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Memorial service planned for Apache helicopter pilot US Army veteran in Michigan on Saturday

Army National Guard Honor Guard officers extend full military honors at the burial of MIA World War II veteran Sgt. Howard F. Gotts, U.S. Army Air Force, at Sand Hill Cemetery in Stanley. [MELODY BURRI/FOR MESSENGER POST MEDIA]

A memorial service for Jon Atkins, a 2001 graduate of Sturgis High School and a U.S. Army veteran, is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Camp Fort Hill.

Atkins was all-boy growing up. He loved sports and being outdoors surrounded by a group of friends.

His mother, Kathy Gillette, was glad when he graduated from high school, because academics weren’t high on Atkins’ list of priorities.

Others jumped in to help encourage him, including Lance Goodlock, a Sturgis High School teacher, and Dave and Jeanne Ludders.

Atkins came home with Ludders’ sons and soon was a part of their family, Ludders said.

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Ludders sent them all to work at Camp Fort Hill. One of the requirements to earn the right to a vehicle was to work at camp, he said. The motivation worked.

“Jon was like another son to us,” Ludders said.

In 2002, Atkins joined the U.S. Army and was sent to Iraq. Several years later, his unit was patrolling oil fields when they saw the desperate situation of school children. Several students had to share a pencil and the five-room school was overcrowded. Atkins and some of his buddies asked for help from their families back home.

In Sturgis, Atkins’ mother and grandmother, Aileen Morrison, jumped on board with the project.

Morrison has an upholstery business and soon sewed hundreds of school bags, which her customers, family, friends and community members filled with supplies or donated money to help with shipping to Iraq.

At the same time, Atkins was succeeding in the military and working his way up the ranks. He’d see the person above him doing a job and say, “I want to do that,” his mother said.

Atkins moved up to being an AH-64D Apache helicopter pilot, then an Apache instructor pilot and retired with the rank of CW3, Gillette said.

To celebrate the life and legacy of Jon Atkins is the goal of Saturday’s celebration.

The service includes full military honors, a flyover and Taps under the direction of Atkins’ classmate, Ryan Bibb, pastor at Radiant Life Church in Sturgis. The service starts at 2 p.m. Camp Fort Hill gates open at 1 p.m.

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© 2020 Sturgis Journal