FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 1, 2021) -- Guests attending the rededication ceremony at Atkins Functional Fitness Facility on Aug. 31 got a look at the new memorial display honoring Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team Soldier who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in March 2019.
Jeff Fox, the illustrator/graphic designer from Fort Drum Public Works’ Signs and Graphics Section, designed and constructed the large display last May, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the ceremony and official unveiling.
Fox had also worked on the original project when the facility was dedicated in 2013 to Atkins, then a Distinguished Service Cross recipient. He said the hours he spent researching, designing and building this display is simply his way of paying respect and honoring a 10th Mountain Division hero.
“I did not serve in the military, but I feel that my purpose is to serve the military,” Fox said. “The Soldiers who put their lives at risk to protect our country are the No. 1 priority.”
Fox said that he tries to design displays that Soldiers can be proud of, and remind them why they serve. He said that memorials, displays and plaques have a way of boosting morale and esprit de corps.
“Countless times I’ve heard from Soldiers and dignitaries who visit Fort Drum that they’ve never been to a nicer looking installation or that they didn’t have anything like this where they had been stationed before,” Fox said. “Soldiers seem to become more proud to serve when they can see the history of not only Fort Drum but the 10th Mountain Division and their units, along with current photos and information."
When he designs a memorial display, Fox becomes, in a sense, a storyteller. He researches his subject thoroughly and collects more photographs and documents than he needs before selecting just the pertinent ones to tell the story.
“Basically what I did is listen to his story, read the citations and articles, and I’ve heard comments, secondhand, about Travis,” he said. “All of that helps me to figure out what I want to put into the display.”
The center of the display features a picture of Travis with the Medal of Honor below him. Fox used photos provided by the Atkins family among other images, his Legion of Valor and Medal of Honor citations, and programs from the Pentagon and White House events. The latter was given to Fox from former 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt.
“He had attended the ceremony at the White House, and he gave me the Pentagon program,” Fox said. “So I scanned everything in real high quality and then took the original programs over to the museum. I thought adding the images of the program, and also the photos of Atkins’ son at the ceremony, would be the best ending to the story.”
Fox printed out the 153-inch-long display after sizing it up into four separate panels – each taking roughly 45 minutes to print on an industrial color printer. Afterward, the panels were laminated to add a flat finish that will protect the ink from being damaged.
He also used graphic design software on his computer to draw a wall pattern, and then fed the template into a computerized router table in another room.
The router carved out the pieces into bendable plywood, which were bolted to the floor and wall at the fitness facility with the assistance of Tom Lundy from the Public Works Carpentry Shop. The last step was attaching the laminated panels onto the plywood, which Fox was able to do himself in a matter of hours.
Fox went on to work on a slew of projects since he finished that display last year, and he said there is never a shortage of signs and graphics that need to be made on post. That’s OK by him, because Fox said he enjoys staying busy.
“I’d like to keep trying to make Fort Drum look good for as long as I can,” he said.