As a civilian, he was able to use publically available information to pull back the curtain to our highest technology, while always keeping the human side in view.
Many of his greatest fans were precluded from praising him due to security considerations. After reading “The Hunt for Red October,” I was amazed at the depth of technical detail. With my own background in the US Navy, I knew that he was over 99% right on all the miniscule details of life onboard US Submarines. I was tempted to write him to let him know the correct terminology for certain esoteric pieces of equipment that he had misnamed in his book. However, security rules forbade us from even acknowledging the existence of these items.
One rule we were given at the start of one of my classified training courses was, “Even if you read about this on the front page of the New York Times, it will still be classified. If you divulge classified information, you will go to jail.”
So I never wrote that letter.
However, I have met several people that he did correspond with.
While onboard a Navy ship many years ago, working on a … “microwave oven” (I still don’t want to go to jail), I had a chance to watch a movie with the crew. They were showing the movie version of “The Hunt for Red October.”
While chatting after the movie ended, a sailor in the group told me he had written Tom Clancy.
“That’s great,” I said, “What did you tell him?”
“I told him that the movie was good, but it was missing many of the important parts from the book.”
“Yeah, I agree with you.” I said, “The movie could have had some more great scenes if they had stuck to the book.”
“When he answered my letter…” he continued.
“Wait,” I said, “You got an answer from Tom Clancy?”
“Yes, he was very nice. He explained that if they had put everything from the book into a movie, the movie would have been ten hours long. He said he was happy with the result.”
I was surprised that Tom Clancy took the time to answer a fan’s questions. I later ran into others that he had corresponded with.
Upon reflection, it was clear why he enjoyed corresponding with military members. They helped give him some nitty-gritty details of service life that helped flavor his work.
I followed his career through subsequent novels. “Clear and Present Danger” seemed to be a bit over the top, with its depiction of the War on Drugs as a tactic to be used by politicians to gain favor with the masses. That lasted until I found myself in an experimental aircraft, flying over unmapped jungles in a small South American country. We were told we were fighting “Narcoterrorism”. Then the premise of the Clancy novel made more sense.
He followed through with “Debt of Honor,” yet another “unrealistic” novel. It remained unrealistic until some crazed Islamists used some of the same ideas on 9/11.
Although some of his later works (or works produced under his name) were not as gripping as his earliest efforts, he never failed to entertain.
I never got to send my fan letter to Tom Clancy while he was with us. So this is it.
“Goodbye Tom. Thanks for all the great stories.”