In a significant nod to Native American valor, the U.S. Navy continues its tradition of honoring Indigenous heroes by naming its latest salvage and rescue vessel after a distinguished Native American Navy figure. The newest ship in the Navajo-class Towing, Salvage, and Rescue (T-ATS) series is named after Solomon Atkinson, an Alaskan Native and a trailblazing Navy SEAL, marking another chapter in the Navy’s ongoing commitment to recognizing the vital contributions of Native Americans to the U.S. military.
Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Carlos Del Toro announced the honor on Metlakatla’s Founders Day, held in the Metlakatla Indian Community, Annette Islands Reserve, where Atkinson was born. Del Toro highlighted Atkinson’s extraordinary journey, marked by numerous firsts and a legacy of leadership and courage.
Solomon Atkinson’s life story reads like a saga of resilience and trailblazing achievements. Born in 1930 in Metlakatla, Alaska’s sole Indian Reserve, Atkinson’s early years were steeped in the traditions of his community. From humble beginnings as a commercial fisherman, his journey led him to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1952, followed by volunteering for the underwater demolition teams, the forerunners of the SEALs.
Atkinson’s distinguished military career included being one of the first Navy SEALs in 1962 and founding member of SEAL Team 1. His deployments spanned Korea and three tours in Vietnam, earning him a Bronze Star, a Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”, and a Purple Heart. Notably, he also trained astronauts, including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, in underwater simulations, further underscoring his exceptional skill set.
After retiring in 1973, Atkinson continued to serve, contributing significantly to his community in various leadership roles. His passing in 2019 was marked by honors from SEAL Team 1, reflecting the deep respect and admiration he commanded.
The naming of the USNS Solomon Atkinson is more than a tribute; it is a testament to a hero who embodied commitment to family, community, and country. Rear Adm. Keith Davids, Commander, Naval Special Warfare Command, aptly summarized Atkinson’s legacy as an inspiration across the naval community.
In another heartwarming gesture, Del Toro announced that Atkinson’s widow, Joann Atkinson, and their two daughters, Michele Gunyah and Maria Hayward, are the sponsors for the USNS Solomon Atkinson, symbolizing a lifelong bond with the ship and its crew.
The Navajo-class ships, replacing the aging Powhatan-class T-ATF Fleet Tugs and Safeguard-class T-ARS Rescue and Salvage vessels, are set to be pivotal in fleet operations, providing ocean-going tug, salvage, and rescue capabilities.
The USNS Solomon Atkinson stands as a proud reminder of the rich Native American heritage and its enduring contributions to the United States’ strength and diversity.
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Source: U.S. Navy