Eugene Anderson has spent a lot of time thinking about his time in the military lately.
That’s in part because he is slated to join 141 other Kansas veterans on a Kansas Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18.
But it’s also because he has spent a significant amount of time researching and writing a recently published book – “A Warrior, A Patriot, A Hero and a Mentor: The Life and Times for John W. Monk, 1916-2018.”
Monk was a mentor to Anderson, and provided valuable advice to him over many years. Both men made Wichita their home.
Anderson says the research into Monk’s 20-year military career brought back memories of his own service as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War.
“I’m kind of bracing myself emotionally to deal with standing in front of the Vietnam Wall, where I know that I will recognize some of the names on that wall. It’s going to bring back memories, some good and some not so good.”
Military Improves Prospects
Anderson says he decided in high school to join the military as a path out of the grinding poverty he grew up in as the oldest of 11 children in Thomasville, GA,
“I saw the military as an opportunity to grow and learn and improve my prospects. And in a lot of ways, it did just that,” he says.
He still remembers the day he decided against making the military a career.
His unit had been placed on alert for a potential deployment into the war zone, he said.
“We had to pack up all our personal effects so they could be delivered to our next of kin if we didn’t return. We knew that if we deployed, there was a high likelihood that many of us wouldn’t come back. Needless to say, it was pretty tense.”
The alert ended and his unit was told to stand down.
“We were just decompressing, playing a little pool, watching television,” he says. “The news came on. It was March 5, 1965. Bloody Sunday. And on the screen, I watched police officers and National Guardsmen – men in the very uniform I was wearing – beating people who looked like me with night sticks and billy clubs in Alabama. Why? Because they wanted to vote.”
In that moment he says he remembers thinking, “‘I’m fighting the wrong battle. And I knew then that I was going to get out of the military and come home and fight for civil rights.”
Coming to Wichita
After an honorable discharge in 1965, he took a sales job that brought him to Wichita. He met his wife, Mamie, here. They were married in 1967 and bought a modest home where they raised three children and where they still live.
In 1972, Anderson was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives. He served two terms in the House before becoming chairman of the Kansas Civil Rights Commission from 1979 to 1983.
He went back to the legislature in 1985, this time as a state senator and served until 1991, when he resigned to take a position as director of aviation for then-Gov. Joan Finney.
During a three-year term, he worked with other state directors to support the Kansas aviation industry on product liability legislation. He was well aware of the negative impact on Wichita’s general aviation industry the liability law was having.
“Almost all the manufacturers had stopped making single-engine aircraft because if there was an accident, even though the plane could have been 25 years old and modified 10 times, the manufacturer was still liable and we saw a need to change that,” he said.
He convinced other state directors and they convinced their Congressmen and in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed it.
“That was probably my favorite time,” he says. “I got to work with other state directors across the country and I got to get my pilot’s license. I learned to fly an airplane.”
Through the years, Anderson has operated several businesses and has become well-known for his building contract and remodeling work and for cooking great food, especially barbecue.
It was his efforts at business that brought him into contact with John Monk.
He felt a kinship with Monk, who had risen from a poor, rural community in Louisiana and found a path out of poverty in the military.
They met shortly after he and his wife bought their home and the Monk family was operating a dry cleaning business in the neighborhood.
“He was a successful businessman and I learned a lot from him,” Anderson said.
At almost 80 years old, Anderson is still working. He shares the building he rents from the Monk family with his wife.
Mamie, his wife, is retired after a career with the Internal Revenue Service and prepares tax returns. He sells office supplies and prints business materials such as name cards and flyers.
Anderson’s book on Monk is his second. In 2009 he wrote and published his biography, “Hey Nigger Boy, Come Here!” Anderson says the book covers his “journey from the cotton fields and plantations in the segregated slave state of Georgia to the floor of the Kansas Senate.”