I had a most unusual wartime career. I’m from Illinois but my great-grandfathers fought for the Confederacy. A touch of rebellion and a streak of belligerence runs in the family. The Depression hit us hard. Before Pearl Harbor, I was living in a tiny, fifth-floor, walk-up apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan, taking night courses in business administration at City College. I wrote stories in my spare time and worked for a midtown publisher, Street and Smith. On December 12, the morning after Hitler declared war on the USA, a friend and co-worker of mine joined the mobs at the recruiting station near the office. Bob and I both went Navy. That was the last I saw of him for a couple of years, and they were busy years. I was a radio operator on a sub tender in the south Atlantic. The Navy trained me well. I thought I had no natural aptitude for technology. It seems ironic given how things turned out.
In September 1943, mid-winter south of the Equator, I was suddenly shipped Stateside. No explanation. Two weeks later, I reported to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and was ordered to report for tests at the Naval Research Laboratory. They had some kind of psychological screening program. I was sent to a crowded waiting room at the base hospital. The air was blue with cigarette smoke, cursing, and boredom. Waiting, waiting, waiting. To my surprise, my old New York pal Bob walked in, but that moment, before we even had a chance to say hello, a duty officer appeared with a clipboard. When it’s alphabetical, I usually go first, like I did here. He barked out, “Arahant! Asimov! Heinlein! Hubbard! Get in here, on the double!”More