CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — By his 20s, Harlan Harvey still couldn’t read or write.
“I didn’t get no education. It was the (1920s) and 30s,” he said. “They didn’t think it was necessary. I had to work.”
He was driving a team of mules before his 10th birthday. Eventually, when World War II was at its beginnings, he tried to join the military, but he was turned down. He received “F” grades across the board, he said. He was flat-footed, wasn’t educated and had other disqualifying elements.
It was for the best, he added. He would rather have moved forward with life at home in Dunlap, Tennessee. Plus, he didn’t want to go into combat.
“They are all the sons and daughters of some mother and dad,” Harvey said.
So he decided to go ahead and get married and continue to work.
“When they called me back, they put me to all ‘A’s,’ and I thought, ‘Boy, look what marriage did to me,'” Harvey said jokingly.
He was hoping to join the Army, where his older brother was already serving, but he was assigned to the Navy.
He was put on a ship, a submarine chaser, specifically designed for anti-submarine warfare. He would be deployed two to three weeks at a time to search for enemy submarines.
It was a bad fit.
“I was seasick all the time,” he said. “It was rough.”
But looking back now, as a 98-year-old living on his own in North Chattanooga, the assignment played a major role in benefiting Harvey’s life.
“It’s done a lot for me,” he said. “I got a pretty good education in a lot of ways. I learned how to write letters and things. The skipper on the ship helped me a lot with my studies. He taught me to write and read; he helped me a lot of times, and then I also learned a lot just by traveling different places. We traveled a lot.”
Harvey’s main port was in Puerto Rico, but the ship traveled through the North Atlantic. Notably, he remembers passing through the Panama Canal.
Harvey never did have to experience combat, something he is thankful for.
He left the military in 1946 and moved back to Dunlap to live a long, peaceful life.
Now, he remains active despite his age. His yellow house in North Chattanooga is well-kept. He mows the small lot himself. He cuts his own hair and does a lot of the housework himself with some help from a son-in-law.
He has six generations of family, he said. There are seven kids between his two marriages, and he has 36 grandkids.
He’s thankful for his health and independence. He takes a walk each morning through his neighborhood and gets himself to First Calvary Baptist Church, regardless of the weather.
At 98, he feels largely fine, he said. He will celebrate his 99th birthday in January and plans to continue living on his own, taking care of himself.
“God does it; He does it all for me,” Harvey said. “If something goes wrong, I talk to Him. I don’t go to the doctor. I go to Him, and he takes care of everything.”
We honor you, Harlan Harvey.