Mt. Vernon Register-News

November 12, 2012

Local man connected to military history


MT. VERNON — A local veteran has a connection to a piece of military history hanging in a floating museum in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Percy Atkinson, Mt. Vernon resident, served as a gunner’s mate on the U.S.S. Lexington aircraft carrier during the years of World War II, traveling from Hawaii to Japan and all over the Pacific.

For his 85th birthday party, Atkinson’s son, Mike Atkinson, researched where the “Blue Ghost” traveled, and produced a graphic of the trajectory.

Mike said it was astonishing to him to realize that his father, barely 18 years old at the time, fought battles all over.

Later, a family friend and military enthusiast, Bobby Silliman, located an 1945 original combat map of the Lexington, and had Percy sign it.

“It was my intention of framing the map and hanging it with several other WW2 signed items but it dawned on me that there was a much better pace for it than on the wall of my study,” Silliman said in an e-mail.

Before visiting the U.S.S. Lexington Museum on the Bay, Silliman contacted the curator of the museum and told him about the map.

“In early April of this year my wife Sharon (and I), along with her daughter Marquetta and her husband Mike Davis, visited the USS Lexington Museum On The Bay and hand delivered these items,” Silliman said.

He asked museum staff to send him a photo of the display once it was in place, and recently received confirmation that the combat map with Atkinson’s signature is hung in the admiral’s conference room on the aircraft carrier.

He said the museum staff told him they plan to flank the map with a newspaper from Dec. 7, 1941, the date of the Pearl Harbor bombing, and one from Aug. 15, 1945, the day of the Japanese surrender.

Atkinson’s daughter, Pamela Chadbourne, said her family is grateful to Silliman for bringing the map to the ship.

“Dad lived it, and Bobby facilitated it,” she said.

 While serving on the Lexington, he was injured during a Japanese attack and  appeared, injured and laid up in the ship’s hospital, in a photograph used in a bond drive advertisement that he and his family still have.

Percy said he spent 90 days on the aircraft carrier without seeing land.

“Just because I was wounded doesn’t mean they stopped the war,” he said.

As a gunner’s mate, Percy’s job was to put the shells in the forward gun on the port left side of the aircraft carrier, he said. But that wasn’t his only duty onboard.

As a member of the 1st Division, Atkinson was required to assist in the burial of the dead at sea.

Though it’s been about 70 years, he can still recite the words the ship’s chaplain would say before the bodies of his shipmates were slipped into the ocean:  “We commit thy body to the sea.”

Atkinson becomes emotional when remembering the duty of at-sea burials of his fellow sailors.

“It had to be somebody’s job, and I was damn sure I was going to make sure they got a proper burial,” he said.

Silliman said it seems appropriate that the signed map — and the Lexington itself — are in Corpus Christi, Texas, now, as that is where Percy received his basic training from the Marine Corps.