By Kaley Hearnsberger, Staff Contributor
For the last 36 years, Yasuko Atkinson has volunteered for the Red Cross in Service to the Armed Forces. She is originally from Japan where she met her husband, Romane Atkinson, when he was serving in the Navy. They married in March of 1953. Yasuko moved to the United States in 1955 to be with her husband and soon after became a citizen.
Romane commented that Yasuko’s service was a way of demonstrating her citizenship in America. “She wanted to do something to prove she was a citizen of this country.” She wanted to give back to the country that welcomed her. Yasuko says that volunteering for the Red Cross “was a way to support this country and this military.”
Yasuko opens a container and delicately unfolds a vintage Red Cross uniform. She recalls, “When I put on my uniform it made me happy. Coming from Japan, I felt I had a place to be.” Back then, Red Cross volunteers still wore uniforms, like the nostalgic image of Red Cross nurses in white on the battlefield with their hats.
Romane shares that his wife felt a strong sense of duty with the Red Cross, “If she said she was going to be there, she was going to be there.” Romane’s pride in his wife was as strong as her pride for serving the military.
Serving the military is in Yasuko’s blood. Her father was an officer in the Japanese Army. She grew up fascinated with the military. She had great aspirations to join the Army like her father. “I was too short to join the military myself. I wanted to be a nurse in the Japanese army, but at the physical examination they said I was too short.” She was 14 years old at the time. “When I saw that big red cross, I felt like I was reliving my dream of being a nurse in the military,” Yasuko recounts.
Service runs deep within the Atkinson family. Romane served in the Navy for seven years and in the Army for 20 years. Romane volunteered to join the Navy during the Korean War. He became a Seabee. Later he served three deployments in Vietnam. Their daughter is a retired Lieutenant Colonel and their son served in the Navy for six years as well. They have two grandkids and a new great grand-daughter who undoubtedly will be inspired by the military service that runs deep in their family.
Yasuko found volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross wherever her husband was stationed. They spent about three years in Hawaii, five years at Fort Riley, Kansas, and 10 years at Fort Hood. At each installation she worked in the hospital or clinics. She spent time in the physical therapy department, medical library and records, and helped at the front desks across clinics.
In her 36 years, Yasuko’s dedication garnered countless awards and even recognition from two Texas governors (Bill Clements and Ann Richards). Her collection of pins adds up her years of service: five years, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and finally the 35-year pin. She displays them in a decorative shadow box along with her Clara Barton’s 150th birthday coin she received while at Fort Riley in Kansas. “When I volunteer something good happens to me,” Yasuko beams a proud smile.