The first “Worldcon” wasn’t quite as globally representative as one might have wished; I don’t know that any of the attendees came from any country but the U.S.A and, maybe, Canada. But it was the last chance we had for a real international gathering, because that year of 1939 was the beginning of that event that interfered with everyone’s plans for that sort of frippery, namely World War II.
America didn’t get involved in actual combat until Japan took its ill-advised crack at Pearl Harbor, late in 1941, but that was the end of even the so-called Worldcons. Most fans were male and mostly in their late teens or early 20s, and thus the natural prey of the draft. So, whether called up or volunteering, most of us were soon wearing uniforms.
By 1943, both Jack Williamson and I were in the Air Force and both had wound up as weathermen. I was just beginning. After doing basic training in Miami Beach, I was ordered to Chanute Field, Illinois, to learn how to read a theodolite, plot a synoptic map, operate a teletype and release a hydrogen-filled pilot balloon to investigate the velocity and direction of the winds aloft, after which I would be sent to join some weather station in the capacity of its lowest professional level, as a weather observer, Army Specialist Number 784.
Meanwhile, Jack, ahead of me as ever, had already done that a couple of years earlier. He had then served as a working observer at an actual weather station in the field, until he applied for promotion as a weather forecaster, ASN 787. This required going back to Chanute Field for additional training, and, by the grace of that useful Someone, his orders put him there over the same weeks as mine.
I don’t mean to exaggerate the significance of this chance meeting. It wasn’t a case of two dear buddies getting together for a long-desired reunion. We barely knew each other. What’s more, we didn’t have much free time on either of our schedules, and what one of us did have didn’t always mesh with the free time on the other’s. But I think we both enjoyed the chance to talk science fiction again, even if briefly.
Then our courses ended. Jack went off to an American air base on the way to his permanent assignment, which was to be forecaster for a landing strip on one of the myriad tiny islands that usefully dot the Pacific Ocean for the benefit of bomber crews that can’t quite make it home after a mission, while I went off to spend a year at the weather station on the base at Enid, Oklahoma, before my orders for Italy came through.
Then the war ended. (How quickly I write that down … and how slowly that event arrived in the real world.) All of us now being civilians once more, I wrote a letter to Jack that started one of the longest-lasting and most rewarding relationships of my professional life.
None of that might have happened, though, if it hadn’t been sparked by what was happening in the life of the person who was then my oldest friend, Dirk Wylie. But for that we need a digression, which will happen in Part Next (of I don’t know how many) in the Jack Williamson story, coming up shortly after I get it written.
To be continued. . . .