William R. Spates, Jr. was born on September 8, 1939. He attended Mackin High School in Washington, DC, and graduated in 1957. He entered the Army in June 1957 and completed basic training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. He then received airborne training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and was later assigned to Worms, Germany in August 1959. While serving in Germany, Sergeant Spates completed the non-commissioned officers course at the NCO Academy and was subsequently awarded the Good Conduct Medal for exemplary behavior, efficiency and fidelity in active military service.
Upon his return to the United States in September 1963, he was assigned to 1st Battalion (Reinf), 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) as a Chief Radio Operator. In 1964, due to his outstanding conduct, he was transferred to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as a Relief Commander. His responsible and continuous service as a Relief Commander earned him Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Identification Badge and he was further awarded (for professionalism) his second Good Conduct Medal.
In May 1965 he was initially assigned to Pleiku, Republic of Vietnam and later served as an advisor to the 23rd Vietnamese Ranger Battalion. Staff Sergeant Spates was killed in action on October 25, 1965. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for valor and meritorious service to his country. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors by Honor Guard Company on November 2, 1965.