(WTRF) – Military service runs in the family for Thomas “Vernon” Anderson.

Specifically, in the Navy.

Anderson’s father was in the Navy Reserve for 26-years, working as an engineman, and retired as a Chief. So, when it came time for him to join, there was no question which branch was for him.

I don’t know how I could of joined any other branch of the service with my father being an influence on me. I knew all of the Navy terms as a teenager growing up. 

Vernon Anderson, Veteran

Anderson was certainly prepared for what was to come when he enlisted in the Navy in September of 1969 at 17-years-old.

I had 11 first-cousins who served, every one of them in the Navy.

He (my father) had two brothers and three sisters and their spouses or they served in Korea. They were Army, Air Force and Navy. All three.

Vernon Anderson, Veteran

Anderson’s military roots go back farther than that. His grandfather served in World War I. He also can trace 27 of his ancestors back to the Revolutionary War and has three Civil War medals that belonged to his great-great grandfathers.

His family not only influenced which branch he joined, but what job Anderson did. At the recommendation of his cousin, he went to cryptologic technician school. 

He went active prior to me, and he went to cryptologic school. He said to me ‘this is really a good deal. I think you should do this and you should ask to be sent to that school’. So I did and I got it and we were both cryptologic technicians.

Vernon Anderson, Veteran

Anderson was then stationed in Virginia at a high frequency direction finding base.

Our motto was ‘In God we trust, all others we monitor’.

Our job was to track all the Soviet fishing vessels, merchant vessels, submarines and airplanes. If they launched an airplane we knew it and we kept track of where they were and what they were doing.

Vernon Anderson, Veteran

He said when he wasn’t at work, it was almost like he wasn’t in the military because he lived off base. When asked what he remembered most about that time in his life, Anderson said the camaraderie.

We had very tight crews. We were all young. We were all away from home. We had nothing but each other, so everything that we did off duty we did it together.

Vernon Anderson, Veteran

After two years there, Anderson put in for a position on an aircraft carrier. He was assigned to the USS Saratoga, which was where he wanted to go because that carrier went to home-port in Florida. However, the Saratoga was in Vietnam at the time.

That turn of events would have a major impact on Anderson’s life long after his military service was finished.

I knew that I was going to be safe. I never had fear that I was going to die.

Vernon Anderson, Veteran

Anderson did the same job at sea as he had on land, except he was now on board a vessel that was more than 1,000 feet long, weighted about 82,000 tons and had more than 5,000 men on board. He slept and worked right under the flight deck.

The pilots would wait for our intelligence briefings to know where to bomb in Vietnam. They would sit around and wait and we would tell them ‘this is your target’.

Vernon Anderson, Veteran

Since he had the highest security the government can give Anderson was often privy to top secret material, including once a message from Henry Kissinger to President Richard Nixon. 

As Anderson remembers, he was on midnight shift one evening while stationed in Virginia when he got a message from the flagship of the sixth fleet, which was in Spain at the time.

No one on my watch was allowed to see that but me. I had a special clearance to take those kinds of messages, but once I accepted it I had to get it to the President in D.C. It was the middle of the night and I had to call these stations and say ‘would you take this message?’. Well, they wouldn’t take it. They didn’t want it because they didn’t’ want to have to wake up the President.”

Vernon Anderson, Veteran

Anderson said he couldn’t get anyone to accept the message until the morning, when they knew that by the time it reached the White House, President Nixon would be awake.

Eventually the Saratoga went back to the United States for an overhaul and Anderson was discharged from active duty in 1973. He fulfilled his six-year obligation and was fully discharged in 1975.

My whole Navy experience set me up for success for the rest of my life. It caused me to grow up.

The military is very good about making men, or women out of girls. It makes you grow up. It makes you or breaks you a lot of times.

I certainly have no regrets about having to serve. There were some very enjoyable parts of my service and I have no regrets and if I was physically capable I’d go back today. I’d help them if they needed me.

Vernon Anderson, Veteran

Anderson also served an addition two years in the reserves. 

Eventually after retiring from his professional career, Anderson became heavily involved in the American Legion and the VFW. He’s a member of Post 4442 in Elm Grove.

From 2019 to 2020 Anderson also served as the State Commander for the West Virginia VFW.

I have been to places in this state that I never dreamed I would see, but it was a pleasure doing it. Places that I’ve only read about or saw online, I’ve been there.

Vernon Anderson, Veteran

He said there are around 12,000 VFW members in the Mountain State and 74 posts.

Remember how Anderson said being assigned to the Saratoga would change his life for years to come?

The ship was not where I wanted it to be, but had I not been assigned to that ship in Vietnam I could not have joined the VFW. You have to have served in a combat theater. Those who just serve in the military, if they don’t go to a combat theatre, they can go to the American Legion, but they can’t join the VFW.

Vernon Anderson, Veteran

Currently, he holds the post of Judge Advocate General in West Virginia.