Major Roger Neal Anderson, Sr. (USAF-Ret.), made his “last flight West” Tuesday, June 21, 2021, after wringing every last drop out of mortality over his 90 glorious years of living, surviving, and thriving.
He joins his son, Lee Sanford Anderson, for one last journey together; both are DNA participants on the Enterprise Flight.
Born under humble circumstances during the Great Depression, Roger was a cherished husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather who will be long remembered for his outsized generosity, perpetually optimistic attitude, love for all of God’s children -especially the poor and downtrodden- and his role in loving, mentoring, and continuously “teaching” all those around him.
Blessed with excellent examples in his parents of a strong work ethic, Roger held part- and full-time jobs since he turned eight years old: he mowed lawns, delivered newspapers, picked strawberries, jerked sodas, stacked lumber in a sawmill, moved animals in a livestock sale barn, operated a jackhammer on a construction site, ushered in a movie theater, sold men’s clothing, and served as a church janitor. Altogether, he held 20 different jobs before he entered the U.S. Air Force at age 20.
Battling dyslexia his entire life gave Roger great empathy for those who battled their own individual challenges, and he was a tireless defender of those who were unable to defend themselves. This willingness to stand up for others was a key ingredient of his personality and was just one reason he was elected Student Body President of Searcy (AR) High School’s graduating Class of 1949.
After a brief stint at the University of Arkansas, Roger “made the best decision of his life” to enlist in the United States Air Force, where he was trained as a Control Tower Operator. Making the jump from “Buck Sergeant” to Aviation Cadet, Roger earned his Officer’s Commission and USAF Pilot wings in 1954.
Altogether, Roger flew 13 different models of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, accumulating over 3200 hours of flight time over his career. His duty stations with his wife Virginia Gayle and their children included assignments in: Nebraska, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Japan, Michigan, Da Nang Vietnam (1965-66), California, and Georgia. His military honors included the Bronze Star and Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters.
Roger literally “cheated death” on many occasions during his military career. He survived mortar attacks on the ground, direct exposure to “Agent Orange” defoliant, and hostile ground fire in the air over Vietnam. In addition, he walked away from a head-on, mid-air collision involving supersonic closure speed by three separate jet aircraft! The bailout from that accident resulted in his lifetime membership in the “Caterpillar Club,” named for those pilots who - by “hitting the silk” - have recorded one more takeoff than landing in their flight log!
Following his 20-year active-duty career in the Air Force, now-retired Major Anderson embarked on a 23-year second career as an Air Force Junior ROTC instructor at Belton-Honea Path High School in Belton, SC. This is where “The Major” found his true calling as an educator in helping “Build Better Citizens,” as his unit’s motto proclaimed.
Required by the Air Force to earn a college degree to teach Junior ROTC, Major Anderson’s “indomitable will” allowed him to prevail over lifelong dyslexia and earn both a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Georgia College and, ultimately, a Master’s Degree in Education from Clemson University.
Teaching thousands of AFJROTC cadets over those 23 years, he made a true difference in teaching those youth everything from basic hygiene principles; to how to properly wear a uniform; to concepts of honor, integrity and character; how to march; and ultimately how to conduct themselves on overnight field trips representing their parents, school, and community. His unit was designated an “Honor Unit” 15 times, and a “Meritorious Unit” 5 times; not bad for 23 years!
More gratifying to him than those honors, however, were the countless former cadets who counted Major Anderson as one of their chief positive role models in their formative years, and who routinely stayed in contact with him as they themselves worked hard, enjoyed success, and raised strong families.
Outside the classroom and drill pad, Major Anderson also enjoyed serving the Lord in both the Episcopalian and Anglican Churches in numerous volunteer capacities, including being a lay reader, serving on the vestry, and functioning as a Senior Warden. A man of great faith, one of Major Roger’s favorite expressions in his final months was “God is Great!”
Several years ago, Roger penned a brief life summary entitled “The Good Life.”
In his words: “My wife and I have enjoyed nightfall in the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, consumed liters of Lowenbrau in Munich and attended Vespers in Westminster Abbey. We spent days touring the Prado Museum in Madrid, admiring the paintings of Goya, El Greco, and Velazquez. We saw Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling of the Vatican, and the Mona Lisa in The Louvre. I snorkeled in the Mediterranean, off Majorca, where I saw fish so transparent that one could see individual bones in their spines.
“I have picked winners at Churchill Downs, won at Roulette in Las Vegas, and held four Natural Aces in several Draw Poker games. I caught Brook Trout in remote streams of Labrador. I bathed with my wife in the hot springs of Mount Fujiyama and spent 11 days in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year of 1966.
“I saw both Pat Sumerall and William Perry play College Football. I saw Hank Aaron and Willie Mays hit home runs in Atlanta. I enjoyed watching Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima play, and Keely Smith sing. I have experienced the Aurora Borealis over St John’s Bay. I experienced St. Elmo’s Fire on the windshields of both B-25 and T-33 aircraft while flying around thunderstorms.
“As I grow older, my desire for material possessions and peer approval has diminished. I find that those things which I failed to accomplish no longer give me concern, and those things which I have done give me more and more satisfaction. Life has been very good for me.”
What a man… what a life!