yates said.

Immediately after the unveiling, Yates’ mother was given the opportunity to speak. She approached the podium, but was too overwhelmed to address those in attendance and returned to her seat.

After the ceremony, Cathy Yates said that the panel is important to her family.

“It just means everything to us,” Yates said.

Following the Veterans Day ceremony, Yates and Lt. Col. Thomas Hightower were inducted into the ROTC Hall of Fame at the Kentucky Museum.

Hightower, a member of the WKU class of 1960, thanked Yates’ unit for being there during his induction.

Yates’ roommate at WKU, Ty Reid, gave a speech at the induction ceremony during which he described Yates’ passion for history and the effect Yates had on his life.

Reid ended his speech with an address to Yates’ parents.

“Thank you David and Cathy — we’re your family now,” he said.

Tiffany Shively, Yates’ first cousin, said she knew what Eric would think if he was at the ceremony.

“He would’ve sat in the back like this,” she said. She crossed her arms and hunched over, mimicking how she said Yates’ would have sat. “Like, ‘Really, they’re doing all of this for me?’”

Shively said Yates was humble and a hard worker. She said he loved history and social studies.

“Like a lot of students, I think they kind of do their work because they have to do it, but he really did extra,” she said.

Yates’ family and the Department of History have also set up a scholarship fund in Eric’s name, the 1st Lt. Eric D. Yates Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Fort Campbell junior Alan Johnson was the first recipient of the Eric Yates Scholarship.

Toward the end of the reception, Yates’ mother gathered family members, friends, and members of her son’s unit around his induction award.

At first, only his family stood around his picture, Yates’ mother coaxed the others to stand alongside it as well.

“We’re all family now,” she said.