Throwback Thursday, May 25, 2023: The Akers Family Collection

Throwback Thursday, May 25, 2023: The Akers Family Collection

In honor of Memorial Day, a time where we remember military personnel who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our country, our Local History Librarian shares selections from letters in the Akers Family Collection written by Washingtonville local Eugene Akers, an Electrician’s Mate in the U.S. Navy who tragically lost his life following the bombardment of his vessel, the USS Emmons (DD-457/DMS-22) on April 6, 1945.

Eugene Akers was born on March 27, 1925 to Dwight L. and Emily Rose Simmons Akers in Blooming Grove, New York. The youngest child of three, Eugene was adept at school and a member of several clubs, he even got to attend the World’s Fair in 1939 as part of the Young Peoples Club of Blooming Grove Church. Eugene had a fairly typical childhood for a boy his age but that was to change on December 7th, 1941.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, the United States formerly entered the Second World War on the side of Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union against the fascist powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. The following year, on October 14, 1942, Eugene’s older brother Donald enlisted in the U.S. Army, eventually achieving the rank of corporal by the end of the war. Being only 17 years of age at the time, Eugene had to wait an additional year to enlist, but in August 1943, he was inducted into the service after completing his junior year at Washingtonville Central School. Several months after his 18th birthday, Eugene Akers was sent to the U.S. Naval Training Station Sampson, located in Romulus, New York. 

While at Sampson, Eugene underwent basic training, which included scaling a 25 foot rope ladder, learning how to use a gas mask in an emergency situation, and basic rifle drill. It was also at Sampson Eugene began corresponding with his parents, mostly his mother, back in Washingtonville. His letters during this time detail his daily routine, camp life, and other tasks he and his comrades performed during their initial phase of basic training:

The men that just come in are called Barber Bate and those who have been here a week are Skin Heads. I am now a skin head. My cut is probably worse than Donald’s. I have about a half inch of hair in the back and top. And an inch in the very front. The sides are scraped clean. Not bad ay?”.


[Electrician’s Mate Eugene Akers, photograph from obituary, May, 1945]


[Excerpt from Eugene C. Akers to Emily R Akers, September 2, 1943]

Before being transferred in October 1943, Eugene was given the option of training to be as a Pharmacist’s Mate or Electrician’s Mate, he ultimately chose the latter. Following completion of basic training, Eugene was then sent to the Naval College at Purdue University where he took courses in electrical engineering and mechanics: 

“Most of the subjects are very interesting. The electrical lab and mechanical shop are especially interesting. In Mechanical shop are practical machine shop instruction and tools and practice…In electrical shop we are working on magnetism and its use in producing a current. This is all physics such as I had in high school. Later on it will be more advanced. (Thank Mr. [R. Lynn] Taft if it hadn’t been for his teaching I don’t know where I would be).”

From Purdue University, Eugene was sent to Norfolk Virginia, where he waited out the winter until he was assigned to his vessel, the Gleaves-class destroyer USS Emmons (DD-457/DMS-22). Commissioned just two days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Emmons saw active service patrolling the Atlantic and Mediterranean theaters before being transferred to the Pacific. While serving on the Emmons, Eugene was present during the D-Day landings on June 7, 1944, the bombardment of Cherbourg, and the invasion of Southern France on August 15, 1944. Eugene returned home briefly in November of that year while his vessel was put in at Boston harbor and converted to a destroyer mine-sweeper for service in the Pacific. Eugene and his vessel would set sail for their new assignment on December 21, 1944.

By March of 1945, Eugene and his squadron were stationed near the Ulithi Atoll in preparation for what would be the invasion of Okinawa. Despite the distance and excitement, Eugene still found time to write home from his new assignment:

Dear Mom,

It has been a long time since I have written you, but there is a good reason for that. There are no mail boxes at sea so I couldn’t write. That was very interesting about Danny. He must have done a bang up job. I am sorry he wasn’t out here when I got here I would have liked to have seen him. 

So Don [Akers] has been transferred to the Seventh Army. I wonder how he liked serving with the [French]. I bet he was glad to get away from them. I always liked them, but I imagine it would be pleasanter working with an American outfit.

See if you can find anything on the [Special Service Force] a Canadian-American outfit witch [sic] worked in Italy and up through Sothern [sic] France. They must have landed at the time I was there. I read an article wich [sic] called them the best fighting unit there is. Please send me Don’s address. I have written, but I am not sure that I have the correct address.

I had a short letter, but a very encouraging one, from Odette. She is entertaining the boys in hospitals and canteens in and around Boston. She really has a swell voice. From what she says she must be doing a swell job.

She said that she had received the “Darling” picture of me and that she appreciated the trouble you went to get it for her. She also intends to write you. I want to thank you for doing it too. It was swell. She sent me a snap-shot of her with a snow bank as a background. Boy would it be swell to see some snow again. She also adds quite a bit to the view, just as beautiful as ever. 

Well, mom take care of yourself and I will write as soon as I can.

All my Love,


Eugene C. Akers F 1/C


[R. Lynn Taft, Principal, Washingtonville Central School, c. 1930]


[Excerpt from Eugene C. Akers to Emily R Akers, Spring, 1945]

As noted in pencil by Eugene’s parents, this was the last letter Eugene would send home. On April 6, 1945, the Emmons and USS Rodman (DD-456/DMS-21) sustained multiple kamikaze attacks while attempting to clear the waters around Okinawa prior to the landing of U.S. forces. Eugene’s ship suffered five simultaneous hits, despite putting up a valiant defense in aiding the Rodman. Of the ship’s 254 crewmembers, 50 were killed and 65 were wounded in this action. The ship was so badly damaged that it was intentionally sunk the following day by the USS Ellyson. Badly injured, Eugene was transferred to a nearby vessel, and eventually succumbed to his wounds.

Back in Washingtonville, Dwight L. and Emily Rose Akers received news that their son, Electrician’s Mate Eugene Akers died in the service of his country, several weeks after the action off Okinawa. Following the shock and initial mourning of the loss of their son, Dwight penned a letter to Eugene’s brother Donald who was stationed with the U.S. Army in Europe:

Dear Donald: 

I wish we could keep this news to ourselves until you are home again and could hear it in the midst of your friends and family. This it cannot be kept. The war I am sure has taught you that we must take the bad news with the good and take it when it comes. 

On April 21st we heard on the radio and read in the papers that Eugene’s ship had been sunk in the operations around Okinawa. There is no need to relate the means we employed during the days that followed to get some word about Gene. The result of our inquiries is all that matters. We now know that Eugene was transferred from his own ship to another and there died of wounds. And so far that is all we know.

We got the news that Gene was lost last Thursday but there had been contradictions and uncertainties in the reports so we didn’t write you until all possible doubts had been removed – that is, until now. Leslie [Akers] and Catherine have spent what time they could with us, and little Annabelle with her sweet ways and happy disposition has been the best tonic to our spirits that your mother and I could have had. Nat Marvel has been with us much of the time since Thursday and Gordon came down from Boston over Sunday. Jeanie Twitchell arrived Thursday evening and “Twitch” came Friday. On Friday night we had a glad surprise when Dwight Akers Jr. phoned from New York that he was in port and could come up to see us. The Twitchels and Dwight left yesterday but last night Polly arrived from Bridgeport and Carl and Marna are planning to come for the weekend next Saturday.

So you see we have not had to take this news without the help and cheering presence of good friends. Your own near friends in the army, I am sure, will help you in their own way to meet the shock this news will give you. And you will be fortified by a better knowledge than any of us at home could have of the sufferings and sacrifices entailed by this war. To you as to us, from what you have seen that the brutalities of war have produced many worse tragedies than this one—prolonged tragedies harder to bear by those who suffered them and harder to bear by these who knew and loved the victims of them. After the sinking of Eugene’s ship the hours or the days of his life could not been many. His death was a clean and quick one—we have a right to hope that in the shock of his injury he did not suffer or know that he was at the end of journey. To the rest of us forgetfulness and sleep are not always to be had for the asking or the trying—whatever the circumstances of Gene’s going may have been we can be sure that he has now forgotten them.

The wreck of the USS Emmons lays off the cost of Kouri Island, near Okinawa and now functions as a dive site and memorial to those lives lost on April 6, 1945. Eugene Akers is interred at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific on the island of Honolulu Hawaii. Although Eugene Akers never returned home to Washingtonville, our library is honored to be the custodian of his letters, which serve as a lasting memory to him and the 407,316 US military casualties of World War II.


Akers, Eugene C. Eugene C. Akers to Emily R. Akers, August, 1943.
Letter. From Moffat Library of Washingtonville. Akers Family Collection.

Akers, Eugene C. Eugene C. Akers to Emily R. Akers, November, 1943.
Letter. From Moffat Library of Washingtonville. Akers Family Collection. 

Akers, Eugene C. Eugene C. Akers to Emily R. Akers, March, 1945.
Letter. From Moffat Library of Washingtonville. Akers Family Collection.

Akers, Dwight L. Dwight L. Akers to Donald Akers, May 1, 1945.
Letter. From Moffat Library of Washingtonville. Akers Family Collection.

“Billingsley’s History of the Emmons,” USS Emmons Association DD457/DMS22, USS Emmons Association, 2011, May 22, 2023,

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