Linenger's Letters to his Son

January 26, 1997
"You are the highlight of my career, John
"

Johnchek, Hooligonchek:

That's what we call you in Russia, you know.

Well, I promised I'd tell you about myself, so here goes.

I was a real ugly baby. Grandma says that when people would say, "oh, let me see your baby" their next words were either "my", or "oh my!", or they would simply stand there dumbfounded. I was glad to see that you took after Mommy.

We lived in a small blue-collar suburb outside Detroit. One neighbor worked at Chevrolet. Another a shoe salesman. Grandpa worked for the telephone company and drove a telephone truck--which was neat. Every once in a while he would sneak us in the truck, have us crouch down on the floor, and drive us somewhere. Mom drove Dad to work once or twice a week in order to keep the car for shopping. Then, all five kids would pile into the car at 5 o'clock sharp to go pick him up.

Public school down the street. Walked every day. I was Captain of the safety boys in 6th grade. Played Little League football and baseball. Junior High same sports until I got knocked out cold in 9th grade making a tackle. One night in the hospital, then the light turned back on, and I ate ice cream. Unfortunately, I can't tell you about the ambulance ride because at that point it was all a big swirling tunnel that made no sense. Must have heard the doctors talking about drilling burr holes, because they said I snapped out of it just before the operating room got ready. After that, I switched sports to tennis and swimming. I don't recommend football for you, John.

Junior high was an adolescent whirl, better forgotten. High school went okay. Graduated right up there. Boring report cards.

Here's the truth about why I went to the Naval Academy. Read a brochure that said "are you good enough...blah, blah, blah...". So I wanted to find out, and sent in an application, took the tests, met with the congressman; the whole shmeel. Well, I got in. I was still trying to decide which school I wanted to go to when Dad read the part about no tuition. That settled that.

Did okay at the Naval Academy, but not a lot of dates. Direct to medical school afterwards. Surgical internship in San Diego (now there's a pretty place), flight surgeon training in Pensacola (now there's a pretty place), and duty with a squadron in the Philippines (not bad either). Lots of flying to and from aircraft carriers. San Diego again (working for an Admiral) and doing epidemiology and some sports medicine research. Night school and regular school in between. Then to NASA and Houston and two years later aboard Space Shuttle Discovery for my first space flight (STS-64). Then you. And now space station Mir. You are the highlight of my career, John.

So John, that's your father. Pretty much your basic American, besides being Captain of the Safety Boys (that was special--hot chocolate every day, and I got to wear a badge). I really love our country, and have always been proud to serve it. There is really no finer place in the world, and you are one of the lucky ones because opportunities abound and you are free to choose. You can be anything you want to be. No limits. No expectations.

Sorry I'm not there to hold you and teach you to catch a ball. (You did it once, but I think it was a random event, kind of like when I lose a cable up here (everything floats), but an hour later it ends up right in front of my eyes. But I really believe that what I'm doing will make a difference in your life, and in the lives of all your future classmates and friends. We'll make up for it when I get home, okay?

Tell your mother that I love her, that I'm doing just fine up here, and that all the work we did preparing for this flight is paying off. And that I miss her, too.

Love,
Jerry.

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