by Mahlon Palmer

" one young man was able to bypass all...and turn it into a career that is the envy of many of his educated peers."

Palmer was the youngest child of a poor, New York farmer. The boy learned early to work hard morning to night, with his dog King following everywhere. There was no time for school work, but he did pass the exam for high school graduation... barely. With no money for college, Dick’s parents advised that he join the military. In 1954, he entered the US Air Force; once more destiny intervened as he barely passed the physical with a heart anomaly.

He met his future wife, Joy Ann, while assigned as a meteorologist to the weather station at Griffiss AFB. The book describes weather station activities before computer-generated weather reports. His meteorologist’s role was critical as part of the Air Defense Command. An overseas assignment in 1956 was classified. It proved to be at the Incirlik AFB where American U-2 pilots, including Gary Powers, flew spy operations. He traveled on several flights to its location near Adana, Turkey. Military personnel often traveled, without seats or latrines, in the transport sections of cargo planes.

The Cold War brought rare computing opportunities to former military personnel. He attended a local Utica trade school, taking a course in programming for EAM punch card systems. The $150 cost was the best investment he ever made. Destiny took the form of a nightshift job posting at Griffiss AFB for RCA. The rest of his career would be leading hand-picked programmers (mostly ex-military) who assisted in implementing his original software designs for early tracking stations and the Defensive Early Warning (DEW) system. Later, his Customer Order Requisition Tracking (CORT) system for NAS was used first by Lockheed Martin and still remains the industry standard.

Bragging is not in the nature of this author. So, what prompted Palmer to write his awe-inspiring memoir? It took a near-fatal heart attack and the encouragement of two nurses. Destiny presented the book’s plotline and true characters—coworkers and little-known heroes of the infant computing industry during the 1950s-80s. Palmer faithfully recounts his life adventures, including business travel near the Arctic Circle, but humbly takes little credit for developing the AUTEC, BMEWS, DEW, and CORT systems. He calls his career the best gift of his life.

Travel was a passion the author and his wife shared even before he officially retired in 1997, and this love for the road comes across clearly in his narrative. In fact, the author’s interest in the historic trip of the Lewis and Clark may very well inspire readers to travel west following their trail, as did Palmer for several years with his friend Mary (Palmer’s wife having died earlier). The last chapters enrich the book by recounting the famous explorers’ stories along with a log of the author's observations. Palmer even named one of his many dogs Sacajawea after the explorers’ Indian guide. Forty-plus photos, including the photo of a bull buffalo guarding Old Faithful geyser, visually enhance the author's writing. The memoir’s voice varies due to a third-person narrator that on occasion switches to allow Palmer to personally record details. Life, work, and travel are all vividly recalled. The reader can almost feel the frigid air in the cargo plane, sense the drama behind conference room doors as deadlines are met, and watch government officials be surprised by results. While coworker names are disguised for privacy, stories and eye-witness accounts of this important historical information are faithfully retained.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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