Born in Dallas, Texas, on November 12, 1945, William F. "Jack" Atwater graduated from Berea College, Kentucky, in 1968. Commissioned as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, he served for ten years, to include commanding a rifle platoon in Vietnam. After military service, Atwater attended Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, receiving a Master of Arts in Military History in 1984 and a Ph.D. in Military History in 1985 while studying under the distinguished historian Theodore Ropp.
Atwater then served as the Director of the Don F. Pratt Museum (101st Airborne/Air Assault Museum) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, from 1985 to 1989. He then assumed duties as the Director, US Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. These duties included responsibility for one of the largest collections of military hardware in the world at over 13,000 artifacts, to include 240 tanks, self-propelled guns, artillery pieces, and rockets. While maintaining this diverse and vastly popular collection, he also succeeded in developing displays that focus on current Ordnance Corps missions. Through new or upgraded displays, he showcased Explosive Ordnance Disposal, ammunition development and production, the Ordnance Corps' impact on civilian industry and society, the role of the armorer, and the Ordnance Corps' importance to small arms research, development, and production.
Atwater was also instrumental in developing and executing a contract to rebuild and refurbish the large artifacts to meet Environmental Protection Agency and US Army museum system standards. To date, 120 artifacts have been through the contractor rehabilitation facility. He was also the driving force behind the construction in 1991 of a climate-controlled small arms storage area to house the Museum's 1,200 small arms.
While implementing these improvements, Atwater also strove to make himself a munitions expert. It was not long before federal, state, and local officials sought his expert advice. He was soon a featured guest in productions by the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel, and the History Channel. He also consulted for the A&E Channel on such productions as "Brute Force – A History of Weapons at War." He was recognized by National Geographic Magazine in 1993 for his superb contributions. His wide knowledge of military history has made Atwater a sought after speaker and lecturer at many institutions of higher learning, civilian and military. He has instructed at West Point Military Seminars, Defense Intelligence College courses, Central Intelligence Agency courses, National Security Agency courses, and Senior Service College classes. He has led dozens of groups from tenant and visiting organizations on staff rides and tours to the Gettysburg and Antietam battlefields.
Dr. Atwater has also shared his knowledge with many of the Museum's 60,000 annual visitors. He has trained thousands of Soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and officers attending the Ordnance Center and Schools. His ability to charm and entertain while informing has made him a favorite with tour groups from ROTC, area high schools, the Boy Scouts, Sea Cadets, Civil Air Patrol, and young Marines. Dr. Atwater retired in November 2007 after 18 years as the Ordnance Museum Director and 32 years of Federal military and civilian service.