Donald Atkins' face may have filled out a little and his hair may have grayed, but his genial smile is every bit as toothsome as when he was 17 and a newly enlisted recruit in the U.S. Air Force.
"I didn't drive. I rode in the back," said the former air crewman and Korean War veteran, who served eight years in the military.
The youngest of eight children, three girls and five boys - with all of the brothers serving the military - Atkins said Memorial Day holds a special place in his heart.
"It is our solemn duty to honor those who served," said Atkins, who was elected in May as commander of the American Legion Post No. 56 in Carson City. "Freedom isn't free. The sacrifices we all made paid for that freedom."
For Atkins, who lost three of his brothers to war-related causes, Memorial Day is not only a personal day of tribute, but a chance to honor all of his fellow veterans.
He owes a great deal to his oldest - and only living - brother, 81, who enlisted at 17 and set the example for all four male siblings to follow. A World War II veteran, Atkins' oldest brother served 33 months of combat in the South Pacific.
"My brothers were my greatest influence," Atkins said. "They were patriotic and fought for freedom. They were all highly decorated veterans."
Atkins has honored his fellow veterans in both words and action. A three-year Honor Guard rifleman, Atkins has performed for more than 150 military ceremonies and funerals.
His granddaughter and nephews have carried on the family's proud legacy of military service.
His granddaughter is entering college and will be an officer in the U.S. Marines. One nephew is a nuclear submarine chief, and another is a decorated Marine sergeant. One nephew commands a boat in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Although the public honors veterans a few days a year, American Legion Post No. 56 does it all year long. The group feeds homeless veterans in Mills Park and helps them understand what benefits they are entitled to. Its auxiliary unit visits the Veterans Administration Hospital in Reno twice a year to hand out care packages.
Veterans' lives could get even harder. The administration is proposing to double the price of prescription drugs for veterans and impose an enrollment fee for those who make more than $26,000 a year.
"A veteran is a veteran," Atkins said. "They should not be categorized. They should all be eligible for benefits. World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,500 per day. We can't forget those who sacrificed so much. That's why I was on the Honor Guard. It was my way of saying thank you."
Equally important in Atkin's life are his wife, Barbara, of 47 years and his faith in God. The two regularly attend Calvary Chapel Church.
n Contact reporter Dan Moreau at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2430 ext. 351.
n The American Legion Post No. 56 meets at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of every month at the Veterans Memorial Hall at Second and Curry streets.
n For membership information, call Donald Atkins at 887-0708.
Honor the military
What: Memorial service by Carson City Detachment of the U.S. Marine Corps League
When: 11 a.m. today
Where: Stewart Indian Cemetery, Clear Creek Avenue
Also: at noon at Lone Mountain Cemetery
What: Memorial Day ceremony
When: 1 p.m. today
Where: Lone Mountain Cemetery, 1044 Beverly Drive, Carson City
What: Korean Veterans Memorial Park dedication
When: 2 p.m. tonday
Where: Riverview Park
What: In Remembrance to our Departed Comrades Memorial Day ceremony
WHEN: 11 a.m. today
WHERE: Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Fernley
What: Memorial Day Celebration Honoring All Fallen Warriors
When: 12:30 p.m. today
Where: Nixon Cemetery, Nixon
Also: Community potluck, 1 p.m. at Nixon Old Gym
Call: (775) 688-1653