Giving Thanks: Anderson repays families of fallen by serving others

— As a mortuary officer in the Air Force, Jim Anderson snapped a solemn photo revealing uniformed legs of five deceased military servicemen and the adjacent row of caskets they would soon be laid to rest in.

Anderson recalls dozens and dozens of the names and faces of the fallen people, many of whom had perished in battle, that he cared for over the course of more than 15 years mostly at Dover Air Force Base. Memories of his service will not fade, but the image he captured with a camera during the Gulf War stands out to Anderson, a Williamsburg resident for the last eight years.

"These were all 18- to 21-year-old individuals who look like they ought to get up and go have a beer," Anderson said.

Anderson is the Patrick Henry Disabled American Veterans Chapter 34 chaplain, one of his numerous post-retirement pro-bono capacities. Named the chapter's 2016 Volunteer of the Year, the 64-year-old said before Desert Storm, he lived to work. Now, he works to live.

Anderson bears an emptiness he seeks to fill by helping others. Physically disabled from ankle and back impairments, he has received post-traumatic stress disorder counseling for the last 14 years.

Nothing prepared him for the work he did as a mass casualty expert, a job he transitioned to from food service after the former Navy brat joined the Air Force in 1970. As a mortuary officer, his tasks included regular communication with families of deceased as he oversaw the final preparation of their bodies before they were transferred home.

His burden magnified when his 21-year-old son, Wayne, was killed in an automobile wreck in 1997 one month before the birth of his daughter

"I realized all those things I did for those families wasn't enough," Anderson said.

Known by many as "Doc," Anderson has a master's and doctorate, and retired from Strayer University last year. He was the online college's first academic dean in its fledgling years in the late 1990s and now seeks to put his computer skills to good use.

Anderson is the communications coordinator for a handful of local outreach organizations. He built web pages for the Williamsburg Host Lions Club and the local Disabled American Veterans chapter in addition to serving as their newsletter editors.

Anderson became an ordained Stephen minister through Stephen Ministries, which aims to "provide high-quality, confidential, Christ-centered care to people who are hurting."

At Williamsburg's St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Anderson oversees social media and serves as a teller for the church.

A life member of Patrick Henry DAV Chapter 34 and VFW Post 4639, Anderson is also prepping to launch web sites for the VFW post and Greater Williamsburg Outreach Mission, which is a collective of 22 faith groups uniting as a voice of advocacy for homeless.

Shannon Woloszynowski serves as the board chair for GWOM and is the executive director for Williamsburg House of Mercy, which also aids homeless.

When Woloszynowski mentioned many local homeless people lacked reading glasses, Anderson obtained 23 pairs for donation through the Lions.

"He's always looking and saying how can I help?" Woloszynowski said. " … He's just been a great partner for us."

Anderson doesn't show signs of letting up. He says if he didn't volunteer, he would have too much time to relive painful memories. So he'll continue helping, whether it's through posting on social media or simply selling raffle tickets for the Lions.

Harsh recollections trail Anderson like a shadow, but he glows when he speaks about his grandchildren and wife, Pamela. Soon, they will have a 46th wedding anniversary to celebrate in the Pacific.

"I'm not too crazy about flying," Anderson said, "so my flying to Hawaii is a big deal."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

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