During 26 years in the Air Force, Mr. Atkins was a fighter navigator, instructor, strategic planner, program manager, and commander. He flew the F-4 Phantom II and logged more than 2,000 hours of flying time, including 113 night combat missions over North Vietnam.
Among his numerous decorations were the Distinguished Flying Cross with a silver oak leaf cluster, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Device, and the Air Medal with four silver and three bronze oak leaf clusters.
Mr. Atkins retired from the Air Force in 1996 with the rank of colonel. He was a member of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, the American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
He then became director of emergency services for Chester County, a post he held for 17 years. He never retired. During his tenure, the field that ensures the public's safety, was changing. Mr. Atkins was credited with introducing a new radio communication system.
In his leisure time, Mr. Atkins enjoyed hiking, shooting, canoeing, camping, teaching home repair, drinking scotch, and discussing the laws of physics, all with his family.
Although Mr. Atkins was dignified and gracious, he was direct to a fault in his dealings with his fellow man. "He was a pilot. They had to be. If they held back about what happened out there, someone might get killed," said his wife, Ann.
But he balanced his forthrightness with a dry wit. "Understatement was his forte," she said.
Surviving beside his wife of 17 years are sons Christopher, Cory, and Blaine; daughters Nori Pernisco and Amanda; and two granddaughters.
His first wife was Deborah Atkins. They divorced. She survives.
A visitation timed to accommodate the different shifts of rescue workers will be held from noon to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 14, at the Mauger-Givnish Funeral Home, 24 Monument Ave., Malvern. Interment will be private.
Contributions may be made to the River Rats Scholarship Fund, c/o Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, Box 1553, Front Royal, Va. 22630, or via www.river-rats.org.