It is not unusual for me to get Chinese carry-out, especially for the midday meal on a Sunday: going to a Chinese restaurant for Sunday dinner – always in the middle of the day, as was de rigueur in the old days – became our family tradition, especially once Ma was getting older, and no longer had the energy to put together her classic Sunday meal of pot-roasted beef, with onions, potatoes, and carrots (broccoli or cauliflower on the side, and usually a gelatin salad). But even before that, we often went out for Chinese on special occasions.
My father was a Far Eastern specialist in his work for the Federal government, and frequently traveled to the nations of the Pacific Rim. On some of those trips (I later learned, although of course my mother knew it at the time) he carried with him that special little pill, that would prevent – permanently – America’s enemies from getting any information out of him, should he have been captured.
As a code-breaker and signal intelligence analyst – and in his later years with the NSA, a rather senior one – there were powers in the world at that time that would have loved to have gotten hold of my father! Consequently, we were not allowed to know anything of the details of the work he did; but oh, the travelogues he brought back, the photographs captured on 35mm slide film, the detailed accounts of the things he had done and seen when he was not working. And that included the food! My father loved to eat, a trait that seems to have been passed on to me. And he came to love Asian food.
In those days, Chinese was about all you could get, in the Continental U.S. (during our time in Hawaii, Japanese food was fairly common), so we ate a good bit of it. And if Pa said a particular Chinese restaurant had especially good food, it was from a basis of personal knowledge and experience! So as I consume my carry-out General Tso’s Chicken – which overtook Sweet-and-Sour Pork as I got older, and came to appreciate spicy over cloyingly sweet – on this Father’s Day, I think of Pa: his travels and travelogues, his skill as both a provider and a raconteur, and his dedication to preserving the secrets that would keep America safe.
Those secrets died with him: the one time he did try to talk about a particular “project,” one we knew for a fact had been declassified, years after the events, he was physically incapable of doing so! Or maybe “physically” is not the right word. He laughed at his own reticence! But he was, nonetheless, unable to bring himself to say anything about it.
Not only do I remember my father with great love – for he was a great father! – but with tremendous respect. Like my mother, he was a member of the Greatest Generation, a survivor of the Great Depression. During World War Two, he put his body on the line for the defense of freedom and the liberation of Europe, being wounded in action and decorated for bravery. After the War, he – and in later years, the men and women who served under him – was / were America’s first line of defense against the likes of the Soviet Union and Communist China.
He retired as a Senior Operations Officer, National Security Operations Center. Effectively, when he was on duty, he was America’s first line of defense, where signal intelligence was concerned.
There were times when a call would come in the night, with General Morrison or Admiral Inman on the other end, and Pa would disappear for hours or days. Sometimes something would appear on the news, later, that would give us some clue as to what he may have been doing, but many times, we had, and still have, no idea against what threats he helped to hold the line. We just knew that he was helping to keep America safe.
It was not until I was much older that I realized what strength Ma had, to take that unexpected call, and then to send him off with a kiss and a prayer, not knowing when – or, at times, whether – she would see him again.
Yet thankfully, by God’s grace, he always came back. And in part due to his hard work, intelligence, and dedication – he received many commendations from his superiors, who at times defended him and his work against their politically-appointed “superiors,” who wanted information that supported their agendas, not necessarily the truth – the United States remained safe and secure, through some of the hottest years of the Cold War: including the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam War, to name just two significant events during his tenure.
These thoughts and more run through my mind, as I finish my General Tso’s carry-out, on this hazy, hot, and humid Father’s Day Sunday. It has been 18 years since Pa passed on, “onto a farther shore, and into a greater light.” And I still think of him every day, and miss him every day. He was, to me, a giant. And although I can never measure up to the example he set, he remains a role-model and an inspiration, as well as a loving memory.
And God willing, I will see him again, some day, along with Ma, Jeanne, and so many others who have gone before. I love you, Pa. I’ll see you when my work here is done.