Another Cultural Guidepost Gone – R.I.P. Tom Clancy

Thank you, Tom Clancy, for some of the best reading in my long career as a book junkie. Thank you for redefining the genre. Thank you for making me drop my jaw and slam the book shut more than once when you rolled out something TOP SECRET CODEWORD in your pages.

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For a number of years I savored Tom Clancy books and stretched out my reading time to make sure that I didn’t miss a single detail. Tom was the master of the techno-thriller, and I admired his work greatly. In my own writing I have to work very hard to avoid doing what he did so well – getting technical. I have to avoid it for two reasons:

1. I can go to prison for doing it accurately.
2. It would bore you to tears.

Tom Clancy took all of us on an adventure with his books. He knew his subject matter, and there was a great deal of speculation in some quarters that he was being fed information from inside the government. Why? Because it would floor the Soviets to learn that their greatest secrets and plans were known in the western world and a novelist had access to them.

I was out and about one time on a submarine and the captain handed me a Tom Clancy book dogeared to a page he wanted me to read. I read the page and almost passed out. It was something really, really sensitive. The captain laughed and said, “I figured you were the only other guy on the boat that knew about that.” He shut the book and walked out of the radio room. If either one of us had discussed that topic we’d go to prison. Tom Clancy put it in his book. Yup, he had sources.

But Tom Clancy had something else – he had a narrative style that will be remembered long after all of us are gone. He wrote well (and voluminously) about his characters. As a result, they stuck with us from book to book. And on into the movies. And into our hearts.

Tom Clancy did something else: he honored our military. He wrote in glowing terms of my service in particular during the Cold War. It’s easy to forget that the United States disparaged it’s military before Desert Storm. During the 1980’s Tom was a breath of fresh air. He understood us and wrote about our lives. I was always proud to tell people that what I did was a bit like a Tom Clancy novel. I knew sonar techs like “Jonesy” and served under a captain who was proud of the fact that he threw Tom off his boat. (Tom was peeking under things he shouldn’t have according to the captain.) Tom may never have spent a moment doing those jobs, but he knew our hearts and who we thought we were. He honored our intentions.

Tom Clancy will never wear out his welcome in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of us who served during that time. He was our scribe. We will miss him greatly.

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