Lt. Gen. Joseph H. Atkinson was born in Dublin, Texas, in 1900. He received his early schooling in Dublin and attended a business college in that city. He enlisted in the Army Dec. 20, 1922, became a flying cadet in September 1923, and earned his wings and commission as a second lieutenant Sept. 13, 1924 after completing training at Brooks and Kelly fields, Texas. After receiving his commission, Atkinson was assigned to the 16th Observation squadron at Fort riley, Kan. He also served with the 12th Observation Squadron, commanded by Major H.H. Arnold. One of Atkinson's duties was to fly the presidential airmail from the summer White House in Superior, Wis., to Chicago, Ill., with the squadron operating from what he recalls as a "typical cornfield operation."
Atkinson attended the Air Corps Technical School, Maintenance Engineering Course at Chanute Field, from October 1929 to April 1930. He became a flying instructor, first at Brooks Field, and later at Randolph Field, both in Texas. He was promoted to first lieutenant Nov. 6, 1933, and in September 1934 he was assigned as adjutant of the 29th Pursuit Squadron stationed at Albrook Field, Canal Zone, becoming commanding officer of the squadron in December. Atkinson was promoted to captain March 15, 1935 and Jan. 14, 1936 was assigned as flight commander (later commander) of the 11th Bombardment Squadron stationed at Hamilton Field, Calif. He served with this squadron until January 1940, interrupting his service from June 1 to Aug. 26, 1930, to attend the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Ala.
Atkinson's next assignment was with the 24th Bombardment Squadron at Eglin and Orlando fields, Fla., beginning Feb. 18, 1940, as its commanding officer. He was promoted to major Feb. 1, 1941. In September 1941 he was appointed assistant chief of staff, A-3, at Headquarters Army Air Forces. On Jan. 23, 1942 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and May 9 1942 he was promoted to colonel. His next assignment was as commanding officer of the 97th Bombardment Group, beginning in September 1942, with station first in England and later in Africa.
On Jan. 18, 1943, Atkinson was promoted to brigadier general and made commanding general of the 5th Bomb Wing, stationed first in Africa and later in Italy. While in Italy, General Atkinson was designated as deputy commanding general of the Fifteenth Air Force in February 1944. He remained in that assignment until July 1944 when he was designated as commanding general of the III Bomber Command at MacDill Field, Fla.
In May 1945, General Atkinson was assigned to the Alaskan Department at Fort Richardson. General Atkinson was appointed deputy commanding general, Alaskan Air Command, Jan. 20, 1946 and Oct. 1, 1946 was appointed commanding general. He was promoted to major general Jan. 24, 1948. In February 1949, General Atkinson was assigned as commanding general of the 311th Air Division in Topeka, Kan. He remained with this organization until Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 he was assigned as commanding general, Second Air Force, at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.
In November 1952 he was appointed vice commander, and later commander-in-chief of the Alaskan Command (with the additional duty of commander, Alaskan Air Command, from Feb. 24 to Sept. 17, 1956) at Elmendorf Air Force Base. General Atkinson was promoted to lieutenant general March 3 1943. In September 1956, he was appointed commander, Air Defense Command, Ent Air Force Base, Colo., where he remained until his retirement Feb. 28, 1961.
During his service in the European theater in World War II, General Atkinson earned many decorations including the Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster; Silver Star with oak leaf cluster; Distinguished Flying Cross; Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters; and Croix de Guerre with palm. Other decorations awarded to General Atkinson are the American Campaign Medal; European-African-Meddle Eastern Campaign Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Air Force Longevity Service Award with seven oak leaf clusters.