But for a four-year stint in the Navy, the life of Park Ridge attorney Curtis Edlund could have been very different.
"I joined pretty much right out of high school," he said, explaining he wasn't ready to start college in 1963 and thought the Navy would be a good way to gain experience and see the world. "I was going to do four years, go to college, and get a degree in electrical engineering."
However, a very high score on an aptitude test changed Edlund's naval career. He didn't qualify for Officer Candidate School due to his eyesight but he was quickly placed into the Naval Security Group.
The group started just after World War II. "The government realized they needed a way to eavesdrop on the Japanese and the Germans," Edlund explained. They began recruiting people with high level mathematics and musical abilities to become crypto-technicians that would intercept coded signals and help decipher them.
"The Navy was the principal beneficiary," of the effort, he said. "We had the most mobile platforms and best radio equipment."
Edlund spent much of his four years, 38 months, in the Far East, gathering electronic communication data along the east coast of Asia including Russia, China, and North and South Vietnam.
At one point, he was on the USS Banner off the coast of China when seven motorized Chinese junks surrounded his boat. "They had first world war cannons lashed to the bow," he recalled. The Banner was supposed to have air coverage from Japan in case of trouble and the Navy had a destroyer escort about 50 miles off the coast while the Banner went to 12 miles.
"We spent 16 hours trying to raise the radio operator on the destroyer and we couldn't raise him," Edlund said. Meanwhile, his ship could not move without running into one of the junks.
Finally, the crew was able to send a message to the Philippines that was relayed to Japan, calling planes to the rescue, causing the junks to scatter. Edlund later learned the radio operator on the destroyer had detuned the radio and was listening to Armed Forces Network instead of waiting for calls from the Banner. "The rumor was they court-martialed him for that," he said.
He recalled another story when his ship was along the eastern shore of Russia and two turbine cruisers came out to intercept them. The Russians sent a message that the American ship was in territorial waters and ordered it to follow them to port.
Edlund said the captain of the American boat had swagger. He sent back a message saying, "We're in international waters and you can go to hell."
The Russian boats locked weapons onto Edlund's ship but his captain ordered "All ahead flank, left standard rudder," that would have rammed the ship into the middle of the turbine cruiser while moving further out to sea. When the Russian captain saw the ship moving toward him, "He literally hit the gas pedal," Edlund said. "I had never seen a boat that big move that fast."
After his four years, Edlund received offers from the CIA, the State Dept., the NSA, and the FBI, but he had other experiences during his time that shaped his next decisions.
"In 1963 Jack Kennedy was killed. In 1964, Johnson signed the civil rights act," he said. Edlund said he knew nothing of discrimination in high school. "I didn't even realize my school was all white until the first black student walked in there," he said.
During his naval training, he spent time in Washington and Florida. He experienced discrimination firsthand when members of his company went to the movies. "The black guys I was with had to sit in the balcony; they couldn't sit on the main floor," he said.
Edlund decided to work toward change. "People don't change things with sit-ins or marches; they change things by getting on the inside," he said.
Leaving the Navy, he went to work at IBM and earned his undergraduate and law degree. Rejecting an offer for a corporate legal job at that company, he opened a private practice. "I want to do something that people will remember," he said.
His firm, Larsen and Edlund is now a general civil practice firm. "We cover everything including criminal work," he said.
Instead of being an electrical engineer, Edlund has done many things that people will remember. He served on the Park Ridge City Council from 1985 to 1993, ran for the state senate in 1990 and ran for a judgeship in 2005. He was named the Park Ridge Citizen of the Year in 1992 and is a past president of both the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club of Park Ridge (noon). On Monday, Nov. 7, he was named to the city's newly formed Economic Development Task Force. He's also won a case on appeal that changed copyright law and has been cited by the US Supreme Court. "I don't sit down much," Edlund added.
He remembers the dedication of the others in the Navy. "Every single person I knew in the Navy, whether it was a Snipe engineer, or a deck aid, or the MP that sat on the gate... were all committed to doing the mission," he said. "Did we beef? Did we complain? Sure... but at the end of the day, everyone was there to do what they were asked to do," he said. "What they were doing was in the nation's best interest," Edlund continued. "I don't know anybody... that has ever regretted joining up or spending their time."
When Edlund returned stateside, his mother had three blue stars in the window. All three of his brothers were also in the armed forces: another in the Navy, one in the Army, and one in the Marines.
His family now boasts five consecutive generations of service. "My grandson joined the national guard last year," Edlund said proudly.