Ray Atkins, a WWII vet from Texas, died at the age of 92 this week.
Ray Akins, the beloved grandfather of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, died on Tuesday, at the age of 92.
The Super Bowl winner, who originally hails from Austin, recently spoke with The Times-Picayune about losing his role model.
"Thankfully, I had a chance to see him two weeks ago after our Thursday night game," Brees said Wednesday. "I was able to go to his ranch in New Baden, Texas, with my family and see him. I had a feeling that might be the last time—I hoped it wouldn't be—but unfortunately he passed the day after Christmas, yesterday morning."
According to the Times-Picayune, the 38-year-old father of four took a moment in the locker room to speak with reporters about the overwhelming impact his grandfather had on him.
"He was probably one of the most incredible people, incredible man, you would ever meet," Brees said. "They just don't make them like that anymore, honestly. He was 92 years old and he lived an unbelievable life. He taught me so much about life, about respecting others, about caring for others, about discipline, about hard work."
Brees told of his grandfather’s humble childhood in Brady, Texas, where he lived in a house with a dirt floor and without running water and electricity, and how he went on to join the Marines and serve in WWII.
"When he turned 18 years old and graduated from high school, he took a train down to San Antonio with some other boys from his high school and enlisted in the Marine Corps," Brees said.
Atkins participated in the invasion of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles of the war in the Pacific, and was one of only three Marines out of the 153 men in his company to survive.
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"What he endured over there, I heard a lot about that over the years from him," Brees recalled. "He was very proud of being a Marine. While it was hard to talk about, I think, the war for a long time, he reached a point where he felt like there were so many lessons on it and it was a way to honor the guys he served with, too."
After the war, Brees said his grandfather returned home and became the athletic director at Goldthwaite High School, where he began a football coaching career that lasted 38 years. Eventually Akins retired to New Baden, where he spent the rest of his days tending to his ranch—the same ranch Brees and his brothers spent years working on as kids, learning lessons he plans to impart on his own children.
"He was an incredible man," Brees concluded. "I have a ton of memories, and his legacy will live on forever in his family, and those are all the things I want to instill in my kids, too."