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Billy D. Wear

Lt. Dad


The picture is LTJG Billy Dean Wear, CIC Officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex (CVA 9), for the duration of the Korean War. Dad finished high school at 14, and then graduated from Auburn at 19 with Summa double degrees in math and English. He enlisted in 1950, and was quickly recognized as an expert battle tactician: his hunches were nearly always right, and he could stay three steps ahead of even the boldest commander.

chaos manager

As the CIC Officer, he stood on a circular paint mark near the ship's center of buoyancy, with key reporting stations all around him: RADAR, SONAR, fire control, engineering, fight deck, damage control, armory, lookouts, etc. In front of him was the "chessboard," where a sailor moved models of ships to give the surface view, and the "squigee board," where another sailor updated the air combat situation with a grease pencil every few seconds. My dad would have been on an open channel to the Captain, advising on tactics: "Come right to 30 degrees, aim the aft Phalanx guns at 218 mark 37 and open fire, drop three depth charges from launcher 4 with a depth of 163 feet, get a fireman up to catapult 6 to cool the hydraulics, and launch three spitfires on a course of 164 mark 34 to intercept two ChiCom fighters trying to sneak under our RADAR." 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for three years.

a secret war

He never talked to me or any other human about the war, but he spent the next 50 years confiding in gallons of vodka. He improved a little when he got a job in Washington, DC, near the end of his life, teaching programmers how to encode his fast, tactical thinking into onboard computers designed to replace his position. The computers were being added not because they are better than the officers -- computers don't have hunches -- but because of the high rate of alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide among CIC command and watch officers, one of the highest in the armed services.

My dad came home from Korea, but he never came home from the war. In my own career, as a physicist and electrical engineer, with additional, sponsored training in medicine, I spent years working on WMDs. My own anxiety and guilt, dealing with weapons designed to kill millions in an instant, has led me to live with a very strong dose of meds, a therapist with a high clearance, and occasional, inexplicable panic attacks that, if I don't do a specific kind of breathing in time, will have me on the floor, throwing up, within about a minute. And I'm one of the lucky ones, and not even a service member, just a former civilian employee. What my dad went thru must have been unbearable. As it was, his constant drinking shortened his life by at least 20 years, compared to the rest of his family. And I know men from the Viet Nam era who had it so much worse.

what he could do

So I focus on what he could do, drunk or not.

remember things

He could differentiate the works of Shakespeare and Pope flawlessly, and he could also differentiate Heaviside functions so that a four-year-old could understand. Lest you doubt, I was the four-year-old. He insisted that I learn to read and write at that age because, as he put it, "It's more efficient than arguing with elementary teachers."

do some serious stuff

He could name all nine courses of a banquet and tell you which utensil to use for each. He could paint anything he saw in the style of any artistic school you named. He could create a working radio from a handful of electronic parts and make it play on the TV speakers (in the 1960's, mind you) in place of the audio. He could build or renovate any size home, re-cover furniture, and butcher an entire cow in less than two hours, ready for the freezer.

teach you anything

He used to put together slides to explain hard math concepts when I was in high school, some 60-80 pages of them, and would make me sit through the entire set (no complaints, I aced the SAT and ACT math sections, thanks to his help). He encouraged me to understand the difference between language and reality (the deep point of ZMM). I swear he said some things first that famous people said later, such as the way he described compassion, or one of his favorites, "You don't need to join a gym. You are a gym. Let me show you."

He encouraged me to watch Star Trek, and often watched with me. The episode where Spock said, "Without followers, evil cannot spread," we stayed up until four in the morning (mind you, I was all of nine years old), with him introducing me to the philosophy of Stoicism and the reasons he felt it had the best approach to solving moral dilemmas. He also introduced me to all 17 of the most common logical fallacies (e.g., the Nirvana fallacy), and regularly pointed out when I had violated them. He insisted that every complicated problem be solved first by the scientific method, and then rigorously run through acted-out scenarios to test the validity of the assumptions. He was thrilled when I took up Dungeons and Dragons, because he felt it helped young people learn to deal with difficult situations in a safe space.

When I would get into a snit about some statement a friend had made, he would always bring me back to ground with his patented phrase, "Less polarized nonsense, please." When I drew conclusions the wrong way around, he would say, "Don't generalize; draw your conclusions the other way." When I doubted his wisdom, he would always quote Alexander Pope's dictum, "We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow...."

proud grand/father

He was incredibly proud of his children and grandchildren. He struggled all his life with PTSD and depression from his time in the Korean War, but never let any of that dull his intellect. He is the source of at least parts of my personal philosophy: "Say what you mean: Nothing is truer than the truth," "Be who you are: Even a bent wire can carry a great light," and "Use leverage: A bigger hammer is rarely the correct answer."

Hat's off to you, Dad.

Updated 2021-12-30 Thu 10:57 by Bill Wear (stormrider)

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