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My dad. CIC Officer aboard the carrier Essex for the Korean War. Finished high school at 14, Auburn at 19, Summa double in math and English. Enlisted in 1950. Quickly recognized as an expert tactician: perfect hunches, three steps ahead under pressure.

chaos manager

Stood near the center of buoyancy, amidst reporting stations: RADAR, SONAR, fire control, engineering, fight deck, damage control, armory, lookouts, etc. I don't know them all, that was long ago. In front of him, the "chessboard," where a sailor moved models of surface ships, and the "squigee board," where another sailor updated the air combat situation with a grease pencil every few seconds.

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

Never talked to me -- or any other human -- about the war. But he spent 50 years confiding in vodka. Improved a little when he got a job in Washington, DC, near the end of his life, teaching programmers how to encode his brain into onboard computers. Computers weren't being added because they were better; computers don't have hunches. But because of excessive substance abuse and suicide among CIC officers, one of the highest in the services.

Dad came home from Korea, but never left from the war. In my own career, as a physicist and electrical engineer, with additional, sponsored training in medicine, I built WMDs. A sea of anxiety and guilt: weapons designed to kill millions in an instant. I survive with a very strong dose of meds, a therapist with a high clearance, and (now rare) panic attacks that put me on the floor throwing up. And I'm one of the lucky ones, not even a service member, just a civilian employee.

What my dad went thru must have been extremely difficult. His addictive drinking and smoking severely shortened his life. One of his buddies, from the Viet Nam era, had it so much worse.

what he could do

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

remember things

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

do some serious stuff

Could name all nine courses of a banquet and tell you which utensil to use for each. Could paint anything he saw in the style of any artistic school you named; create a working shortwave from a handful of electronic parts (amateur radio was our bond); could build or renovate any size home, re-cover furniture, butcher an entire cow in less than two hours, ready for the freezer. That's why he spent many years owning a butcher shop and small grocery store, his cave of steel.

teach you anything

He used to put together slides to explain hard math concepts, 60-80 pages at a time. Made me sit through them. No complaints, I aced the SAT and ACT math sections. Encouraged me to understand the difference between language and reality, like the deep point of ZMM.

Encouraged me to watch Star Trek, often watching with me. When Spock said, "Without followers, evil cannot spread," he kept me up until four in the morning (mind you, I was all of nine years old), introducing me to Stoicism and its usefulness in moral dilemmas. Introduced me to the full set of logical fallacies (e.g., the Nirvana fallacy). Regularly pointed out when I violated them. Insisted that every complicated problem be solved first by the scientific method, and then rigorously run through gedanken experiments to test the assumptions. 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'd get into a snit about a friend's remark, he'd bring me back with his patented phrase, "Less polarized nonsense, please." If I induced conclusions from anecdotal evidence, he'd say, "Don't generalize; draw your conclusions the other way around." When I doubted his wisdom, he would always quote Alexander Pope: "We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow...."

proud grand/father

He was incredibly proud of his children and grandchildren. Struggled all his life with PTSD and depression and substance abuse from the Korean War, but never let that dull his intellect. He's 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, Pop.

~

Current as of 2022-09-24 Sat 11:37 in Crane Creek.
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