Atkins Ivan Sagamore of the Wabash High Res 1 of 5

Stories that Hit Hard

Sometimes a sequence of events cannot be logically explained. The following are seemingly random events, yet are inextricably entwined: 

  1. My partner Adam and I were home for Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years, as we opted not to make travel plans. Since my son Jake died, I have dreaded spending the holidays at home. Last year we spent a couple weeks in Mexico and while I was glad to be away, it doesn’t matter where we are, my grief is a piece of luggage that will never be lost in transit. Over Thanksgiving, we had traveled to Colorado to see my kids, so I thought we might — at a minimum — spend a few nights at the West Baden Hotel in French Lick, Indiana, in late December, but we did not make reservations.
  2. Adam and I attended a fundraiser at the home of Marianne Glick to benefit TeenWorks on December 10th. We bought a couple beautiful paintings by Marianne and one needed to be framed. Marianne shared her framing contact, Mark Mikulla of Aspen Moulding and Supply.
  3. The Indiana Department of Veteran Affairs (IDVA) asked me to write an article on Ivan Atkins, a 101-year-old World War II US Navy Veteran who survived Pearl Harbor alongside two of his brothers, all serving on the same ship, the USS West Virginia.

It’s an honor to share any story, and especially that of a WWII Veteran. It’s been nearly eleven years since I interviewed and wrote about the first of dozens of WWII Veterans, with that initial interview inspiring my first memoir, FINDING JOY (release date pending). To be honest, I didn’t know there were any WWII Veterans still alive to feature. 

Over the years, I’ve shared several of my articles on veterans with the IDVA for their online newsletter, so when Kirsten Clark, IDVA Communications Manager, and Salon Osborne, IDVA Digital Marketing Manager, asked if I would interview Ivan, I, of course, said yes. 

Ivan currently lives in a nursing home two hours south of where we live, and the potential travel time did not align with my other meetings that day, so Kirsten and Salon FaceTime’d me so that I could participate.

Ivan’s WWII experience is astounding and it’s nothing short of a miracle that he and his brothers lived to tell. After I completed my draft (see “Three Brothers Survive Pearl Harbor“), I shared it with Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s office and I requested a Distinguished Hoosier honor for Ivan. Our Governor is also a Navy veteran and knew he’d love this story. He loved it so much that his Deputy General Counsel Michael Nossett reached out to me and shared that the Governor has issued a Sagamore of the Wabash to honor Ivan Atkins. A Sagamore is the highest distinction awarded in Indiana and the Governor has the sole discretion as to who receives this honor. I scheduled to pick it up the next day, which was December 28th, exactly two weeks after my initial interview for Ivan’s story. I shared the news with Ivan’s family, letting them know that Adam and I would be there on Friday to deliver the goods.

The story I wrote on Ivan took on a life of its own.

Back to randomness, I had a hair appointment on the 28th and had planned to drop off the painting to be framed afterwards. Due to timing and the inconvenience of driving downtown to the Statehouse, I requested to pick up the Sagamore prior to going to my salon. Note: hair appointments are vital, especially when we must rudely remind our hair what color it should be, so…I was wearing a hat when I pulled up to the guard shack at the north lot for the Statehouse. “Look, I have a hair appointment at 10:30 that I will NOT be late for!” He let me through.

Michael Nossett brought out the Sagamore to my car. I rolled down the passenger window to thank him and to receive the envelope when Michael drops some truth on me: “We love Ivan’s story. My great-uncle served on the same ship and survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and he had PTSD.” I got out of the car.

After profusely thanking Michael, and hoping he passes along an ounce of my gratitude to our Governor, I was on-time for my hair appointment. Afterwards, I discovered that OfficeMax does not sell 11×17 frames. When I arrived at the frame shop, I mentioned to Mark about the Sagamore and asked for his recommendation on where he thought I should go. Knowing the importance of the Sagamore, Mark asked me to go get it out of the car so he can “take a look at it”. He framed it — at no cost.

Did I mention that Ivan lives two hours south of us — in French Lick, Indiana? Adam and I booked a room at the West Baden Springs Hotel.

Ivan’s granddaughter, Tonette Ramion, contacted local media. WAVE3 out of Louisville, Kentucky sent a cameraman [see 101-year-old Pearl Harbor Veteran honored by State of Indiana]. The local Springs Valley Herald sent a reporter. Adam took photos of the event, and while Ivan, who is mostly deaf, may not have been acutely aware of what was happening, his family is absolutely thrilled.  

Atkins Ivan Sagamore of the Wabash High Res 1 of 5

Ivan’s son Al was teary when reading the Sagamore, proof of its impact hitting the right note. Another of Ivan’s daughters shared with me that the story on Ivan (made possible by the IDVA looping me in) has been a sort of healing balm for their family. PTSD is challenging at best for the person experiencing it, let alone for siblings and children of that person. Life has not been easy for the Atkins family within the shadow of Ivan’s PTSD, and in the sunset of his life, they are happy to have something positive to celebrate. May we all have something to celebrate. 

It’s not possible to predict how a story will land for people. I don’t write stories for impact, I do it to share truth. 

The more personal, the harder it hits. I’m grateful this one is hitting hard.

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