Robert Charles Coats was born in West Monroe, Louisiana, on January 2, 1918, son of William Edward and Nora Belle (Schrodt) Coats, both now deceased. He attended Louisiana State University at Monroe and in 1939 received the degree of Bachelor of Science from Louisiana Polytechnic Institute at Ruston. He enlisted in the US Navy Reserve in January 1940 and had elimination flight training until July of that year at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Opa Locka, Florida. Appointed an Aviation Cadet, USNR, on November 15, 1940, he had flight training at the Naval Air Stations, Pensacola and Miami, Florida, and on May 22, 1941 was commissioned Ensign and designated Naval Aviator. He subsequently advanced in rank that of Captain, to date from July 1, 1960, having transferred from the Naval Reserve to the Regular Navy on October 25, 1946.
From June to August 1941 he was an Instructor at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, after which he had a similar assignment at the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas. He remained there until July 1943, then joined Fighting Squadron Eighteen, operating off the USS Bunker Hill. “For meritorious achievement…. In action against enemy Japanese forces as the Gilbert Islands during November 1943…” he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of the Sixteen Air Medal. The citation further states in part:
“Participating in aggressive strafing attacks against the strongly defended Japanese base at Tarawa, (he) aided in silencing hostile antiaircraft guns, in starting fires among stores and buildings on the Islands and in destroying large numbers of Japanese personnel….”
In April 1944 he transferred to Fighting Squadron Seventeen, based on the USS Hornet, and for outstanding services in that assignment was awarded the Air Medal, Gold Stars in lieu of four additional awards, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Navy Cross. The citation follow in part:
Air Medal: “For meritorious achievement…. During operations against enemy Japanese forces over the Tokyo area of Japan, February 16, 1945. Participating in an attack against an enemy airfield which resulted in extensive damage to airfield installations despite enemy antiaircraft opposition, (he) completed his assigned mission despite adverse weather conditions encountered in the flight to and from the target area….”
Gold Star in lieu of the second Air Medal: “For meritorious achievement… during operations against enemy Japanese forces over the Tokyo area of Japan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa Shima from February 16 to March 1, 1945. Determinedly performing his duties, (he) pressed home his attacks against the targets and contributed greatly to the success of the assigned missions…”
Navy Cross: “For extraordinary heroism… in action against enemy Japanese forces over southern Kyushu Islands, March 18, 1945. Leading his division in a daring fighter sweep over enemy territory, (he) shot down one hostile plane in flames as it pursed a fellow pilot. Subsequently, observing five more enemy fighters flying in echelon formation, he closed the rear of his flight and skillfully destroyed three of the planes with three short bursts. Later, sighting two Japanese fighters pursuing one of our planes, he fired on one whose pilot bailed out when part of a wing flew off…”
Gold Star in lieu of the Fourth Air Medal: “For meritorious achievement…. As Pilot of a Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron Seventeen… March 28, 1945. Leading his division in a daring fighter sweep over a Japanese airfield, (he) executed a brilliant strafing run to inflict heavy damage on parked aircraft and airfield installations. Recovering from this attack, he was proceeding to a near-by seaplane base when, sighting an enemy seaplane just leaving the water in its take-off run, he opened fire and shot it down. Subsequently leading his division in a strafing run on the seaplane base, he succeeded in inflicting extensive damage to aircraft standing on the ramp….”
The Gold Stars in lieu of the Third and Fifth Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross were awarded for completing twenty missions against the enemy during the period February 16 to April 16, 1945. He is also entitled to the Ribbon with Stars, and facsimiles of the Presidential Unit Citations awarded the USS Bunker Hill (Fighting Squadron Eighteen) and the USS Hornet (Fighting Squadron Seventeen).
Detached from fighting Squadron Seventeen in August 1945, he was next in charge of the Acceptance and Transfer Unit at the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas and in June 1946 reported as Assistant Project Coordinator at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland. He assumed command of Fighter Squadron Forty-Three in August 1948 and after receiving injuries in an aircraft accident was hospitalized from May 1949 until January 1950. He then joined the Staff of Commander Fleet Air, Jacksonville as Assistant Operations and in May 1950 assumed command of Fighter Squadron Fourteen.
During the period January 1952 until January 1953 he attended the General Line School, Monterey, California, after which he had duty as Air Tactics Officer, Naval Warfare Publications, on the Staff of Commander Operational Development Force. In April 1944 he reported as Head of the Attack Aircraft Branch, Avionics Division, Bureau of Aeronautics, Navy Department, Washington, DC, where he remained until April 1957. He then joined the USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39) as Operations Officer, and in October 1958 became Executive Officer of All Weather Attack Squadron Thirty Three. Assigned in October 1959 to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron Thirty-Three, he served as Executive Officer, later Commanding Officer, until September 1960.
Completing instruction at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Washington, D.C, in July 1961, he next headed the Air Programs Section, Strike Warfare Branch, Officer of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Development), Navy Department. In June 1964 he assumed command of the US Naval Station, Trinidad, West Indies, and in June 1967 became Assistant Chief of Staff for Training and Plans to the Chief of Naval Air Training, headquartered at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida.
In addition to the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with five Gold Stars, and the Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon with two stars, Captain Coats has the American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with eight operations stars; World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal, Europe Clasp; and the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star.