Atkins: Advocate for fallen heroes to be laid to rest
Appeal Staff Writer
For years, Don Atkins dedicated his life to making sure those who served their country were honored and remembered. He labored to form an honor guard to preside over funerals of veterans and he made it his mission to see a Veterans Memorial erected in Lone Mountain Cemetery.
Thursday afternoon, Atkins, a former commander of American Legion High Desert Post 56, will be laid to rest in the cemetery where he presided over the funerals of those who had served their country.
Atkins died June 30 in Carson City. He was 69.
His daughter-in-law Michaela Atkins remembers him as a kind, generous man who was instantly liked by those who met him. She recalls the story of how she met her future father-in-law, during a Christmas party in 1983.
“The whole house was full of relatives and I didn’t know anybody. Don came over and sat with me and made me feel comfortable. He welcomed me into their family,” she said.
After serving in the Air Force, Atkins became very concerned with how veterans and fallen soldiers were being honored, fueling his quest to get a memorial in Carson City.
“He was very concerned about how the fallen heroes were perceived in Carson City. Don’s whole existence was the military and those projects consumed him,” Michaela Atkins said.
After working for more than a year, the three-sided wooden memorial was dedicated on Sept. 30, 2006. To date there are more than 50 names on the memorial, with more added as veterans and their families come forward. The memorial is designed to hold 650 names.
“Our purpose is to remind people that we will never forget our defenders,” Atkins said during the dedication ceremony. “When I look at my calendar, I see every day as Veteran’s Day.”
“He was a proud vet, a proud family man and he was just an overall good person. He will be missed, no question about it,” said Tony Vaugh, commander of the Nevada Chapter of the American Legion.
While many will remember Atkins for his work to honor veterans, it was a more personal mission that Michaela Atkins will remember.
“He saved my children from Hurricane Katrina and brought them here,” she said.
Michaela’s daughter and son-in-law, along with their three children and four dogs were living in Gulfport, Miss., when Katrina struck land. After they were rescued from their attic by emergency personnel, they found themselves stranded in a devastated area with no way out.
“Through his military connections, he found two sergeants from Florida and with them coordinated sending a black humvee into Mississippi to get them out and take them to Florida where they could fly here,” Michaela said. “There was no getting in or out of Mississippi, but he did it.”
Atkins also formed a volunteer honor guard to perform military honor ceremonies for the funerals of veterans. The guard, one of only two in Northern Nevada, performed its first salute on April 17, 2006.
“When we lose a fellow veteran, the honor guard is the last honor presented to the fallen veteran,” Atkins said at the time. “There is no higher honor than this.”
On Thursday, the Post 56 Honor Guard will be joined by the honor guard from Grass Valley, Calif., to provide military honors for Atkins’ burial. Before moving to Carson City, Atkins also formed and trained the Grass Valley honor guard.
Funeral services are set for 2:30 p.m. at Calvary Chapel, 1744 Forest Way, with internment at Lone Mountain Cemetery to follow. He is survived by his wife, Barbara, sons Michael and Greg, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“He was a wonderful guy who didn’t deserve to have his life cut short,” Michaela said.
• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at email@example.com or 881-1217.