by Howard Kohn
Photos by Carik Clayton
If all goes well, Hank Harman will finish hiking the Appalachian Trail from one end of Shenandoah National Park to the other by the time he turns 86 next summer. Even though he travels it in intervals, about eight miles a trek, the journey is an impressive achievement at any age.
You might say it is worthy of an Eagle Scout. Technically, no one older than 17 is eligible for the top honor in the world of scouting, but a few weeks ago Hank was invited to participate in Takoma Park Troop 33’s Court of Honor, that burnished time when new Eagles get their pins.
On June 3, a Scout uniform fitted neatly on his trim frame, Hank stood alongside three smooth-faced teenagers at the Takoma Park community center, a juxtaposition of the generations, while daughter Jane held his Eagle pin at the ready.
Newly awarded Eagle Scout Hank Harman basks in glory with his daughter Jane and son Peter.
By serendipity Jane was the one who had set in motion the plan to
complete a ritual originally scheduled almost 70 years ago. “It wasn’t
really my idea,” Jane said the other day, after returning from her most
recent expedition with her dad over the July Fourth weekend. “It was
Dave Lanar’s idea.”
She had phoned Dave, the Troop 33 scoutmaster, to inquire whether any
of the current Scouts wanted to tag along with Hank, a former Troop 33
member, on one of his sectional hikes. During the conversation she
happened to mention that her dad had earned his own Eagle back in 1942,
the same year he spent a week on a northern stretch of the Trail
without seeing a single other person, but, because he had gone off to
boarding school and, later, to the military, he had missed out on his
Court of Honor.
Scoutmaster Dave, legendary in local circles for his what-the-heck
enthusiasm, immediately extended an invitation for Hank to join the
Court of 2010.
At the ceremony Jane, who lives on Flower Avenue, attached the pin to
Hank’s lapel while her younger brother Peter and her daughter Abby
Cember looked on. Hank then spoke for a few minutes, recalling how two
of his Troop 33 buddies, Jack Vogel from Cedar Avenue and Newt Magness
from Park Avenue, had lost their lives in the war, Jack in Bougainville
and Newt on a bombing mission over Germany.
Hank had grown up on Poplar Avenue and had enlisted in a U. S. Coast
Guard Academy class that seemed destined to command the landing ships
for an invasion of Japan, but he avoided that mission when it was
After the war Hank went on with his life and went back to walking the
Trail, passing on his passion to Jane and her two brothers. For Jane’s
ninth birthday Hank took her and the family collie, Princess, on a
12-mile overnight hike in the Appalachians. “How many other
nine-year-olds celebrate that way?” Hank said, remembering with a
“Dad keeps meticulous records of all his hikes,” Jane said, “and, by
his logs, I have hiked more than 600 miles myself. We joke that we
were backpacking before backpacking was cool, but it’s true. Back then
there was no fancy nylon gear, no lightweight plastic. We used army
surplus packs and army surplus sleeping bags, and we carried aluminum
screw-top containers and enameled metal dishes.”
Hank showed them the survival skills of a weekend woodsman, an
education Jane took with her when she signed up for the Peace Corps and
was sent to the Congo. “One very wet, rainy day I easily got a fire
going after several others had tried and failed. It amazed the locals
that a Muzungu would know how to do this,” she said. “I told them my
dad had taught me.”
Over time Hank hiked the entire 2,175 miles of the Trail, from Maine to
Georgia. Retired now, in Richmond, Virginia, he remains as much a
bravado creature of the outdoors as when he was young.
He was caught by complete surprise, though, when Jane relayed Dave
Lanar’s latterday offer. It tickled his fancy and soon turned into
quite the thrill. “It made me just about ‘fly like an Eagle,” he said.