This article appears today in No Jitter.
Today is Memorial Day and I can’t help but think about my recently deceased father and his service to his country. My father was nearly 92-years-old when he died and like most men his age, he spent his late teens and early twenties in some branch of the armed services. Some were drafted, but many were like my father and enlisted shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Despite growing up in landlocked Pennsylvania, my father chose the United States Navy. About the best answer I ever got from him as to why was, “In the Navy, you have a dry bed to sleep in at night.”
Even with that dry bed, the war years were not easy for my father. From 1942 to 1945, Dad was assigned to the U.S.S. Dallas – a retrofitted World War I class destroyer. The Dallas spent much of its time either patrolling the northeastern coast of the United States or escorting convoys across the Atlantic. His ship sank at least five U-Boats and was under attack several times by the German Luftwaffe. Dad and his shipmates were awarded a Presidential Citation for a particularly brave and difficult mission up the Sebou River in North Africa.
Franklin Roosevelt with the Presidential Citation awarded to the U.S.S. Dallas
As it was with most sailors, Dad had a number of responsibilities. He was a gunner and a radio operator. While he set his gunnery skills aside at the end of the war, radio and the burgeoning electronics industry became his life’s work. He found a home at Motorola in the 1950s and stayed there until retirement.
For me, Dad’s most exciting work occurred in the 1960s when he labored on projects for NASA. He played a part in everything from the earliest Mercury missions to the Apollo trips to the moon. His expertise in radio transmission kept him busy working on encrypted communications links that are still considered top-secret to this day.
The world of electronics changed tremendously over my father’s lifetime. He began with tubes before moving to transistors, integrated circuits, and eventually, embedded processors. It was like starting the day with the horse and buggy and ending it with space shuttles.
I give credit to my father for my career in communications. I learned Morse code at an early age and spent hours clicking away on Dad’s army surplus transmitters and receivers. Although it has all slipped away from me, I was once able to send and receive 13 words a minute. Trust me, that was an admirable speed and something most Ham operators were happy to achieve.
Like Dad, my world has seen a great deal of turmoil. I was at Northern Telecom when they announced “The Digital World.” I remember the first IP PBX around the year 2000. I have been active with SIP since the late 1990s and I am now immersed in the world of WebRTC. It has all been good, though, and every change has been for the better.
The last few years of Dad’s life were very difficult. His once analytical mind was muddied and simple tasks befuddled him. He was especially confused by the thing that was his life’s blood – technology. I tried to explain the Internet to him many times, but it never seemed to sink in. Digital cameras seemed miraculous and something as commonplace as a smart phone was beyond his comprehension.
Still, he remembered minute details about the U.S.S. Dallas and his small, yet important role in freeing the world from the horrors of Nazi Germany. He never bragged about his war years, but they were an important part of who he was and how he viewed life. I expect that most of the men and women that lived through those terrible times were affected in similar ways.
So, today I would like to acknowledge my father in terms of his contributions to the world and to me. I am grateful for all that he did for me and the sacrifices he made. He did what he felt he had to do and never asked for thanks. He truly was part of the greatest generation.