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Honoring local veterans for their service

The Ritzville Adams County Journal of Ritzville, Washington

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Deni Atkinson tells of his experience in the Navy

For some, enlisting in the armed forces is a choice; others are drafted and made to represent their country during times of need. For Deni Atkinson the decision was made in 1966 when he realized he and college were not getting along very well and he chose to enlist in the Navy.

He began training as an aircraft electrician in San Diego, California. He then spent a year and half in training on the Grumman A-6 aircraft at Whidbey Island.

He lived on the island for three years during his time serving in the Navy.

The year 1968 turned out to be an important time for Atkinson. It is the year he married his wife Sandi and also the year he saw his first deployment to Vietnam.

He was stationed on an aircraft carrier for nine months where he would spend 45 days out on the ocean and three days docked into a port at Hong Kong, Japan or in the Philippines.

During these three days at port those aboard were allotted two days off the ship. This allowed time to see how these other cultures functioned in comparison to the United States. He recalls one vivid trip in the Philippines.

He and three friends dressed in their white uniforms and boarded a bus to Manila. The other patrons aboard included pigs and chickens.

He remembers the bus stopping at every single village they passed, making the journey last what felt like a lifetime and how his white uniform was not so white after this trek.

After his nine months abroad he returned to Whidbey Island for six months where he and the rest of his crew prepared the carrier for another nine-month deployment.

During his deployments he communicated with Sandi mainly via letters, but he does recall one phone call from Japan that lasted three minutes and cost him $40.

Deployment also made him feel lonesome, as expected, but he also said the crew kept busy working at least 12-hour days so he did not have much time to feel how much he missed his family

He joked about the hardest part of deployment being the journey back because he had to cross the dateline and live the same day over again.

Overall, Atkinson loved being at sea and remains close with one gentleman he met in his time serving.

His "Navy Buddy" as he referred to him, lives in Colorado and they visit each other when they are in each other's neck of the woods.

Atkinson and his wife have two sons, one of which has served in the Air Force for 22 years. He is a Master Sergeant in Japan flying a C-130 cargo plane. Sandi and Deni plan to visit him there next year.

With Vietnam being the first war to be seen via the media, Atkinson discussed how even when he was between deployments he did not see anything of the war on television or in the paper. He and the crew were still focused on preparing the boat so he could be deployed again.

He said they had the 'Stars and Stripes' and local newspapers but were mostly disconnected from the outside world.

When Atkinson tried to put into words how Veterans Day made him feel he simply stated, "Pride, lots of pride."

"Everything that we do and have done All the heroes that have made it happen. You don't have to be super to be a hero when you're serving," Atkinson stated.

He has seen and been a part of the larger picture The part where every job matters when a person is serving their country, those out at sea, in the air and on the ground.

Atkinson served in the Navy until 1970. Afterwards he worked for Westinghouse in Butte, Montana. He then worked for Sandi's dad in Moses Lake at a furniture store.

Lastly, he found himself in Ritzville where he managed Ritzville Furniture until it closed its doors.

Five years ago, Atkinson became a part of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), though he admits he should have joined sooner. He tries to remain active with the Ritzville post by serving in the honor guard.

He said he does not march in parades too often but makes sure to be present at the cemetery during military funerals.

Lind-Ritzville Schools are hosting two Veterans Day assemblies on Thursday, Nov. 5. The first will be located at the Middle School in Lind and will begin at 10 a.m.

A second assembly will be held at Gilson Gymnasium at 2 p.m.

Copyright 2015 The Ritzville Adams County Journal, Ritzville, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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