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Harvey Anderson made one of the greatest journeys of his life surrounded by friends with funny sounding names. Ozzie, Low Gear, Wonder Woman, Bleep, Passenger, and Sir Mix-a-lot were all with him when he climbed to the top of Mount Katahdin, Maine, officially ending a 165-day hike and distinguishing himself as an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker.
He celebrated his 67th birthday along the trail, he said, enjoyed incredible scenery as he passed through 14 states and made a multitude of friends that he still refers to by their chosen trail names. His only regret, he said, is that he didn’t discover hiking sooner. But then again, he’s had a busy life.
Harvey grew up in Greenwood, S.C., and admits he was well into his senior year before he began thinking about life after high school. Many of his friends had already been accepted to four-year universities and were mapping out careers before a late-night rerun of an old movie called “The Long Grey Line” sparked Harvey’s interest. The next day, he shared his ambitious plan with his father.
“I told him I wanted to go to West Point,” Harvey recalled. “He asked me if I liked sleeping on the ground or sleeping in a bed. I told him I liked sleeping in a bed, so he told me I needed to consider the Navy’s version of West Point.”
He approached a high school guidance counselor, who informed him he had waited too long to apply and – despite his stellar grades - had virtually no chance of getting the necessary congressional appointment needed for admission to the U.S. Naval Academy. Undeterred, Harvey walked into the district office of Congressman Bryan Dorn and, with the help of a kind assistant, completed the necessary application. Within a few months, he received a congratulatory telegram with orders to report to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in late June.
As a new cadet – commonly called a “plebe” on campus – he began a rigorous schedule that included academic courses in subjects like oceanography, thermal dynamics, and electrical engineering, plus training in Naval Leadership, Naval Law and other courses that prepared him for a military career. There were numerous physical fitness programs, too, with strict requirements to master one skill before advancing to the next. It was during a gymnastics class that he received his first substandard mark, Harvey said, admitting that he couldn’t then – and still can’t today – complete a cartwheel.
Weekends often included off-campus trips and it was while visiting a classmate’s girlfriend that he spotted a young lady that took his breath away. He still gets a twinkle in his eye when he recalls that long-ago night, noting that although she refused to dance with him the first few times he asked, he and Brenda will soon celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary.
“I’ve lived a very blessed life,” he said.
Following graduation Harvey began a Naval career that continued for more than two decades. He was trained as a pilot, served many years as a flight instructor, and visited 60 countries before he received orders that would take him away from his family – his daughters were just 2 and 4 at the time – for more than a year. After evaluating his options, Commander Harvey Anderson retired from the U.S. Navy with 22 years of service.
And although he planned to transition into a career as a commercial pilot, officials from Sullivan County schools soon began calling. They needed someone to lead a new Navy JROTC program at Sullivan East High School and urged him to consider the job. Atter several persistent calls, he reluctantly agreed to try it for one year, but ultimately continued leading the program for more than 20 years before deciding to retire from that position.
“I just loved the kids and loved being in the schools,” he said.
Retirement provided the opportunity to try something new, so he enthusiastically agreed to accompany a friend from church on a short hike. One hike led to another. He enjoyed the adventure so much, in fact, that he soon began making plans for his journey along the Appalachian Trail. He prepared with a quick shopping spree to a sporting goods store, then randomly chose a date to begin. Funny, he said, recalling those childhood conversations with his father, that he eventually ended up sleeping on the ground after all.
Harvey –widely known now as “The Commander” for his military service and the trail name he adopted - isn’t ruling out another Appalachian Trail hike. Most days, however, he’s content to stay closer to home, leading hikes through Steele Creek Park for interested community members. He also recently took a job driving Steele Creek Express, the tiny train that has been making its rounds through Steele Creek since the mid-1960s. He and his fellow Civitan Club members are sharing the duties and donating their City paychecks back to the club to support its charitable projects.
With spring on the way, he and Brenda will likely spend many days in the woods, taking leisurely hikes and enjoying the wildflowers that she is skilled at identifying. They look forward to visiting their daughters, who are now grown, and spoiling their two grandchildren. And The Commander will continue to keep in touch with a close group of lifelong friends – many of whom recently joined him in Florida for MLB Spring Training and a week of shared memories from their time together at the U.S. Naval Academy some 50 years ago.
Shout out to Harvey Anderson, The Commander, for his distinguished Naval career, his many contributions to the young people of Sullivan County as a JROTC instructor, and his love for the scenic beauty of the Appalachian region. He’s another great example of Bristol at Work.