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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Robert Farquhar by David DeVorkin on 2007 November 15,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
In this interview Robert Farquhar discusses topics such as: family background and childhood; beginning his interest in aviation; joining the Army and fighting in the Korean War; doing undergraduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for aeronautical engineering; George McVittie; orbital dynamics and thinking about getting into cosmology; Sputnik; deciding to go to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to study astrodynamics; working at the RAND corporation; Sam Herrick; Robert M. L. Baker; Stanley Ross; John Breakwell; William Thompson; celestial mechanics; Lagrangian points; Harrison Hagan "Jack" Schmitt; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); James McDivitt; Ari Shternfeld; working at Lockheed; University of California, Berkeley; going and teaching at the University of London; William Bonnor; Ben Lange; doing his Ph.D. at Stanford University; drag-free satellites; Ames Research Center; Goddard Space Flight Center; Bob Groves; Redstone Arsenal; Hermann Bondi; Apollo program; George Low; Norman Ness; Keith Ogilvie; Jeff Briggs; Joe Veverka.
So if you would state your name.
I don’t know which name to use. Bob Farquhar.
What other names do you go by?
Robert Farquhar. I hardly ever go with that one.
Do you ever go with Robert W. Farquhar?
But actually my name was changed when I graduated from high school. I was adopted by my stepfather. So my previous name was Robert Greener, G-r-e-e-n-e-r.
I hope to find out who you are, where you came from, where your interests developed, how they developed, who was influential on you, a biographical profile. You just had told us that you were adopted?
Yes, I was adopted by my stepfather when I was in high school. I was about seventeen or eighteen at the time, and it was kind of difficult taking the name Farquhar, because that’s a hard name. But I didn’t like Greener anyway, because people used to make fun of me. I think that came from the German Gruner, but I’m not sure.
What can you tell us about your father, and where you were born, and your mother, as well?
I was born in Chicago, Illinois. I can tell you very little about my father, except his first name was August. They were boyfriend and girlfriend in high school and they got married right after high school. My mother was like nineteen when she had me and my father left after I was about six weeks old and never to be seen again.
Did your mother actually try to contact —
No, no, she was happy to get rid of him.
So you know nothing —
But they actually got married and everything, yes.
Did your mother ever talk about him and why the split-up took place?
Not really, no, and I wasn’t too curious. He did try to see me when I went out to California in 1945, because he was out in California. So I have several half-brothers and sisters, who I’ve never met out in California. So that’s an interesting fact, at least to me. But my mother was very successful without him. She went to nursing school at thirty years old, and then she ended up going into the Army Nurse Corps during World War II. Afterwards, she was working at Englewood Hospital in Chicago where she was the head nurse on the nightshift. Even when she was a student, she was acting head nurse, which was amazing, but she was older, so then they put her in this management-type role. Then later on she became successful running nursing homes and so forth.
So you were the only child by Greener?
Your mother did not marry again for...?
Thirteen years after my birth then she married again, to Frank Farquhar. Then he became my stepfather and then when I was seventeen or eighteen, I can’t remember exactly, but when I was graduating from high school he adopted me formally.
What is the date of your birth and do you remember where you were born in Chicago?
I think I was born in a hospital, but I’m not certain of that. I imagine I was. That was September the 12th, 1932.
Just thinking in terms of understanding your family and your family background, what was your mother’s nationality and your father’s nationality, before American?
They were both of German ancestry, and I think both from the Hamburg area. I know we had relatives over in Hamburg prior to World War II, but none of them seemed to have survived the big raid of 1942.
How would you describe then your early home life? Your mother raised you as a single mother?
She did, but actually my maternal grandmother was with me most of the time. She had a grocery store and a delicatessen, fairly sizeable one, and there I would have all the ice cream and candy and sweet rolls and everything else I wanted at all times. So I was spoiled rotten. I also had access to all kinds of magazines and newspapers. So I would read almost every magazine that came into the store, at least skim through it, and I was very interested in aviation magazines, and what was it, G8 and His Battle Aces. It was a World War I spy magazine. It’s relatively well known. They’ve even reprinted some of the copies of these magazines.
Where was the market and did it have a name?
The market was at 66th and Normal Boulevard in Chicago, right on the corner. Did it have a name? Not that I’m aware of, just grocery store. Most of the clientele were rather poor people, because — it was part of a larger apartment building, which we would call now some kind of tenement. It wasn’t a very high-class place. In the whole area these were working-class people and so forth. I remember they used to always get credit in the store and my grandmother would extend credit to a lot of people all the time.
What did your grandfather do?
My grandfather was the motorman on a streetcar in Chicago and he died when I was very young of a stroke. So I don’t know exactly how old he was, but he’s not as old as I am now, I know that. [I am 75 years old.]
What were their names?
My grandmother’s name is Rose. Rose Boyens. My grandfather’s name, I don’t know.
Okay, but it’s accessible.
It’s Boyens, I know that, but I don’t know the rest of it.
Did you spend a lot of time at the market? Did you ever work there?
Well, yes, I used to work there selling little things like candy and stuff like that, but it wasn’t a major job; I would just fill in. I couldn’t sell certain things, like cigarettes and cigars and stuff like that, but she had all that stuff there. Cigar boxes were always a big favorite of mine, they were very colorful and then I could use them to build forts. It was a lot of fun.
So how would you describe your home life as a child growing up?
Well, it was interesting because my mother also had some good boyfriends now and then. One in particular, Cliff Marquis or something like that, and he owned a whole chain of restaurants in Chicago with his brother. So that was always nice, because he would take us to nice places, go to the Stephens Hotel a lot, and there’d be a big band there and so forth. Since I was about nine or ten at the time, they’d let me direct the band every once in a while. So I was spoiled terribly. I had everything. So they pretty much let me do what I wanted, except when my mother was around, though. She knew how to discipline me, and she would actually hit me, spank me, when I got out of line, which often happened, because I was a brat.
What are the sorts of pranks you would do or things that you would do to get hit?
One time I remember in particular, I was supposed to be eating all my food, and certain vegetables I didn’t like, and my mother said, “In just two seconds, if you don’t start eating that food, in just two seconds I’m going to do this.” And I said “One, two, whatcha going to do?” and she showed me. She gave me a good spanking that day and I deserved it for smarting off. I couldn’t smart off with my mother, but with my grandmother I could get away with anything. That was the problem. So it was mostly my grandmother that was around, so then I got away with a lot of things. But when my mother would show up then I would think I could still get away with these things, and I couldn’t.
So your mother was a trained nurse?
Did she specialize in anything in nursing, or was it general?
No, she specialized more in management than anything else, and right away they put her into management jobs, even as a student nurse, which is very unusual. Yes, she was a good manager, and later on when I worked at the hospital after I got out of high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and so I worked as an orderly at the Englewood Hospital. A lot of good advantages to that, there’s a lot of student nurses around that didn’t have too many people they could go out with and couldn’t meet too many people, and I had access to all of them. So that was, you know, it was like I was in heaven there for a while. But unfortunately I spent too much time in the kitchen with the nurses and too little time working and my mother, who was the head nurse, had me fired just before I went in the Army. I used to spend all day playing basketball, about eight hours a day, and then I’d go to work.
Now, this is the summer?
This is summer and winter, because I was at the YMCA and then I played on a church basketball team. That was my only interest after I got out of high school.
Okay. But when you were in school, did you have extracurricular activities?
Well, I was trying to go out with girls, but not having the nerve and the confidence to talk to them. I would always fall short, because I’d call them up and they’d answer the phone and I’d hang up, because I was afraid to say anything.
Let’s get to how your interest developed beyond girls.
You mentioned that you read aviation magazines.
Yes, Model Airplane News, Air Trails, and then also Ted Scott flying stories. Of course, I read Hardy Boys. So I did a lot of reading and I did quite good when I was in elementary school, I was at the top of my class and so forth; but somehow when I got to high school I wasn’t that interested in the subjects, then I got more interested in things outside of school and I was interested in sports. I was on the football team, of all things. I was the smallest guy on the team. But I never was a very good player, but I did play once in a while on defense.
Well, let’s find out what —
How I got my interest in aviation.
Well, sure. Was it before school or during your school years?
It’s probably earlier than that. I got my interest when I was in elementary school, because I read all these aviation magazines and I was trying to build model airplanes. First I couldn’t do it very well. But I got very interested in World War I airplanes because of the different types of designs that they had. It seemed to me the World War II airplanes all looked alike in comparison to the World War I planes, which were quite different and had different scales and so forth. Because they didn’t have big engines to power them, so the aircraft designer was the king there. So I tried to make these World War I airplanes and when I took my trip out to California in the summer of 1945, the war was still on, and I remember I was spending most of my time just building model airplanes. There was an aircraft factory nearby and the different experimental airplanes would fly over, like a Douglas Mixmaster. I remember that flying by and that was a strange airplane. It had two propellers in the back of it. It was a pusher plane. It was an experimental. So I was interested in making all these airplanes, and what I always wanted to do was something that hadn’t been done before. So I made an airplane that would fly frontwards and sidewards, and all you had to do was just change the rudder on it and it would like either way. It was a rubber-band thing. I would make things like that and I was interested in World War I planes.
This was based on your own designs, you didn’t build from kits?
No, I didn’t. Then later on when I got in high school I wanted to build a World War I bomber, and of course, there were no kits of something like this, but I had three-view drawings, so I scaled them up and then came up with a structure, putting all the different pieces in, and made something with about a five-foot wingspan. It took me a whole year to make it, and I did this rather than studying for my drafting class or even doing the class drawings. So I ended up getting a, I passing grade barely in the drafting course, but then the work I did outside was actually very sophisticated. But I was interested in doing that stuff and I actually built this plane. It didn’t fly because it was too heavy. That was the something I didn’t understand is that you have to worry about weight. I was worried about strength.
Going back, can to point to anyone or any one instance that stimulated the aviation interest in you?
Well, I was interested in all the movies at the time. One movie in particular I was very interested in was Spitfire, but I’m not sure of that. Anyway, it starred Leslie Howard and he was the designer of the Spitfire aircraft, and I always liked that. It also talked about Willie Messerschmitt. I was admiring both of them for their designs. Then of course, from World War I, I studied a lot about Fokker and his aircraft and he was very interesting also, because there was a lot of interesting designs that he had come up with.
So you were interested in design from the beginning?
Did you have any friends, any childhood friends who had similar interests or did you do these things solitary?
Yes, my childhood friends were interested in other things. So this was something I did on my own pretty much.
Did you subscribe to any of these magazines?
Yes, I think I got Model Airplane News and Air Trails, and then I would go back into the magazine stores and get all the old magazines. But what I was really interested in was the plans and things for World War I aircraft, and so I had a pretty good stash of that stuff, which cost me quite a bit, actually, for those days.
How did you make that money? Or did they give it to you?
I had an allowance. One of my first jobs was a newspaper route for some local newspaper. That was hard work. I remember that, especially in the wintertime. I’d have to carry all the papers around and actually deliver them to the house, and some of the places were pretty messed up, you’d have to go to the back where the porches were at and so forth.
Did you have a bicycle or did you do this on foot?
No, I was on foot. I never learned how to ride a bicycle, and still to this day I don’t know how to ride a bicycle. Well, I can fake it a little bit, you know. My first wife and my kids were trying to teach me how to ride a bike in the parking lot over at the Stanford University and I kept running into cars that were parked there, because I didn’t know how to stop it or turn it I wasn’t too successful.
Were there not too many people with bicycles when you were a kid?
Oh, yes, they all had bicycles and I was one of the few people that didn’t know how to ride a bicycle, and everybody was incredulous that I didn’t know how to ride a bicycle. I also didn’t know how to swim, and I still don’t know how to swim. There are certain things I just didn’t seem to catch onto.
But yet you played basketball?
Yes, I played basketball all the time. I liked that, and football.
Certainly, it isn’t a question of balance or anything.
No, I tried to play baseball, but I was never any good, so —
What schools did you go to? What were their names?
Yale Elementary School. It was on the corner of Yale and 70th Street. I think the other street on the other side was Princeton. They were all named after Ivy League schools. Yes, there was Yale, Princeton, Harvard and so forth.
Was this on the South Side, not far from the University of Chicago.
Oh, a little ways from that. Yes, we were quite a way west of the University of Chicago. I was on the other side of State Street, that great street.
Are there any teachers that you can remember were influential upon you?
Yes, Mrs. McClory and Mrs. Means, or she was Miss Means. These were both teachers that my mother had and my uncle also. They had gone to the same school. So everybody knew who I was right away, even though they were there quite a few years earlier, the same teachers would stay there for a long time. Very nice school, I really liked it. The first part of it was built around the 1870s, right after the Chicago fire, and then they expanded it. When I was in the Army they tore it down and put a brand-new school, but not the same thing.
These teachers, Miss Means and Mrs. McClory were these were all general teachers, there was no specialty, specialization?
They didn’t influence me on anything having to do with aviation or anything like that. The other big interest I had all the time was in history, and I was particularly interested, of course, in World War II, what was going on, and I had maps all over my walls and each day I’d update them with the flags, you know, showing the different movements of the armies and so forth. I used to get books from the Infantry Journal and read all these books and I knew how to read maps the same way soldiers would with contour maps even when I was in the fifth grade.
So you taught yourself or did somebody else help you?
No, all these books taught me. I just read the books and got it out of there.
Were you in any clubs?
I can’t think of any clubs. I was, I guess what they call, monitors now, I was a — what they called marshals at that time in my elementary school they are called montiers now and I became captain of the marshals, for whatever that’s worth.
Oh, a safety patrol?
No, it wasn’t — the safety patrol is different than the marshals.
Oh, what were the marshals?
The safety patrol would operate on the streets to make sure the kids crossed the streets, but the marshals were inside of the school and also in the schoolyard trying to keep order of the younger kids, things like that.
Are you in contact with any of your childhood classmates or friends?
Oh, absolutely. One, in particular, his name is Stan Eikoo. He was in kindergarten with me and he was also one of my best friends in high school, we played football together. I still see him from time to time and we’re in contact. I talk to him on the phone. He’s in Florida right now.
What did he do, go on and do?
He went on and he’s probably more successful as me as far as making money is concerned; at least in the early days he was. He got into various things. He started out he became an elementary school teacher. So he went straight through to Chicago Teachers College and so forth. Both of us started Wilson Junior College at the same time, which is right next to Chicago Teachers College. I was there for a few weeks and I left. I decided that I wasn’t going to make it in college and I really wasn’t that interested at the time, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I figured I wanted to join the Army pretty soon, but I thought, well, I’ll wait until the basketball season is over. So that’s where I was playing basketball eight hours a day and then also working at the hospital, that was such a good opportunity to meet all these nurses and go out with them, which I did as often as possible.
Was there any stigma to being raised by a single parent?
No, I never felt any stigma.
Not from your peers, your friends, or anybody?
No. Then the people in the neighborhood, the kids there kind of resented me, I think a little bit, because they thought I was the little spoiled rich kid, because they were all very poor and I had access to everything in my grandmother’s store and obviously I had a lot more than they did. So there was a little resentment from some of them, but not so much the people I went to school with.
From Yale, what school did you go to?
Then I went to Parker High School.
So you went straight to high school from the elementary, there was nothing in between?
No, nothing between there.
Were there any teachers or events or parts of the high school life that you feel were significant in your history and the growth of your interests?
I can’t think of anything too much there, except I just worked outside of the school on airplanes and things. While I was in school I was just — well, spending all my time trying to chase after women, but not catching them too well. I was interested in sports and things like that and just trying to pass with the minimum effort possible. I found out early on that if you’re gone more than four days out of every week, right, then you automatically flunk the course, but if you’re there at least four days out of the week, then you would pass. So I would always calculate it very carefully and I would be absent just about every Friday. In other words, I just squeaked by when I was in high school and that shows up, because I was in the lower 40 percent of my Parker High School graduating class.
What about aviation, though. Did you go beyond models? Did you ever visit airports or take an airplane ride when you were a kid?
I took an airplane ride early on when I was about nine or ten in an open-cockpit-type of airplane. My mother was holding me at the time, I remember that. It was a biplane. But it was no big deal. Yes, I thought it was interesting.
What was the occasion?
There were barnstormers around. You’d pay about twenty dollars and you’d get an airplane ride for a few minutes.
Did you attend any of the museums in Chicago or the Planetarium?
Yes, we used to go to the museums every weekend, a whole bunch of us. This is during elementary school and then beyond, but it started in seventh and eighth grade. We’d get on the streetcar and go downtown and go from one museum to the other. The one I liked the best was the Museum of Science and Industry, a lot of good things there all the time, especially model trains. I used to have a lot of model trains when I was younger, too.
Did you ever go to the Adler Planetarium?
Yes, I’ve been there. Yes, we would always stop by, but that one wasn’t — you had to walk out to the end of this peninsula and so it was a little harder to get to. Then there wasn’t that much to see there as far as exhibits were concerned. You could see a few things, but we’d go through that one pretty quickly. We spent a lot of time at the aquarium, because there were things happening there and also what they called the Field Museum at the time, which is now the Museum of Natural History.
Do you remember any planetarium show that you ever went to there?
No, I never went to any of the planetarium shows. It wasn’t because of lack of interest, but they were done at different times. I remember we went down there once and that’s when I ended up going over to Soldiers Field and there was a high school football game, championship game, and I got to see that. The weather was freezing there. It was miserable, but it was fun watching a football live for the first time in my life. I remember the teams that were playing. Let’s see. Let’s see, St. George was the Catholic school and I think Phillips High School was the regular high school, was not a denominational school, a Chicago public school Bobbi Mitchell was the big running back. I remember a few things about it. I guess he went on to star with the Redskins later.
Yes. Yes, I’ll bet. But that’s interesting that you didn’t go to any of the planetarium shows. So in high school did you develop any interests in science or mathematics?
I was terrible at mathematics. Oh, that was awful. Well, we had this geometry class; I remember that, how I hated that thing, because it’s all theorem and proof, and I thought, I hate this stuff. It’s a lot of memory work and everything, and I just didn’t like it at all. That showed me right away I had no interest in pure mathematics, which I found out later, as well, but I already knew that. Yes, I’m more interested in how you can use mathematics; I’m not interested in the theory.
So even arithmetic and trigonometry and things like that we’re solving basic problems and not trying to prove anything like in geometry, that wasn’t any more interesting to you?
I didn’t do too well in algebra. I barely got by with a red F, I think it was.
What’s a red F?
If was fair in those days, and D was the failing mark, which meant deficient, I guess. But when I got a red F, then that means I was on the borderline to getting something lower than that.
Was your mother concerned about your schooling?
A little bit, yes. Yes, especially during high school, but then I had a brother and sister, so she had other things to occupy her worries than me. Well, there wasn’t much they could do with me anyway.
How did your mother’s getting married change your life?
Oh, it probably changed a lot. I was no longer the center of attention like I was for my first thirteen years. Yes, that made a big difference, but it didn’t bother me too much, because when you’re in high school you don’t want too much to do with your parents anyway, it seems to me. I’ve noticed all my kids don’t seem to want to have much to do with me after they get a little bit older; they want to be on their own.
Did you continue to hang out at the grocery store?
I’m trying to think when all that stopped. Yes, my grandmother had a couple of stores, and my mother had a store, too, for a while.
Yes, but she would do it off and on. So at one time they had two stores at the same time, one was across the street from Yale School and we had a place to live in the back, and we lived there for a long time. So that was nice.
So your life really centered on that?
Yes, there was always some store around where I had access to everything, so I didn’t have to worry about school supplies or anything, I had as much as I wanted, paper and pens and things like that.
How much did your stepfather, Farquhar — and what was his full name?
He became your stepfather, and I’ve asked you did it change your life too much, but I imagine it must have with his being there. Did he have an interest in your education; was he concerned with your brat behavior or anything like that?
Yes, he was trying — well, he tried several times to enforce certain rules with me, but it didn’t work too well and we didn’t get along too well when I was in high school and for the whole time. After I got out of the Army we got along a lot better, but before that we didn’t get along at all.
What has the difference the Army made in your behavior?
You have to grow up in the Army. That made a huge difference in my outlook on life. Because of my interest in aviation I went to school after I got out of the Army. I went back to Wilson Junior College, where I had dropped out before, by putting in for that place, I was able to get out of the Army three months earlier than I would have otherwise. So I said, “Sure, I don’t mind that.” Plus the fact I worked it out so that then I was overseas at the time and they had to get you back in time to go to start that semester, so therefore they had to fly me back and I didn’t have to go back in a boat. I was dreading that, because that takes sixteen days and you got a lot of KP and stuff like that to do, which I didn’t like either.
Something to do on the boat.
Yes, I didn’t want to be doing any of that stuff.
Before we get to your Army experience, I want to ask, were you the first one in your family to go to college, or think about college?
No, no, no. My mother, of course, went to nursing school — that should be counted as college, I guess.
Did she always hope that you would go to college?
Yes, I think that’s correct, and my uncle on my mother’s side, who was — her only brother, he went to veterinarian school at the University of Pennsylvania and he became a veterinarian, a very successful one, as a matter of fact. I remember visiting him at the University of Pennsylvania in 1939 or ’40, something like that and he took me down and showed me all the things he was doing about taking care of animals, horses, and so forth. Later not only did he become a veterinarian, but he became a trainer of race horses and he also owned them. I used to go out to the racetrack all the time with my grandmother and then he’d have horses in the race and so forth. So that was kind of fun when I was growing up. My mother was worried — because I kept saying that, “Oh, I don’t have to get a job anywhere. I can spend every day going out to the racetrack and just betting on the horses and I can make a living this way. This seems like a lot of fun.” Of course, much to her consternation, I’d go out there and I’d analyze all the racing forms and everything, this is when I’m like ten years old and stuff, and I would win most of the time. So she thought, “This is teaching him a lot of bad habits, because this is what he’s going to end up doing, wasting his whole life going out and betting on horses and things.”
What kind of strategy did you develop? For analyzing the races? You just figured out who were the more likely to win?
Yes, I’d look at their past records and so forth. I didn’t have any system that I know of, but I do remember one race in particular that I couldn’t decide on two horses, so I bet on both of them to win, and they came in in a dead heat.
Did you actually bet?
Yes. As a matter of fact, in those days you could actually walk up to the window, and even though I was a little kid, they would take the bet.
Yes, in those days they would do it. Sometimes there was a guy there who wouldn’t do it, then my parents would take it, or whoever we were with. Her boyfriend, Cliff, the guy that owned all the restaurants, yes, he would take her there quite often. We’d go there in his chauffeur-driven limousine and stuff. That was fun. As you can see, I was spoiled rotten.
So you felt privileged as a child, I guess.
Oh, yes. Yes, yes, definitely. Yes. Yes, we’d go on vacations all the time and things like that. Yes, I always had a lot of stuff. Yes. I was never wanting for anything. I think when my stepfather came in, that’s when times became tougher then.
He didn’t make that much money. He was a letter carrier and he worked for the post office all of his life, outside of the time he was in the Navy during World War II. He traveled a lot during World War II, brought back a lot of nice souvenirs, including a nice German rifle and a Japanese rifle, which he gave to me.
Yes. Yes, I also liked guns when I was younger. Fascinated.
Did you shoot?
Yes, I was in the NRA [National Rifle Association], and I was doing target shooting. Now, it’s all coming back, you know, as you’re talking about these things.
That’s right. That’s what this is for.
I see. I got it now. Okay. Yes, so as a matter of fact, I was doing very well there. I got expert rating or whatever and we would have contests with other clubs that would shoot. Yes, I was in a club there. That was the same time — well, I was in high school, right.
Were you ever in Boy Scouts?
I was in there for a very short time, like we’re talking about a month or so. I thought about, but then it was too much of a thing where everybody was in there as a big team, and I wasn’t interested too much in big team efforts. I’ve always been like that I’ve been kind of on my own. I mean, if the rest of the team is doing what I want, this is good, but if the team wants to go a certain direction that I don’t want to go, and then I’m usually not interested. I guess that’s carried through throughout my whole life.
What convinced you to go in the Army, and when did you enlist?
I enlisted in April of 1951, and I was anxious to get in in a way, because I thought, “This war is going to be over with if I don’t hurry up and get in,” because I wanted to get into the Korean War. Because I’d tried to join the Army during World War II, but obviously I was too young, and I even looked younger than I am. I had no chance, but I kept trying to scheme about ways that I could make myself look older and stuff to join.
Did you actually try?
Well, no. Well, it was senseless for me to go down, because I was thirteen, you know, at the oldest during that time. So really I was twelve, because the war was over in September of '45, really August of '45. But I had aspirations to do this, but I missed out on it, and I had no interest in going in after the war was over, but then when the Korean War started, I was interested. At first I was going to join right away, and then I thought, “No, let’s see. I got this job at the hospital and I can have fun with the nurses. No, let’s do that first, and then we’ll talk about joining.” I was going to go to school and I did start out going to school, but I dropped out. Then I kind of knew I was going to join the Army then; it was just a question of when. I would have gone in sooner, except the basketball season was on, so I wanted to wait until that was over.
You said you took a trip to California in the mid-forties, did I hear you right?
Yes. I left in, it was May of '45 I got there. I remember I took the Santa Fe Chief across the United States, well, from Chicago to Los Angeles. Those were the good days of train travel.
Was this alone?
No, I was with my grandmother. She went out to visit my aunt and uncle. This is the uncle on my mother’s side. He was a veterinarian out there. So I stayed with them at their place on Jenny Avenue, which is still there as I noticed. I get there all the time when I want to rent a car out at LAX [Los Angeles Airport]. Jenny, named after the Jenny aircraft. All the streets out there were named after aircraft. That’s another reason I was interested, because all these streets, there was Fokker Avenue, DeHavilland Avenue, Sopwith Avenue, I believe. So they were all named after these airplanes and most of them after World War I type of designers, which was interesting. So I got out there and it was like VE Day, when I was out there for the first day. I seem to remember that. Then I left there like on August the 1st or something. So I was only out for two and a half months. But I did a lot out there. That stuck with me. Well, that’s when I was making all these airplanes, that’s all I would do all day.
Did you get to Clover Field at all, the Douglas plant, or was it just international, LAX?
That field out there was not LAX. There was an Army airfield there. I still remember, there was hardly anything out there. There were some Jim Dandy store that had just opened up, like a Giant store, grocery store, and that was the big attraction out there. I remember a bunch of airplanes coming in right after VE Day and General [George] Patton was in there and he landed, and then he came by in his Jeep with his shiny helmet on and I was within five feet of him. I remember him coming by. I was impressed with that.
What was the exact purpose for you and your grandmother to go out?
My aunt had a baby and my grandmother was going out there to help her out. I remember they let me out of school early to go out there. I must have been in seventh grade then.
So when you decided, I take it on graduation from high school, did your parents want you to go to college, or was really the Army, your military service —
They didn’t want me to go in the Army.
They did not?
No, no. My mother in particular, especially with the war on and everything, you can understand that one. She felt that that was too dangerous. She knew I wanted to join the paratroopers. Well, because it’s an elite outfit. I wanted to be in something better than just the regular Army.
So is that where you ended up?
Yes, I signed up for them to begin with.
So tell me what your experience was like, what was your unit, where you were stationed. Give me a sort of a chronology.
We were stationed at Fort Sheridan. It’s in Illinois. That’s where all the people who first come in are processed. That was interesting, and my parents and my girlfriends from the nursing school visited me up there. I have lots of photographs then. Anyway, I was only there for a couple of weeks and then they ship you out to wherever you’re going to do basic training, and I ended up going to Fort Knox. That’s where I did my basic training. That’s where I found out that the Army wasn’t as romantic as I thought it would be. It was pretty tough stuff for somebody who’s been spoiled rotten all their life, but I managed to get through. Half of the people that were in there were from the South Side of Chicago and they were mostly draftees and mostly black and poor black. It was difficult, but I got through the whole thing and I even made some good friends there, even, and I got along with them fine. Some other guys that were white didn’t get along too well with them, and there was a lot of trouble.
Yes, I’ll bet there was probably a lot of strife.
There were not that many volunteers in the Army at that time, or in the basic training unit that I was with. They were almost all draftees and they weren’t too happy about being drafted in the Army with the war going on and figuring that they’re going to be going over there and being cannon fodder shortly.
Did anyone ever ask you why you joined, and what did you tell them?
Well, they all knew that I had signed up for the airborne and I was going to go to the jump school after the basic training. So I was looking forward to that. They thought anybody who joined must be kind of stupid.
Did you ever have any second thoughts?
I thought, “Oh, god, I can’t get out of this one. I’m going to have to tough it out.” So I was wondering as to whether this was a good decision or not, because we didn’t have a lot of freedom. We couldn’t go places too often, but we got to downtown Louisville often enough that I got stone drunk for the first time in my life. I remember that night pretty good when I was drinking gin. The first couple of drinks were okay, and then I kept drinking and pretty soon everything was swimming around. I’ll never forget that.
That was Fort Knox?
Yes, that was Fort Knox.
That’s where you took the jump training?
That was just basic training.
Still basic, okay.
Yes, then you’d go home for a week and then after that you’d go down to Fort Benning, Georgia, and that was in the summertime and it was quite hot down there. So that was no fun from that point of view. Most of these guys, they were almost all bigger than me. Now we’re getting into something where they’re almost all volunteers, there were hardly any draftees going into the airborne, because that was all-volunteer group, pretty much. But you made extra money from that, too, which is why some of the draftees went into it. They wouldn’t go in there otherwise. So we had our jump training, which lasted about three weeks. It seems like that’s not a very long time, but there’s a lot of stuff crammed into those three weeks. In the final week you make five jumps and then you get your wings. A lot of guys came up to me afterwards and they said, “Well, I was worried about a lot of guys making it through, but I wasn’t worried about you making it through.” I said, “Why is that?” Because I didn’t have that much confidence. They said, “There’s something about you that I just figured you’d make it through.” It’s like I’m going to get there no matter what, and besides if I flunked out the first time, I was going to keep going.
Did you have any second thoughts while you were in the plane for your first jump?
That first jump I remember pretty well, because I remember looking out the door, which I was sitting almost next to, and I’m looking down there and I was thinking, “Am I really going to jump out of this thing? Well, I have no choice, so I have to do it.” But as many of the guys will tell you, they have more worries about jumping out out of the thirty-four-foot tower, which is a training thing that you go through in your first week. Yes, that usually wipes out a lot of guys right away, because it’s kind of scary jumping out of that thing.
You have ropes, though; you’re on a harness.
You’re on a harness, but you’re not sure that, you know, you can see that that’s a long way down. You’ve got guys judging you as to how you go out. Then anything that you do wrong during that time, they make you do ten or twenty pushups and they harass you. It’s like the Marines boot camp, you know, sort of thing. Officers are right in there with you and have to do those things just the same as anybody else. They don’t treat them — rank means nothing in these places. So we had guys who were colonels and everything, they had to do pushups, and there was a private telling them to do twenty pushups because they didn’t jump fast enough. So that was fun. So it builds up camaraderie though with the people that you’re in the school with, so officers are the same as enlisted men. Then in the second week, then you go to the 250-foot towers. That’s kind of scary also, but you can get through those; most people get through both of those steps. Then you do your five jumps and after the first one that was pretty — after that I thought, “Oh, well, this isn’t so hard.” But then on the next to the last jump they have guys watching you on the ground, and I didn’t land properly, and so somebody came up and got my name. So if you get two demerits, if you get two marks against you, then you’re going to have to repeat the whole three weeks, which is really bad. If it was just one week, it wouldn’t be so bad. So then there was a lot of pressure for the second jump because of that day. Your last two jumps are made on the same day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. So I got a demerit on the first tone, and then I was in the last plane on the last day, and so they know all these guys are the guys who got one mark against them. A lot of pressure on that one, so I tried to do everything just right, and fortunately I got by. So I felt pretty good after that.
Where were you deployed to?
Then I went straight to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the 82nd Airborne, the all-American Division. But I wasn’t happy with that, because I really wanted to go to Korea, and it looked like the 82nd wasn’t going anywhere. I also wanted to join the Rangers when I was in, but they just had deactivated that whole thing and there was no more Ranger training. So I wasn’t able to do that. But I started then in the 82nd and it got kind of boring after I was there for a few months, and I wanted to try to figure some way to get to Korea and I was volunteering for it all the time. So I was at Fort Bragg, and I was having great times on the weekends going to Charlotte, North Carolina, I remember that. I had a lot of girlfriends down there. The living was easy there, yes. I had a guy that I hooked up with who had a lot of nerve, and would be able to pick up girls in a moment’s notice, and he had a car and everything. So I tagged along with him a lot, because even though I didn’t have any nerve at all with women at that time, he did and then naturally I would get one of the girlfriends usually, so that all worked out pretty good. So I was happy with that for a while, but I still wanted to go to Korea and it looked like the war was winding down. I thought, “This is terrible. I’m not going to be able to get in after all this.” So I wrote to my congressman, of all things, and they weren’t too happy about that in the 82nd. But, believe it or not, it worked and he did get me transferred and I was going overseas, and that’s what happened. It was in late 1952. So I was in the 82nd for about a year or so. I was in there for just a little over a year, and that was enough for me. I was in Pioneer and ammunition platoon that did demolition work and we — that was fun, because we practiced with TNT and we’d blow things up. So that was fun. But the other part wasn’t fun; we’d have to build bridges and stuff like that and we had to cut down these trees. I remember that was hard work. I didn’t like that too much.
How many drops did you make?
Oh, then? Well, in total for the whole time I was in the Army, it was like fifteen jumps, which is very little. I mean, you had to jump once every three months in order to get your extra pay. So I managed to get in about the minimum. I wasn’t that anxious to jump out of planes. Some people liked to do it.
But that was how you were deployed, right, typically?
Yes. Yes, you certainly had to do it once every three months and they would have different drops now and then.
But you did this in combat?
No, no, I always wanted to get a combat star on my wings, which was one of my big goals. I got overseas and that was in late 1952, but I was deployed to the 187th Regimental Combat Team, which was, at that time, stationed in Japan. They had just come back from their Korean tour. They would go back and forth all the time. They were under the command at this time of General William C. Westmoreland, who became the commander in Vietnam, the overall commander. He was a one-star general at the time. Anyway, a regimental combat team about five thousand men. They had their own artillery and stuff like that, and they put me in the artillery to begin with, which I didn’t like. I thought, “I don’t know anything about this. What am I doing in there?” So I really didn’t learn too much about that, but I soon transferred over to the infantry after that. Then we’re still in Japan and they would go in the field all the time, and up in the mountains of Kyushu to do their training. There are things by there that are famous, Mt. Aso, which is an active volcano, actually.
So did you see action in Korea?
So we had all this training up there, and then all of a sudden they said, “Well, you did real well on your IQ test and so forth, you know, when you came in. So we’re looking for guys to go to clerk typist school.” So I thought, “Well, anything’s better than going out in the field all the time.” So I thought, “Okay, I’ll go there.” So that’s what I did and they taught me how to type and everything, so that was useful. Then I went back, it was really nice because the clerk typist, even though the rest of the unit infantry would go out in the field and be up in the mountains and training for about a month. I would be back in the base camp, because I had to do the morning report. This is the most important document in the Army, every day that has to go in, and it can only have two strikeovers, no erasures whatsoever, and so you have to type it very, very carefully. So this is something that had to go in. So I had to remain back with all the other troops back at the home base, except I couldn’t go into town, because when the infantry units were in the field, then everybody had to stay — they were restricted to the base. But I had my artillery braid hat, which was red instead of blue, so I’d put that on and I typed up my own pass then saying that I was in the artillery group and I’d go into town every night. See, I’ve been in trouble for a long time, and I’ve gotten by with it so far.
So you did not get into serious trouble?
No, I didn’t. No, they never caught me.
Did other people do that?
No, they would never do that. I remember once, I’d come back in late at night and the whole place was closed down, so how am I going to get in? I came in after the curfew and you’re supposed to come back. So I’d climb in over the wall and there’d be guards around there, but I’d say, “Hey, I’m going to climb over the wall.” And the guy would say, “Okay. Well, don’t tell me about it. I’ll go down to the other end.” And I’d climb over the barbed wire and stuff and get inside. Then one day I thought the whole war would be over before I got into it, and I was unhappy about that, although the other guys, almost everybody else there had been in action just before I got there. They all had their Combat Infantry Badges on and I wanted to get that Combat Infantry Badge so bad. You see, I’m pretty naïve here, not realizing what can happen to you, right? But when you’re twenty years old you don’t worry about things like this. They all thought I was crazy and I probably was, but I had to do it, anyway, because I’d been looking forward to this for so long. So one day all of a sudden I’m in the NCO Club, I guess, and I was playing the slot machines, and all of a sudden there are all kinds of sirens around and there’s an MP jeep coming up, “Everybody out, get back to your barracks, we’ve got to leave in twenty-four hours.” Evidently there was a bunch of North Korean prisoners that had been let go by Syngman Rhee, who was the president of South Korea at the time. [Tape malfunction].
So this is tape one, side two.
He didn’t want them repatriated to the North. We were getting our prisoners repatriated and they were about to sign a truce agreement. So I thought, oh, I missed out anyway, because nothing will come of this, but it was kind of fun. We were all given parachute scarves, which were held for us at the time by Westmoreland. He said, “You’ll know you’re going back into action when we issue these parachute scarves.”
What’s a parachute scarf?
Well, it’s just, it’s a scarf sewed from a parachute, its camouflage and everything. So when we’re going to make our next jump, he was going to issue all these scarves to everybody. So he did and we got on the airplanes, but we didn’t make any jump, we just flew over to Kimpo Field in Seoul, where we deplaned and then we went up to a place right behind the front lines. We stayed there for about a month, and I thought, “Well, I’m still not going to get into anything,” and the truce talks are going on. But then the Chinese mounted a huge offensive right at the end of the war, because they were trying to get better terms, and they thought they’d make some progress and overrun some of the positions. So then we were called up to the front lines. I still remember going up there the first time.
You were already there, yes.
Yes, I was already there, I was in Korea. This time I was no longer the company clerk at this time. I had gone back in; I was the first rifleman. Let me see, when did I become — no, I was first rifleman when we were training. I got it a little bit wrong, but this isn’t important anyway. I thought, well, here’s another good job and that is to have the 3.5 rocket launcher, because it’s not very heavy and then I had a sidearm, Colt .45, and that’s a lot easier than carrying around all these heavy M1 rifles or the BAR that the first rifleman carried sometimes. I didn’t want to do any of that stuff.
So you didn’t actually jump in action?
No, I would have liked to, but they’d already made two combat jumps in the war, the 187th. They made the only ones. First one was north of Pyongyang and the second one was after they’d gotten pushed back and went back again, and that was at Munsan-Ni. But now they just went up to the lines to man a spot in the lines. So we were sent up there. I didn’t know where I was going. They put us up on top of Hill 604 or something like that, 604 meters, I guess. The first day — it was raining all night and everything and miserable, and they just told us to dig a foxhole up there and I didn’t know which side of the lines I was at, and I didn’t know where the Chinese were or anything. I thought they were behind me on the other slope, and instead they were right in front of me, but I didn’t know that until they started shelling us. That was bad, because the shells started coming in a zigzag pattern and the next zag would have been right on top of us, but the other one wasn’t very far away. It was like twenty yards away. I could hear a big piece of shrapnel whizzing over my head. Fortunately, if it hadn’t whizzed over my head it would have gotten me. There was an ammo carrier for the 3.5 rocket launcher, he carried all the ammo, and I just had the launcher, which was light. He didn’t have a flak jacket so I got on top of him that night, because I had the flak jacket and he didn’t.
Oh, so you were his flak jacket?
Yes, but I didn’t think there was any real danger, until stuff started coming in and there probably was.
Your experience, did it change your view of life, or what you wanted to do in life?
Well, I was praying a lot then.
You were praying?
Oh, yes, big time.
I mean, seriously formally going to religious services?
No, I was praying in the foxhole.
Oh, yes, okay.
Because after that first one, I could see that this was no fun and games. We were shelled many times after that. Then I made the mistake one day, I’m sitting out there sunning myself, this time I knew where the Chinese were, and they were on the other side, and I knew they could see me. So I was sitting up there on the edge with a bunch of sandbags sitting on top of them, and I had to do this [gestures — flipping my nose], I went this way, and the next thing you know a bunch of shells started coming in. [laughs]
And they could see you?
Yes, they saw me with their binoculars, yes.
And they retaliated?
Yes. I had to smart-off to them, see. The usual style. I haven’t changed a bit. But that’s okay, I got into some of the slit trenches there and everything and even though there was some stuff that came close, because there was some stuff dribbled down and it was shrapnel. I could feel it, it was hot. So they zeroed in on us. But the good thing that happened all the time was that we had a lot of airplanes that would come over from time to time and bomb the hell out of these guys. They were sitting on this other ridge over there. Yes, it was fun watching them, because these planes, they’d just go almost straight down and you could hear them screaming down, and they’d let loose with a bunch of bombs and everything and that’d go off. Then with the planes coming up, you’d think all the people there are covering up and dead and so forth, and yet there’d be all kinds of ground fire going up right afterwards. So I don’t know, it didn’t seem to bother them. Whew. Then we also had tanks down in the valley that were shelling the place. You know, it was like having a front row seat to the whole war. Then one time then the worst experience, though, was one night the Chinese offensive was going on and they actually came down fairly close to us, and the bad thing from my point of view is my sidearm was useless, because I was cleaning this .45 about the first day I was up there, and this little spring about an inch long went twang and down the side of the mountain, so my .45 was inoperable. So I didn’t have anything except my three-and-a-half-inch rocket launcher, which wasn’t worth much up there on top of the mountain.
There were no spares or replacements?
I tried to get it, but they’d say, “Yes, we’re going to bring it to you one of these days,” and it never came. But the Chinese, I could hear them down there at the bottom of the hill. So what I did was — but one thing I had was a lot of hand grenades, so I just rolled those down over the side and I know they did some real damage because I could hear the guys screaming. Okay, enough of war stories.
Did not any of this change your view of life and what you wanted to do after? Did you have any thoughts at all about what you’d do after the war?
Yes, while I was in the Army I kept watching these airplanes going over and thought, “Hey, this is for me. This is what I want to do. As soon as I get out, then I’m going to try to join the Air Force as a Pilot, as soon as my time is up in the Army.” I did try to do that later on. They wanted people with college education, but at that time they were taking, this was after the war was over, but they were still taking high school graduates to train to fly. I took some of the early physicals and then they were not encouraging me too much, so I thought, “Oh, to hell with this.”
Do you know why they weren’t encouraging?
I don’t remember exactly. But I remember then I was going to go to some private school to learn how to fly multi-engine planes and things like that to get a pilot’s license. I was thinking about going into flying school and I was going to become an airline pilot. I thought that’s what I was going to do.
So your dream was flight, you wanted to fly?
How far did that go?
It cost a lot to go to these flying schools, and I thought there’s no guarantee you’re going to get a job, and the more I looked into it, it looked like if you didn’t go in the Air Force, the chances of you getting a job was pretty small. So I thought, “No, I don’t want to do this.” Well, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do then, and I still wanted to chase girls, of course.
Were you injured at all?
I see a number of pictures on your bulletin board, the three black-and-whites. The middle one is about jumping out of the plane. Was that your first flight?
No, that was one of our training jumps in Japan; one of our training camps in Japan. It was at this interesting place where there was an old kamikaze airfield that they had used in Oita, Japan. So we had a C-47 that was taking off, dropping people, then landing again and taking them up, so we’d get out jumps in. So I had my camera with me and I gave it to the guy and he took a nice picture of me.
What were the occasions on the left and the right? The left looks like a dinner scene.
That’s in the Armed Forces USO place in Tokyo right after the war with a bunch of guys in the same unit as myself.
And on the right, where were you?
That’s before I became the clerk typist. This was on a twenty-six-mile march back from the mountains in Kyushu. So this is about halfway back. We were taking pictures all along the way, but this is the one that the guy took of me. I like that one.
Well, when the ceasefire came where were you?
I was on the front lines, and I remember that very well, because they took all our ammunition away early on in the evening. That was kind of strange. The ceasefire took effect at midnight, and for the half hour before that, the United States got rid of all the artillery. They must have gotten rid of everything they had, this one last big bombardment. It was like the Fourth of July, you know.
They wanted to make sure they used it?
They wanted the other guys to keep their heads down, I guess, to where they couldn’t retaliate, and so then at midnight, it might have been ten p.m., but I thought it was midnight, and everything stopped, it was totally quiet. It was very strange. The following day we were all out in the open, we could see the Chinese across the way, everybody’s cleaning up everything, and picking up all the cigarette butts and old ammunition and stuff like this. Yes, we had to clean up the whole place. Then we went back a little bit further and then we dug trenches for the next several weeks just in back of the demilitarized zone. That was hard work, too. I didn’t like that part too much.
But you knew you were going to be getting out?
But we knew we were going home. We didn’t want to be there in the wintertime, and we did get back. I had several trips to Tokyo and you saw that one picture with my latest girlfriend. That was great. I remember one thing when I went to Tokyo that New Year’s, because New Year’s is a big celebration for the Japanese. I was in a Japanese bar, and we all wore our uniforms over there all the time; we had to.
Like the one on the left there?
Yes, right. So I’m in the bar and here are all of these Japanese soldiers from World War II, and they were so friendly and there was camaraderie there because I was in the Army and they were telling me all their stories about World War II. It was kind of fun. Then the other thing, I took my girlfriend, that one you saw in the picture, I took her to a movie that was playing at the time over there, From Here to Eternity. We go to this theater and there’s all Japanese in the theater. I’m the only American in the whole place and I have my uniform on. It was okay for a while, except all of sudden they’re going to be bombing Pearl Harbor, and everybody is stirring in the audience, and I’m sitting there, a little nervous, the only American. Here I am in my uniform, it was an American uniform, and there were all the Japanese, and this isn’t that long after the time, right?
If you were to characterize your Army experience in terms of changing your life, would you say it changed your life, and if so, how?
Oh, it absolutely changed my life, because then I became more serious about everything and I started thinking about my future more. I thought about staying in the Army for a while, but I still wasn’t that ambitious and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to school. So I got a job right away at Wilson Meatpacking Company in Chicago. I had to do something. I wasn’t thinking about going back to school right away. I was thinking still of this flying school business and I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I had to get a job in the meantime, so I got the job and I was a clerk in the garage there where they had all the trucks that took the meat out to the stores and things like that. It was a pretty easy job. I spent most of my time doing crossword puzzles. They showed me how to work a slide rule, which I learned pretty quickly and they were impressed that I could learn how to use the slide rule so quickly. So I was chasing girls again, yes, and the usual sort of thing, getting nowhere. Still calling them up and when they answered the phone I’d hang up.
You still were doing that?
I still didn’t have enough confidence, yes. Then one day I was with some of my friends who I played basketball with, I was another basketball team again, and they had been going to the University of Illinois. They said, “Oh, you ought to think about going back to school.” I said, “Well, I’m not too good at school. I don’t know.” But they convinced me, well, okay, maybe I should try it. So I went to summer school at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier in Chicago — the world’s longest hallway of any school, about a mile long, one continuous hallway. You’d look down from one end to the other, and these were all these classrooms —
Where’s Navy Pier?
It’s right downtown. It’s close to where the planetarium is. It was built during 1933, the World Exposition but it then just stayed there and they didn’t know what to do with it, so it ended up they used it for classrooms for the University of Illinois when they decided to have a Chicago campus. So that was for the first two years only, that’s all they would do. So I went down there.
You weren’t old enough to remember the Century of Progress?
No, I was one year old.
Yes, right, okay. So you went to Illinois, Navy Pier campus?
Question of entrance, were your grades good enough?
No, my grades were terrible, but Illinois had lots of strange things going on in those days.
But you had the G.I. Bill didn’t you?
Yes, I had the G.I. Bill, so I thought, — “Yes, I can use this,” and I had used it to go a half a year at Wilson Junior College. Remember, I went there right out of the Army. So I went there for a half a year and I got good grades there. That probably made a little bit of a difference, although not much. They would let anybody in. You didn’t have to have good grades to get in in those days, and that’s the reason I got in, otherwise I never would have gone to school, probably. Then they gave you entrance examinations, but just to see where to place you, and I remember taking the math test, that was a real joke. I thought, what is this, “X” equals — what does “X” mean? I don’t understand what any of this means. They gave me an algebra test, so they could see that I knew nothing, except I did know how to multiply and subtract and divide. I knew basic arithmetic and I could do that flawlessly, but that was it. I couldn’t do anything else. So algebra and stuff was hopeless. So they put me in Remedial algebra class, which meant five days a week for the summer school, right, and you got no credit for this one. This was just to get you in the regular algebra class later. So I went to that thing and this time I seemed to learn it pretty easily. I got an A in that thing and so forth, and then you go ahead and take your regular algebra class and I did well there, and I did well in everything. I was getting almost all As. Yes, once in a while I’d get a B. I felt like I failed if I got a B.
You’re a few years older. You’re now taking life seriously. That’s what it took.
Yes, it did, it took a lot. I was still playing basketball and stuff like that. I was able to find some girlfriends that I got nerve enough somehow to ask to go out. I was rejected by many. [laughs] So I’m going to school there, but I know that that’s only for the first two years, so I’m getting a basic engineering degree I’m taking chemistry and physics courses. A lot of dynamics courses.
Were you getting interested?
Yes, I was getting interested in that.
Can you recall why you were getting interested?
I was going to be going down to the state campus in Champaign Urbana, then, where you have to specialize more, and I was going to go into aeronautical engineering. Oh, and I was interested in aeronautical engineering. I wanted to become the world’s most famous aerodynamicist. That was my big goal.
How did you even hear about or learn about what an aerodynamicist is or does? What did you think they did?
They designed airplanes. That was the main thing. I figured you had to know aerodynamics in order to design airplanes, and I figured you had to know all this math calculus, of course, and then analytical geometry. Even though I was really bad in geometry in the old days, well, this was better because it’s theorem and proof, you know, you did other things.
It’s like pre-calculus or something?
Yes, it was fun.
Yes, you actually manipulate things.
Yes. That was kind of fun.
Were your teachers better?
Yes, we had pretty good teachers there.
Any of them that you remember?
I can’t remember the guy’s name, but I remember one guy in particular who taught calculus? Louie is the only thing I can remember about him.
That’s his first name?
Yes, that was his first name. He was good. There was a good chemistry teacher there, also. I don’t remember his name, though. Then there was some German guy who taught us dynamics and we used to make jokes about him, that he’d fly into Meigs Field every day, get out of his ME 220, you know, and have his leather jacket and stuff. [laughs]
Was he a German German?
Yes, he was a real German. Yes, he as fun. Anyway, but then I went down to the University of Illinois to the main campus.
Yes, in Champaign and then I finally had my dream of a real aeronautical engineering courses. So that was fine. But I was always interested in space flight, too, because even in Air Trails magazine they used to have articles about flying off to other planets, and I thought, “Gee, this is cool. Can this really happen?” I got interested in that.
So from what age do you think? Air Trails would be from the 1930s, late thirties?
No, this is from probably — the forties when they were talking about spaceflight a little bit.
What about the idea of an orbit? Do you have any recollection of becoming aware of Newtonian Physics?
Just when I took some physics courses and they talked at Kepler’s Laws and things like that. I was interested in the motion of the planets and stuff.
But you didn’t immediately see what you might do with it?
No, I didn’t see where I’d do anything there. I think when I went to school at Champaign-Urbana, well, then we were coming up to Sputnik, because, let’s see, I went down there, that wasn’t the first year I was down there. I started my first year in January 1957 and my first class in Celestial Mechanics in September 1957.
Did you ever go to Park Ridge, Illinois, where the Air Force had something of a museum?
So you don’t remember seeing any World War II technology?
Well, there’s a lot at the Museum of Science Industry.
Did you ever see the balloon gondola of Piccard?
Yes, where did I see that?
That was in, wasn’t it Chicago?
Oh, it was in that museum.
The Field Museum had meteorites and they had other things in there that I really remember now, and I was looking for it recently, but I didn’t see it there, it’s gone now. They had a plaster cast of the near side of the moon, and it filled the whole wall, like a hemisphere. So I would spend time looking at all that stuff and wondering about it.
Well, did it ever seem to you to be a competitor for your —
Not for the aviation, no. Then my grandmother took me a lot into Washington [D.C.] and later I stopped at the Smithsonian [Institution] many times, especially the Quonset huts where the [Smithsonian National] Air and Space [Museum] was. Now, when I first came here, though, I remember the Spirit of St. Louis was in that 1875 Building [A&I — Arts and Industries], it was hanging in there. Also the Star-Spangled Banner was there. They had a lot of guns, which were all the melted down for scrap metal about a couple of months after Pearl Harbor. I remember that. I thought, how could they do that? I thought this is terrible. But they were being patriotic, I guess, they needed the scrap metal somehow. I remember that, because my grandmother told me, they said, “Remember all those guns we saw there?” because I came here right after Pearl Harbor and I remember going to the top of the Washington Monument and this Marine held me up through the bars that they had then so I could look out. I remember that was kind of scary, I was up high, but I remember seeing Eleanor Roosevelt, she was sunning herself in the garden down below. Yes, I remember that.
You could see her?
Yes, you could definitely see her. Yes, they pointed it out to me, I didn’t know what was going on, but people pointed it out that that was her. I was at the University of Illinois.
That’s right, taking aerodynamics.
Yes, I was taking those and somehow, yes, then that — because the fall of 1957 because the first semester was in January 1957. I must have been the second semester I was there, because I was signed up for this orbit course from George McVittie. He taught the course. It was a very small class. There was probably, at the most, ten people in the class, but mostly graduate students, although there were some undergraduates. One of the undergraduates was a guy by the name of Bob Johnson and he was a former Navy pilot, so that was fun, because I got to talk to him about what it was like to be in there and what you had to do to be a Navy pilot and all this kind of stuff. So I became real good friends with him and his wife. He invited me over to their little Quonset hut home there, which married student housing. I’d go over there and we’d stay there, I’d stay there until about three o’clock in the morning sometimes and we’d be drinking beer and playing games and stuff like this. We had this one thing we used to do, an experiment with the Foucault Pendulum. We’d tie a beer can to a thread and try to see how this would work. It turns out he got killed in an airplane crash and I ended up marrying his wife. She was my wife for thirty years. I was thinking about her today as I drove in even. I think about her a lot. More so now that I’m older I think back a lot. You can tell I’m getting old
Let’s go back to George McVittie.
He’s an old English-style professor. Well, he’s Scotch, actually.
A graduate student of Sir Arthur Eddington.
What was the actual course you took from him?
It was called Celestial Mechanics I.
So it was introductory celestial mechanics, okay.
Yes. Only he went pretty far with it. He went into perturbation theory and all that kind of stuff. I started at Champaign in January 1957. In ’55 I was at that place, ’56 — I may not have been at the University of Illinois in Chicago for two years.
Do you remember the text? Did he use Smart Spherical Astronomy?
He used Smart, not spherical astronomy that’s where we learned spherical trigonometry. That was my first time that I was exposed to that. I thought, “Oh, this is kind of cool. This is different than the regular trigonometry.”
He also had a book on celestial mechanics?
We didn’t really use a textbook; he had all his own notes. But that was the one that he recommended and I never did like Smart. It was pretty classical.
Oh, sure. Oh, yes.
I didn’t care too much for it. But I was interested in a lot — then we used another text. What was it? It was an English thing on dynamics, but the guy had a lot of stuff on orbits in there with a couple of good chapters on that. “Dynamics” by Ramsey, it had a lot of stuff on central force fields. So that was a good course and his tests were pretty hard, because he would do it in the old classical English style, it was closed book and you had to remember some of the basic formulas and so forth. So you really had to bone-up on this thing. You had to do a lot of memory work on top of everything else, and go through a derivation of the two-body problem. Then he would give you an application at the end. So I ended up with a B in that course. I was happy to get a B. But I took the course the following year and I got an A. That was his second course, which is where I learned about the three-body problem and I was fascinated with the three-body problem, especially Libration points and stuff like that. That’s where I got interested in that. That was my first exposure to that. Then when I got the book by [Forest Ray] Moulton on celestial mechanics, I thought, “Wow, look at all the mathematics in this. This is interesting. Oh, here’s the three-body problem. Oh, this is great stuff.” So that’s where I really got interested in that type of thing.
Did you get interested enough to replace your interest in aerodynamics?
Yes, then I knew I wanted to go into spaceflight somehow, and I was interested in trajectories.
What was the attraction?
Well, the orbit theory was interesting.
Yes, all the math involved in it, I liked it better than the stuff in aerodynamics. I mean, I was working on all these equations, but I couldn’t get any physical meaning out of them, like I could — the orbit dynamics, you could kind of get a physical feel for what was going on somehow. You could see what was happening, and it’s all deterministic. A lot of the other stuff is not as deterministic as this, the aerodynamic theories.
Just depends on how many variables you’ve got.
Yes, it was multi-variable. Things like ordinary differential equations were a lot more meaningful to me than partial differential equations. I didn’t like partials too much.
But you got perturbation theory to deal with and the theory of the moon, which gets pretty complex.
Yes, it does. No, we didn’t get into all that stuff.
Yes, but you knew it was coming, probably.
Did you talk to McVittie at all about your career interest changing?
Well, it was clear I wanted to get into cosmology, I wanted to learn about relativity theory, and I knew he was into that. So I said, “I want to learn about that.”
He was into a particularly interesting, but not mainstream, kind of cosmology. He was a little different than the main-stream; at least he was more British, of course.
He was more interested in observational stuff than he was in just pure theoretical things, although his book was all theoretical.
It was all theoretical, yes.
But then after him, there came a lot of books after that.
Well, did he encourage you to observe or get directly interested in astronomy?
No. I thought about transferring to astronomy a couple times. There wasn’t that big of an astronomical group down there, there were only a few graduate students in there. I thought maybe I better not, you know, I better finish up what I got, because I was almost done. One thing I left out when I took my first course in orbital dynamics, then Sputnik went up after we were two weeks into the course and the first thing we did was figure out what the orbit was and everything. So that was kind of fun, because this is something real that was going on and I was involved in the mainstream of this thing. So that was good. That motivated me a lot.
Where were you when you heard about Sputnik? Do you remember?
I was taking this course every weekday, because the following day he came in and went — and as a matter of fact, they had done some radio tracking of it right there at the University of Illinois, and they were trying to work out an orbit. So we got right into it firsthand.
So you had radio equipment?
There was a guy by the name of George Swenson. He was involved in some kind of radio telescope later on that McVittie was in charge of, I guess, a parabolic. I wasn’t involved in that, I just saw that he was doing that.
Did they ever try to recruit you?
No, I was an aeronautical engineer, they didn’t bother me.
So you stayed with that?
Yes, I stayed with that. Then they started giving more courses on human aspects of spaceflight after Sputnik, and I took those courses, too. I was interested in the whole thing and I was going to work in that field somehow.
Do you remember who taught those courses?
No, I don’t remember.
Were they in engineering or astronomy?
Neither, I think the guy was a biologist or something. The topic, human factors in spaceflight. Then we had design courses about using rockets and how to get up into orbit. That was the first design course, I remember that.
Where was that taught?
That was in aeronautical engineering. Yes, they were getting into the rocket, and I took a course in rocket propulsion where they used Sutton’s first book. That was all interesting to me, as well, but I still wanted to get into cosmology. I was thinking of that anyway, but I didn’t really get into that until later. I was more interested in trajectories and orbits and what I could do there. I finished in February of ’59. I got my bachelor’s, which was sooner than I probably should have. So I finished in three and a half years instead of four. I took a lot of courses in that last year. In 1957 I got a job with Continental Can Company in Chicago at their research plant and I watched all the work that those guys were doing on designing the machines for making cans, basically. They’re actually pretty complicated, you know. But I watched what those guys were doing on their drafting boards and they’d be there and five o’clock would come and they’d all be sitting around waiting to get out of there to punch the clock. I knew I didn’t want to do this. That kind of showed me that I didn’t want to go that direction. But that was a nice summer job and it kind of taught me that that’s not what I want to do.
Did you have to work to get through school?
Not too much, no. I still had the G.I. Bill.
Did you have support from your family?
Yes, they helped me out. I was driving a new car and everything.
What kind of car did you have?
Ford, 1955 Ford. It was a 1955 Ford Fairlane. Buckskin brown and snowshoe white. I kept that car for a long time. So I had the job at Continental Can Company. Then I took my two orbit courses and so I thought, well, I’m ready for bigger things. So in 1958 then I took a job out here in Washington at the Naval Ordnance Lab. There I worked on the SUBROC missile. It had some orbit type of ballistic path for part of the time.
When it ran out of gas?
So that was fun working on that.
How did you get the job?
Oh, they had people that came around to interview you and they were only too happy to get anybody to come out to work for government laboratories. A friend of mine came out here with me.
So you moved to Washington and where did you live?
Yes. Let’s see. I lived on East-West Highway in Hyattsville. When I came out here, I remember because there was this beautiful lady that was coming out here, Mona Danker. I remember her name very well. I’ve been thinking about her a lot recently. Because I always wondered what happened to her. The thing is that she needed a ride back to the University of Illinois from here. She was going to be staying in Arlington, with some of her relatives, her brother and sister-in-law, and she wanted a ride back. So I took one look at her and thought, “Yes, I’ll be happy to give you a ride back when I come out here.” So when I came out here. I drove all the way from Silver Spring into Arlington every evening to her and take her out almost every night. I was going to marry her. I asked her to marry me, but it didn’t work out and she didn’t come back to Illinois and that was the end of that. But everything ended up all right. Nice Jewish girl.
Did the work at Naval Ordnance change your ideas.
Yes. Well, they were big in aerodynamics, the group I was in, anyway. Who I was working with there? A guy by the name of Kissinger, I think his name was. I think that’s right. I’ve got it written down somewhere, all this stuff. Anyway, he was a nice guy and he wanted me to come there after I graduated and everything. I thought about it. Let’s see, in ’59 when I did graduate, February of ’59, I went on straight through to graduate school at the University of Illinois and they gave me a research assistantship and I was helping somebody with writing a book on low-thrust systems and so forth.
Did that book get published?
No. He was going to do something, I forget what it was. An Aerodynamicist guy by the name of Kryzblotski. He went to the University of Michigan later on, but he was at the University of Illinois and he was highly thought of by some of the people there as a good teacher, but I thought he was a terrible teacher, really. I was questioning why I even bothered to mess around with him. He was my advisor, though. What was I going to do my thesis on? Having something to do with one of his contracts. But then I became interested in Sam Herrick at UCLA. Oh, yes, he had astrodynamics. Yes, that’s for me. Oh, I’m going out to UCLA and go to work in Astrodynamics.
How did you hear about Herrick, or did you just read his work?
When I was here in ’58 — working at Naval Ordnance. There was a whole bunch of seminars that were given for NASA people in the Museum of Natural History or the other one, one of those museums in the auditorium there, and they got the stuff out of this book called Space Technology, which became a book later. There was a whole series of lectures by Herrick and other people, and they were on film. The people weren’t there, but there were these films of these people giving lectures and then you had all their notes and everything. I remember, because I sent my girlfriend Mona down to NASA to get the actual book, the hardcopy for me. Then she actually went down there and got all this stuff for me. She was really nice to me.
So that was pretty instructive. I got to get in and learn all this orbit theory, because I can design all these orbits and all these missions to go somewhere. Krafft Ehricke was another guy, that I liked all his books. Yes, he had some stuff in the seminars as well.
Did you talk to anybody about what choices you had? Did you talk to McVittie about Herrick?
This is all completely on your own?
Yes. Yes, I just thought, well, this is what I’m going to do, and okay, he’s out at UCLA, so I’ll apply for UCLA and they tentatively accepted me and all that. So I thought, well, I need to get a summer job, though, so I went down and interviewed with RAND Corporation, in Santa Monica, and they gave me a job out there and I was working in real orbit theory, I was working in designing interplanetary trajectories to Mars and to Jupiter and all this, and asteroids and things like that. I worked for a guy by the name of Eugene Levin. I lived somewhere around the Pier on Ocean.
Working at RAND in the summer before I attended UCLA was a good experience, because those guys were really forward-thinkers. They were right at the frontier, I thought, “Wow, this is great stuff.” I really liked that place, because you got to get a top-secret clearance even to walk in the place.
You did have the clearance?
Did you ever read Lyman Spitzer’s 1947 RAND Report? Did you go back and read them at all?
I read a lot of RAND reports, but mainly on astrodynamics.
Yes, this was on the feasibility of the world-circling spaceship.
No, I didn’t read that.
Okay. So that didn’t have a place in your life?
Where were you based then? You were still in Illinois?
No, I left Illinois, that summer I left because I got the job at RAND. So I drove out to Los Angeles in two and a half days from Chicago. That’s a tough drive.
So you were thinking of coming to UCLA when you took the RAND job?
Yes, I’d already been accepted. I already knew I was going there in the fall.
Well, who else did you meet who was at RAND that summer, or others around in the area? Did Herrick show up at RAND?
I met, Ann Goddard.
The secretary at RAND, who I fell in love with. That’s another one, who I met many years later even and she became — but I had a chance to marry her, but I blew it. Well, I should have married her, some nights I think that way, but I ended up all right.
But among the scientists there were people like Dinsmore Alter who were interested in the moon, who were —
Yes, never heard of him.
Any other astronomers who were there?
Yes, there were some astronomers down there. I remember that, because I remember when we had the big fire in at the astronomical end of the place, in the one guy’s office who left his hotplate on, and they were pretty unhappy down there because they lost a lot of good glass photographic plates.
Were you involved at all, were there any people talking about orbit theory from using satellites to improve the shape of the earth and ballistic trajectories and stuff like that?
There were probably people like that working on those things, but I didn’t deal with them. I was working with Eugene Levin mainly, and he was interested in how to get to planets and so forth. So I liked that, that was fun.
Yes. Wasn’t that rather far-thinking at the time?
Yes, probably. Then later on, just a couple of years later I was working at Lockheed.
At that time?
Yes, and that was at Palo Alto — that was later. Now we’re getting into ’62. I went there and I worked with Stan Ross, who was doing the Empire study, and the Empire studies are pretty famous. Early manned interplanetary reconnaissance. There’s even an acknowledgement. That’s the first time I got my name in print, you know, there’s an acknowledgement that I helped them. I did all the plots. But he was looking at, it was a contract with Marshall and they were interested in how to get to Mars, and how would you do this and looking at the different launch years and everything. It was kind of complicated.
In that first summer at RAND, before you started studying at UCLA, was Levin or anyone else interested in lunar transfer orbits, in lunar orbits and how to get to the moon?
Yes, there was a guy by the name of Buckheim. Yes, he wrote a lot of stuff on three-body problem and so forth. I didn’t work with him, but I read a lot of his stuff and I still have some of his publications. They’re relatively well known. He was a relatively well known guy there outside of RAND. What else was happening there? Well, I became disenchanted with Herrick early on, because I saw that he was using the old classical theory and he really wasn’t with it, you know, as far as any new stuff was concerned.
Well, how were you exposed to the new stuff?
Yes, how did I get exposed to the new stuff? That’s a good point.
Was Herrick your only teacher, or was it Baker?
No. William Thompson. He wrote a book on spacecraft dynamics or something. He did a lot of attitude control of self. Yes, he was my advisor then when I wrote my thesis, which was on the three-body problem. Well, this is a master’s thesis, and I didn’t really understand a lot of it. I used a lot of spherical trigonometry to show how you launch something out to — where was I launching it to? No, I don’t know. I’d have to go back and look at that thing. Oh, maybe I was going out to libration points, I think that’s it. Yes, I was interested in, how could you use these things. I mean, there was lots of other stuff to work on, but there had been hundreds of papers written on other things, and I thought I don’t want to do this. People have done this stuff to death. I’m just going to be another one of the ten thousand papers written on this stuff. I want to find something different that nobody’s really looked into very much. The three-body problem came back again, and I liked that, and now it was all different, and that had a lot of interesting mathematics in it and so forth, you could do a lot of stuff analytically. I wasn’t so interested in the trajectory stuff in my Ph.D. thesis; I was interested in the control. I got interested in control theory when I went to Stanford, so this is further down.
Yes, but did you find elegance in the analytical solutions? Did you prefer them to numerical solutions?
Oh, yes, definitely.
Was that an aesthetic or some form of application preference?
Well, I thought I could get somewhere with the analytical solutions there, and I was interesting in things like evolution of the comet orbits and things like this, and the evolution of the rotational dynamics of comets over periods of time and so forth, and how would they evolve with the small forces. I was trying to get models of comet nuclei, which was one thing I was interested in. I never got anywhere with that, though. I kept coming back to the three-body problem.
Did you have any courses from the astronomers, from Daniel M. Popper?
No. Abel I remember him. Yes, he was there, but I didn’t take any courses from him.
Okay. So you were solely in engineering and astrodynamics?
But I audited a lot of astronomy courses.
Oh, do you remember from who or what?
Yes, it was a guy at the University of Illinois, I don’t know. I can’t remember.
Oh, back there?
Yes, back then.
But not at UCLA?
No. I didn’t, no.
Maude Makeiason was there. She didn’t teach advance courses, though.
No. Like I said, I went to Herrick saying I didn’t like that. I learned something there, but not much.
Yes. Did you learn anything from Robert M.L. Baker?
No, it’s the same as going to Herrick’s course. You know, Baker seemed to be completely out of it as far as I was concerned, you know, as far as anything practical. It was the old classical theory, just with different notation and they had crazy notation in his book and everything. Well, Baker never caught on anywhere as far as I know, with any of the people working in the field. But Texwood they definitely would never know, because he was the first astrodynamics-trained Ph.D. student that they were always bragging about. I thought, “Why are they bragging about this? This is the old stuff.”
So to you astrodynamics, it means Herrick and means — classical theory?
Yes. And I already had all the classical theory and it was taught better by Moulton and stuff, you know, that was better, a lot better than what they were doing.
Baker was very interested in the figure of the earth. And in seasonal variations and things like that. Clearly, in my mind, when I took courses from him, it was ballistic missiles and trajectories, and they seemed to have a lot of students who were grad students at places like TRW and Aerospace Corporation, up and down 405. Were you aware of this kind of industry connection?
I might have been in the corner of my mind, but before that time what did I do? I went to UCLA. In the second semester there I took Thompson’s course and that got me into more practical orbit dynamics and then I also took electrodynamics from, what’s that guy’s name? Tycho was a good teacher.
Now, he was in the physics department, right?
He was good, though, I remember that. He got me interested more, and then I started thinking I should go into physics. I kept switching around, you know, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. From UCLA then I was done with all my coursework and everything, working on my thesis, I wasn’t completely done with the thesis, right? Well, I was, but they bounced it on me.
What does “bounce” mean?
Meaning that they said, no, this isn’t ready. The one guy said it wasn’t ready. Thompson thought it was okay, but one of the other readers of it, a guy that did some calculus book, I can’t remember his name, he was a mathematician and he thought, well, he hasn’t really done anything here. Anyway, that guy didn’t like it and the other guy was ambiguous. So what I had to do was change it and all I did was to change the conclusions at the end and everybody —that was the part they didn’t like. Yes, I just had to brag a little bit in the conclusions that I’d done something. I hadn’t done much. I got a summer job, and again I was leaving UCLA and I wanted to go somewhere else.
So you got a master’s at UCLA?
Yes, but I wanted to go somewhere else. And it was an engineering degree, just straight engineering. They don’t differentiate there. So I had to get a summer job and I knew I wanted to go somewhere else. I was thinking, “Well, what I want to do is to go to the University of Chicago, because then I can be home.” I can go home and all this kind of good stuff. The University of Chicago wouldn’t take me. I was shocked. I was never turned down in my life. I had good grades, all As and Bs, you know, and stuff.