First Posted: 5/1/2013
It isn’t Skyfall, but the story of Fred Gedrich’s working life with the U.S. Departments of Defense and State is one of political intrigue in exotic locales. Gedrich has been to 50 countries.
His favorite place? His hometown of Avoca.
Gedrich has dined in exotic locales such as Rome and Paris.
His favorite dish? Cebula’s Pizza in Dupont. Whenever he comes home for a visit, he takes multiple trays of the pizza — created by his late paternal Aunt Lily in the 1930s — back to Virginia where he lives.
Gedrich has written articles for the Jerusalem Post, The Miami Herald, National Review Online, New York Post, New York Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle and Washington Times.
His favorite publication? The Sunday Dispatch.
The great-grandson of Irish and Polish immigrants, Gedrich grew up in Avoca in the 1950s before the school consolidation, when Avocans had everything they needed within the town’s square mile. There were four elementary schools and a high school, five churches, mom and pop grocery and butcher shops, an Acme and A&P, a bakery, barber and shoe shops, the earliest local Little League, a volunteer fire company and plenty of sandlots around town where the kids played baseball, football and basketball in season. Fred played runningback for the Avoca high school football team, graduating in 1960.
It was a time and place where nobody complained about having nothing to do. Avoca had a movie theater and plenty of cool hangouts such as Meade’s Pool Hall, Martha’s and Clifford’s soda shops, Haddock’s Swing Shop and the Barbeque.
For Gedrich, growing up in that Norman Rockwellesque Avoca was character-building and safe. “I wouldn’t trade the small-town experience for anything in the world,” he said. “It provided a solid foundation to develop hard-nosed skills in the classroom and in sports which would prove very valuable in later life, in college and beyond. For that, I give a lot of credit to my parents, the nuns at St. Mary’s and teachers at Avoca public schools and the adult mentors around town. Everybody knew everybody in town and parents almost always knew what their children were doing.”
Gedrich’s parents, Rita and Fred, who died six months apart in 1994, instilled a work ethic in him. Rita worked at Laura Fashions which took over the old Avoca Palace Theater and then at Topps in Duryea. Fred Sr. started as a short-order cook and eventually became a chef in local restaurants and in the Poconos.
Gedrich’s own son, Doug, his youngest, was also a restaurateur. For all the stunning positive turns Gedrich’s life has taken, he wasn’t immune to tragedy. He outlived Doug, who died in 2009.
After he graduated from Avoca High, Gedrich did a three-year Army hitch, serving in Korea in the 1960s. When discharged, he came back to Avoca, worked a couple blue-collar jobs and then at the Tobyhanna Army Depot as electronic tech. That was considered a coveted and secure job and a lot of people thought he was crazy when he gave it up an enrolled at Wilkes on the G.I. Bill. He graduated in 1973 and landed a job with the Navy. In ’83, he got a master’s degree from Central Michigan and transferred to the Department of Defense, evaluating aircraft, missiles and ships. In 1987, he moved to the State Department.
With State, he was witness to some of the major turning points in global political history. He was in Beijing, China during the Tiananmen Square Massacre; Beirut, Lebanon under hostile conditions; Haiti during the embargo; several African countries undergoing political, economic and social turmoil; and the newly independent states in the former Soviet Union after the collapse of the Communist empire. He can’t tell some of the wild stories, but he does tell some funny ones, like the time he bought dinner for 10 people in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s finest restaurant, for less than one U.S. dollar.
Gedrich retired after 28 years and is now a foreign policy and national security analyst for print, radio and TV. He has appeared on BBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC and has been a guest on hundreds of radio stations throughout the country, discussing world affairs and the Global War on Terror. He is also a contributing author in the book “War Footing” and a frequent guest at embassy parties.
He’s met entertainment celebrities like Jane Russell, John Wayne, Art Linkletter and Pat Boone and political celebrities like Margaret Thatcher, United Nations Ambassadors John Bolton and John Negroponte, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Newt Gingrich Gov. Jerry Brown, Al Gore, Howard Dean and Patrick Kennedy.
He worked closely with late Senator Jesse Helms and his staff when Helms was Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee to pass the American Service Members Protection Act, which Gedrich calls, “one of my proudest achievements.”
His favorite of those he’s met is Lech Walesa – the electrician from Gdansk who led Poland’s Solidarity Labor Movement and who became Poland’s first post WWII freely-elected president after WWII. Gedrich admires Walesa as a man from a humble background who challenged and helped topple the Soviet communist empire.
Gedrich is a political conservative and a super patriot. He’s involved with The Wounded Warriors Project and visits wounded vets at Walter Reed Hospital and martyred vets at Arlington National Cemetery where he always stops at the graves of Greater Pittston soldiers.
Having seen most of the world, Gedrich has a perspective on America. “There isn’t a place that even comes close to the United States in terms of freedom, prosperity and opportunity. I firmly believe that most of the world’s seven billion plus residents would move to the U.S. in a heartbeat if given the chance.”
If there’s a secret to Gedrich’s success, it’s clean living. He could probably fit into his old Avoca Buffaloes football uniform. He doesn’t drink or smoke and he runs everyday, literally. He hasn’t missed a daily run in over 30 years and figures he’s covered over 55,000 miles. He’s run around the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and along the Nile in Egypt.
As though he didn’t travel enough with State — he once flew around the world to urgent assignments in a matter of days from Washington, D.C. to Frankfurt, Germany to Tokyo and back to D.C. – his favorite thing to do in retirement is travel.
He’s been to Machu Picchu, the Great Wall and the Masai Mara international game park in Kenya. He’s been to 48 of 50 states, with North Dakota and Oregon still on his list. He’s been to Yellowstone National Park multiple times.