I’ll never forget reading The Hunt for Red October. I couldn’t put it down. I read it in high-school biology class, I read it in church (behind a particularly big Bible), and I read it on my dateless Friday nights. When I finished, I picked it up and read it again. I was at the bookstore with each new book launch, ready to read about Jack Ryan’s next challenge (In addition to Red October, The Cardinal of the Kremlin, and Red Storm Rising were my favorites).
Clancy wrote stories that fired the imagination of a teenage boy and that continued to fire my imagination throughout my school years. My favorite mental health break in law school required me to put down my law books and pick up Clancy. When my son turned eleven, just after he finished Lord of the Rings, he asked me for more books that I loved as I kid. I immediately gave him my old, dog-eared copies of The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising. He found them challenging but captivating, and he loved the same characters I loved.
I can think of few better books for boys to read, where the heroes were tough, honorable, and brave, and they understood that evil can’t be appeased but must be overcome. For a Cold War kid, the stories had a ripped-from-the-headlines feel, and many of them felt almost plausible enough that you could imagine you were reading a classified debrief.As I grew older, I realized that Clancy’s books helped teach me what it means to serve your country, to love your country — to take pride in the legacy of courage that built her and dedicate yourself to taking your own place “on the wall” to defend her. In one amusing moment, I can remember reading a Clancy book during lunch in my Manhattan law firm, closing it decisively, picking up the phone and telling my wife, “That’s it, I’m quitting this firm and joining the Navy.”
That didn’t happen, but seeds were planted — along with the seeds of my family’s heritage of service — that ultimately did bear fruit. I know this sounds silly, but I can remember once in Iraq — after feeling extremely jittery on a foot patrol that just didn’t feel right — silently asking myself, “What would Jack Ryan do?” Ahh, well. Whatever works.
Thank you, Tom Clancy. Thank you for enriching my life and my son’s life. May God bless your family, and may God grant you everlasting rest.
This article first appeared on National Review.