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Famous Veteran: Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein autographing at Midamericon

"We are the boys who will go to a particular place, at H-hour, occupy a designated terrain, stand on it, dig the enemy out of their holes, force them then and there to surrender or die. We're the bloody infantry, the doughboy, the duckfoot, the foot soldier who goes where the enemy is and takes them on in person. We've been doing it, with changes in weapons but very little change in our trade, at least since the time five thousand years ago when the foot sloggers of Sargon the Great forced the Sumerians to cry "Uncle!"" -Juan Rico, "Starship Troopers"

Considered one of the most influential writers in science fiction, Robert A. Heinlein led an interesting life and was a man of complex, sometimes seemingly contradictory, philosophies and morality. He was born in Missouri and spent most of his childhood in Kansas City. Living in the middle of "The Bible Belt" left an indelible mark on his thoughts which can be seen in much of his fiction. During his childhood years, he read every science fiction book he could grab including works by Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

The next major event in Heinlein's life, serving in the Navy, had just as much of an impact on his writing. In the early 1920's there were strict regulations to discourage multiple family members serving in the armed forces and his brother was already taking classes at the Naval Academy. To bypass this limitation, Heinlein enrolled at a local community college and sent roughly 50 letters to Senator James A. Reed asking to be enrolled in Annapolis.

Heinlein was finally admitted in 1925 and graduated in 1929 with the Naval equivalent to a B.A. in Naval Engineering. The aircraft carrier USS Lexington became the new ensign's home away from home where he operated radio communications equipment and coordinated the carrier's planes. Heinlein's captain, Ernest J. King, was destined to serve as the Chief of Naval Operations during World War II. Between 1933 and 1934, Heinlein served on the USS Roper and earned the rank of lieutenant. After surviving tuberculosis and chronic sea sickness, he was given early retirement in 1934.

After going through a series of odd jobs, Heinlein found a writing contest for a science fiction magazine. He decided to enter, but once his story was done he decided that it was too good for the schlocky outlet. He contacted "Astounding Science Fiction" and was paid $70 for his story. His writing career boomed from there and within a few short years he was the Guest of Honor at the 3rd annual World Science Fiction Convetion.

When World War II broke out, Heinlein attempted to reenlist with the Navy but was denied. In order to support the war effort, he began working as a civilian engineer at the Naval Air Experiment Center in Philadelphia. He was able to secure work for fellow writers Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp. All three worked on ship and aircraft repairs while discussing their ideas about the future.

Heinlein returned to writing science fiction after the war and retained his status as one of the most prolific and renowned authors in the genre. In 1959 he penned the famous "Starship Troopers" which follows a young recruit in the fictional Mobile Infantry as he trains to fight arachnid aliens threatening mankind. Unlike the popular 1997 film adaptation, "Starship Troopers" is a pro-military novel filled with philosophizing about politics, society, and the life of a grunt.  

With 32 novels and 59 short stories published, Heinlein passed away in 1988 from emphysema and heart failure.

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