Legacy of service: Army Reserve officer carries family’s warfighting torch

By Thomas Brading | Army News Service | June 12, 2020

WASHINGTON —

For the Anderson family, military service is in their blood, and last month that bloodline continued on with its latest addition, roughly a month before the Army’s 245th birthday.

“We’ve been in the military since the American Revolution,” said 2nd Lt. Anna-Elise Anderson, an Army Reserve intelligence officer at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, regarding her family’s history. “And throughout those generations, we’ve also been in nearly every conflict our military has been in.”

Anderson, a fifth-generation military officer, was recently handpicked to represent her alma mater, Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., during a national commissioning ceremony at the Pentagon Friday. She plans to work in civil affairs after graduation.

Rewind a few hundred years, and during the 18th century when a young officer named Maj. John Edwards -- a descendant of the Anderson family, and ancestor of the famed theologian of the same name -- joined a scrappy group of patriots as a grenadier in the Continental Army, the militia that later became the U.S. Army of today.

As history books have documented, those Soldiers fought tooth and nail for American freedom. Within their ranks were future presidents, forefathers, and numerous historical figures. And from their efforts -- on July 4, 1776 -- the United States of America was born.

From that day on, centuries passed, battles were waged, and bloodlines of multigenerational warfighters were established. Fast forward nearly a quarter of a millennia, and its latest addition came along.

Elise, as she’s known by to friends and family, officially commissioned May 15 from the Hoya Battalion, a Reserve Officer Training Corps, or ROTC, program made up of multiple Washington, D.C., area colleges.

The Hoya Battalion is no stranger to producing military officers. For more than 220 years, the ROTC program has commissioned more than 4,100 officers, including former Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey.

“[Elise] is an exceedingly kind person, and over the past few years I’ve seen her grow more than -- probably -- any other cadet in the program,” said Capt. Jordan Shontz, Georgetown University professor and one of Elise’s ROTC instructors. “She’s gotten more and more confident in her abilities and knowledge.”

Elise, an amateur genealogist, said her family history, especially her father, inspired her to carry on the legacy. History is important to her entire family, she said. Her father, John Edwards Anderson, is a retired Army major, and received his namesake from their Continental-era relative from centuries ago.

“Elise has a diverse group of friends, and she understands people,” John said. “I think that’s going to help her as an Army officer.”

The retired chaplain, who served in two Special Forces groups and the 82nd Airborne Division, said his daughter grew up around “the strategic importance of the military.”

For example, Elise remembers her dad leaving home to give next-of-kin notifications. As a chaplain, he often had to assist in breaking the news to families about their loved ones being killed in action. Or, from time to time he was out the door on no-notice deployments around the world.

Those things were never easy tasks, but she understands the responsibility it takes being a Soldier.

As a self-described Army brat, Elise moved a lot growing up, she said. “Home was the family unit, so even though we moved around a lot, we were home no matter where we were living.”

But, she felt mostly rooted in Germany, she explained, where her mom was born and dad was stationed for many years. Today, she lives in Northern Virginia – DC Metro area, which has also begun to feel like home, after her family settled down there in 2010, a few years after her dad retired.

Though the Anderson family’s military legacy goes back centuries, Elise’s direct bloodline starts with her great-great-grandfather, Lt. Col. William Belford Ryan, the father-in-law of her great-grandfather, Maj. Lawrence Leslie Anderson Sr., also a World War I veteran.

Elise keeps Ryan's photo close: it’s a surprisingly sharp, yet timeworn image, only tattered in the corner edges, and features her great-great-grandfather, aged in a dark-colored Army dress coat, contrasted by an oak cluster pinned to his shoulder. His expression is stoic, his jaw squared, and receding winter-white hair exposes his scalp.

But in reality, Elise doesn't know much about her great-great grandfather other than the photos left behind, and information her dad has shared with her.

Another World War I-era veteran, Maj. Lawrence Leslie Anderson Sr., was an Army field artillery officer, with the recognizable crossed field gun insignia pinned to his service uniform.

It’s easy to picture a man like him in trench warfare, a common tactic during WWI, and leading Soldiers on a European battlefield. The fact he pinned on major within two years, according to his grandson, seems to indicate his abilities as an officer.

Although her great-grandpa’s battlefield legacy seems lost to the sands of time, his torch was carried on with his son, a Marine captain named Lawrence Leslie Anderson Jr. -- Elise’s grandfather.

The Marine, and Princeton University graduate, may have been a few years short of World War II, but he didn’t shy away from the battlefield. Leslie Jr. stepped onto the frontlines as an infantry officer during the Korean War in the early 1950s.

She looks back on her grandpa’s military photo fondly, too. In fact, his black and white service photo was added to a recent family tree she constructed, just below Leslie Sr.’s photo. Like his WWI-era father’s image, it is still in great shape.

In it, her grandpa is a clean-shaven young man, with parted dark hair pressed neatly to his scalp, like his dad. It’s easy to recognize the timeless green and khaki Marine service uniform through the colorless image.

Although Elise’s grandfather only served for two years, he was a Marine until his death in 2008, her dad explained.

“The Marines got him good,” John said, joking about his father’s passion for the branch. “How he felt about being a Marine at 22 never left him. But as time went on, and we took him to the Korean War memorial, and the other monuments at the National Mall [in Washington, D.C.], he understood how important the military is as a whole.”

“History is exciting to me, because of its analytical ability to be researched with facts,” Elise said. “But, on the human side of it, it’s also an honor to have documentation laid out based on that research, and just be able to hold history in my hands.”

Although history focuses on the past, Elise’s military story is just beginning, and moving forward.

She recently completed her first drill weekend as an Army Reserve Soldier, and the fresh-faced lieutenant plans to always “learn something new, whether it's facts, perspectives, or contexts,” she said, while still relying on the built-in framework she’s picked up that has been centuries in the making.

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