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Interview of Feenan Jennings by Ronald Doel on 1996 April 26, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/6959
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Born August 11, 1923 in Los Angeles, CA; discusses early family life and childhood. Comments on his Navy service during WWII; discusses undergraduate education at New Mexico A&M in chemical engineering in 1950. Comments on graduate education and research at Scripps Oceanographic Institute; describes radioactivity testing program for Atomic Energy Commission in the Pacific. Discusses being hired to work for the Office of Naval Research in 1958; describes his work on the TENOC (Ten Year Plan for Naval Support of Oceanography). Comments on the impact of the Mansfield Amendment in the late 1960s; describes Lamont as a growing institution from his perspective at the ONR. Discusses transition to NSF in 1970 and working more closely with Lamont; describes his position as head of the International Decade of Ocean Exploration. Comments on working with Wallace Broecker on GEOSECS; accepting the directorship of the Sea Grant program at Texas A&M.
This is Ron Doel, and this is an interview with Feenan Jennings. Today’s date is April 26, 1996, and we’re recording this in College Station, Texas. I know that you were born on August 11, 1923, in Los Angeles, but I don’t know about your parents or your family. Who were your parents and what did they do?
My mother was born in Moberly, Missouri, and moved when she was a young lady to Fort Collins [Colorado] with her father who was an engineer on Rocky Mountain Railroad and who drove the big steam locomotives across the passes. My father was born in Silver Plume, Colorado. They were both born before the turn of the century, about eight years apart. My father was born in 1892, my mother in 1898. I don’t know when they met, but they married and lived in Fort Collins. My father worked in the silver mines as an electrician. And my older sister, who is three years older than I am, was born in Fort Collins, 1920. My family moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where my older brother was born. The family then moved to Los Angeles where I was born in 1923. My younger brother was born eighteen months after I was. Each of the children was eighteen months apart.
What caused your family to move?
I don’t know. I never really knew why they moved. I think my father was probably looking for employment. I don’t know why they moved to Cheyenne, and I don’t know why they moved to California, outside the fact that it was an attractive place to go, even in the twenties.
It was certainly part of the boom period.
I don’t know what my father did from 1923 until the Depression. I think he worked at Western Pipe and Steel. He lost his job early during the Depression and we were all on public relief.
Yes he was unemployed for several years. Then in the early thirties he got a job with the Los Angeles School Board, where he worked until he retired when he was sixty-five. He had a heart attack in 1958 and died almost immediately.
Was he still doing electrical work when he —
I think he retired from electrical — from work a year or two before he died.
Yes. I’m sorry. I meant when he was in the school system.
He was essentially responsible for all of the new construction, the electrical design and construction of all new schools in the L.A. City School District. He moved pretty far up in the system, and he didn’t have anything beyond a ninth- grade education. My mother, because of the Depression, worked on and off while raising four kids, no permanent job. She outlived my father by twenty years. She married again, to an individual that we children tolerated but didn’t particularly like, but we all felt it was her business, not ours. She was proud of her kids. She was a Christian Scientist. We went to Christian Science Sunday School when we were kids and retained a certain amount of that influence. At least I have, and I think the rest of the kids, too, which is sort of the mind over matter teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, which says you’re not sick, you just think you are, and if you don’t think you’re sick, you can cure yourself. So I avoided doctors and dentists while growing up.
Interesting. Did you talk about religion much at home?
No, no. [Laughter] We went to Sunday school, hated it every minute. It wasn’t a heavy subject. My father was a Catholic, and he didn’t participate very much in this part of our upbringing. But my mother was a very strong Christian Scientist. In fact, all of us boys joined the navy in 1942, and I think her belief sustained her through that period. She knew nothing was going to happen to us, and she actually became a practitioner. I don’t know if you know Christian Science or not, but there are people who study enough and are strong enough in their beliefs that they help other people. They’re sort of teachers. They’re called practitioners.
Is this formally within the church hierarchy or is it a more —
Well, they have to be recognized by the church, and I can’t tell you how it works. It’s not been a strong point with me, but I know it’s influenced my adult life.
This is moving ahead a bit, but do you feel that that religious experience also influenced your attitudes toward science and working in science?
If it did, I’m not aware of it.
I was curious when you mentioned your father’s work within the school system; did you ever go with him to see him install a system?
No, no, no. I guess it wasn’t the thing to do in those days. He had his job, and he did it. We were all going to school, and we did it. So, no, I was only aware because he would bring home drawings and spent half the night working on them. Essentially they were architectural drawings and specifications and that sort of thing. He was a very bright guy, a very bright person, but he didn’t have a high school education. And his brother, who was older than he was, didn’t go beyond the sixth grade, and he was equally smart. I think he ended up as chief engineer for Hughes Aircraft.
Once your father had gotten the job in the 1930s, what sort of house were you living in when you were growing up?
We lived in what’s called a bungalow in Los Angeles. I can’t tell you the square footage, but it had a kitchen, a living room, a little dining room, two bedrooms, one bath. Living in that house were my two parents, me and my three siblings, and my mother’s brother, our uncle. The boys and my uncle all slept in one bedroom. My mother, my father, and my sister slept in the other bedroom, and we shared the one bathroom. It didn’t seem like a big hardship at the time. It wasn’t. We moved a couple of times. I’m not sure why we moved. We moved when I was about seven or eight, maybe, moved several blocks away. And then before I started to junior high school, we moved again, again about five or six blocks away.
Did you stay in the same school when you did that, or did you switch?
No. Well, I would have switched anyway, because I went to grammar school in one place, and then when we moved, went to a junior high school in another place.
It just happened to coincide with the transitions.
Yes. It seemed like that. I don’t know if there was a hiatus, you know; whether I changed from one grammar school to another, whether it was time for me to go to a different school when we moved. I don’t remember.
Were there magazines you remember reading that came to the homes, say, Popular Mechanics or things of that sort? Were you interested in science or mechanics, generally, when you were growing up?
I was interested in mechanics, yes. When I was growing up, I had a good friend who had the whole series of Edgar Rice Burroughs books. I read them all. The Mars series, the Tarzan series, enjoyed them thoroughly, and a pulp fiction magazine that came out about once a month. It was titled “G-8 and His Battle Aces,” about World War I, including The Red Baron.
Did you have an interest in science fiction as well?
No, no, still don’t. To this day I don’t have an interest in science fiction. Some of the classics I’ve read, but for the most part, the Mars series is about as science fiction as I was interested in, and there were no rockets or anything involved. I don’t know whether it was the thing to do at the time or not, but my brother and I managed to convince our parents that we could buy a Model A on our paper route profits, and we did. We bought it, and we spent half our time working on the mechanics of that vehicle. It was the hot rod period, perhaps pre-hot rod. We spent a lot of time putting high-compression heads, high-lift cams, and down-draft carburetors, and shaved the flywheel for faster acceleration. And we raced it a lot, drag races. So I spent a lot of time losing my father’s tools by working on it.
I think quite a few young people at that time learned via cars.
Yes. My brother and I shared that. It wasn’t much sharing, because I think I was maybe thirteen when we bought the car, or fourteen, and the first thing I did was get a traffic citation for driving without a driver’s license. I couldn’t drive for two years. So I did a lot of work on the car and a lot of polishing on it while my brother drove it. When I finally got to drive it, I almost had to arm wrestle him because he’d been so used to driving that thing. But it was fun.
Do you remember; did anyone in the family have a particular interest in science while you were growing up?
I think I probably had the most interest — when I say I didn’t have any interest, I mean I didn’t read science fiction. I’m sure I read Popular Mechanics. But I thoroughly enjoyed chemistry and physics and mathematics in high school, and, in fact, had set myself to the goal of going to college. I didn’t know how, but I fully intended to go to college. My friend, whose family owned the volumes of Edgar Rice Burroughs, had an older brother who went to Caltech [California Institute of Technology] before I got out of high school. I don’t know how he accomplished it since they didn’t have any money. His father was a milkman. But somehow his older brother went to Caltech, and I decided if he could do it, I could do it. So I set that goal in mind and I studied. You had to decide whether you were going to be a college prep major in high school, or a non-college major. So I took the courses necessary to get me into college when it became possible.
Did you know this older brother?
Do you recall any conversations that you had with him about Caltech, what he was studying there, [unclear] or something?
No, no. He was a good friend, and he built Chinese yoyos, and he did all that sort of thing, we talked about that, but I never talked to him about what he was studying at Caltech. I did visit Caltech. They had an Open House every year, and they put on displays of physical and chemical phenomena such as static electricity and lightning bolts, the behavior of materials at very low temperatures.
This is in the late 1930s?
It was late thirties, because I graduated in ‘41 from high school.
Just as the war is about to begin. I was curious, were any of the high school teachers particularly memorable for you, when you think back?
Sure. Specifically there was the mathematics professor. I can’t tell you his name today, was particularly good and so was the chemistry professor. I enjoyed them both.
Was there a lab in the high school that you could —
There was a lab, a chemical lab. As a matter of fact, I managed it. Those were the days when all the boys wore corduroys, cotton corduroys, and I dumped a beaker of sulfuric acid on my front, and my corduroys disappeared almost as fast as I could get to the stock room. I had to send my brothers home to get some more clothes because the cords were gone. [Laughter]We had a lab at home. We used to make explosives and other chemical reactions, with some success.
You got to test it then.
Yes. On the Fourth of July, friends of ours had milk cans, you know, the old two-gallon milk cans with the lid that poked in. We used to drive a nail hole in the bottom of the can, put carbide in it and add water, put the lid on it and wait until the acetylene built up inside the can. We would then touch a match to the hole in the bottom of the can and then blow the lid clear across the river. We would then pull the lid back with a string and do it all over again. [Laughter]
Did UCLA have anything similar to Caltech like an Open House, or were you aware of the programs of other schools?
No, no. As a matter of fact, no teacher in my high school ever said, “You ought to be thinking about what college you want to go to.” It was just never discussed. They didn’t have that kind of program, sort of mentoring, or any program of placing their high school students in college. We lived in a pretty poor part of town, and there just wasn’t much of that kind of activity in the high school. Most of the kids were not going to go to college, but were going to do something else. There was no program. And I was so uncertain in my own mind, not necessarily about what I was going to major in, but just when I was going to go to college, and how I could get in. Nobody had ever said, “Well, you’re going to have to do this, this, this.” So I graduated from high school, outside of going to Open House at Caltech, without ever looking at a catalog from a college or thinking seriously about where I was going to go.
You really had very little information to which to draw on. Were there science clubs in your high school at all?
No. If there were, I was unaware of it. My social activities in high school were primarily — I was in the band, I played fourth trumpet for four years. I know the fourth-trumpet part of every march ever written by Sousa and a few others. And I was elected to be commissioner of athletics, which involved working with the high school football team, so I was very much involved in that aspect. I belonged to a club called the Key Club, which was a part of a Junior Kiwanis.
And you were active in the Key Club?
I don’t know whether I was active or not. I don’t remember. I don’t remember it occupying much of my time, because I also worked in filling stations.
I was going to ask you about that, and what you were doing during the summers. I’m sure you did have to do some work, too.
Yes. I worked in filling stations, had a variety of paper routes all the way through high school, because that was a source of income; the kind of throwaways where you deliver 500 of them on foot every morning between four o’clock and six o’clock and then the Los Angeles Examiner which subscribers paid for. We used to get a whole bunch of them on Sunday and drive up and down the street selling them to the people. So I really didn’t have much in the way of social life, which really didn’t bother me, because I was busy anyway. I guess I was busy socializing. [Laughter]
Entirely normal during that period. When you graduated, then, from high school, you had an ambition to go on to college, but you still didn’t know how that might (???) — what did you do then, initially, once you graduated?
I managed to get a job at Sears, Roebuck & Company in their Los Angeles warehouse, which was a nine-story building in southeast L.A., and my job was to be a picker. A picker wears roller skates. He takes mail orders, races around the floor and filling the orders from bins full of stock. He then takes them back to the people that are packing them and mailing them. I was running around picking things out of bins. I did that up until, I don’t know, I don’t know how long I had that job.
It would have been that December that the attack on Pearl Harbor came.
Yes, right. I think when that attack came; I went to work for Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica. I went to work for them as a machinist. They spent a few weeks training me on milling machines and lathes. And so I worked for Douglas until I joined the navy in June of ‘42, machining tail hooks for navy aircraft for landing, that and other pieces of machinery. Essentially that Douglas plant was building the dauntless dive-bomber.
How did you find that work?
Oh, it got a little boring, but it was a challenge. I wouldn’t like to spend my life at it, attending to a machine eight hours a day, but it was a challenge at the time, especially since I managed to scrap a lot of parts while I was learning. [Laughter] Burned up a lot of tools. [Laughter]
Were you working more than a single shift often?
No, no, this was single shift. I was kind of relaxing at the time.
What was your experience when you did join the navy in ‘42?
Well, I didn’t have any trouble getting in. In fact, none of us had any trouble getting in, except my younger brother, whose eyesight was not very good. He drank carrot juice until he almost turned yellow, but it improved his eyesight enough to get him in. [Laughter] We were sent immediately to San Diego Naval Training Station and went through the sixteen weeks — no, I don’t know how many weeks of boot camp it was, but a few weeks of boot camp. When I joined the navy, they said, “What would you like to do in the navy?” So I said, “Well, I’d like to be a torpedo man as first choice, and second choice, I’d like to be a signalman,” and fourth choice was something else, third choice was something else. Incidentally, I guess the reason I was interested in signalman was because I also was a Boy Scout, and I went up through the whole system and became an Eagle just about the time I quit; so I knew semaphore and I knew Morse code. The navy said, “Well, we’ve looked at your background, and we want you to be a machinist’s mate,” because of my work at Douglas. So they sent me to ten weeks at machinist school, where I learned how to make cast-iron block square, run machinery, and all sorts of things. So that was okay with me, because I went from a seaman second to a second class machinist’s mate like that. [Laughter]
You were over your head with a quick snap of the fingers.
Yes. They were about to put a new kind of ship in commission in the navy. Actually, I think the British built the ships first; they were called LSDs, Landing Ship Docks. They had an unusual power plant. They were steam, but they were low-pressure steam, and they were not triple expansion but single pass. So they sent me to Milwaukee, and I spent several weeks at the Nordberg plant, which built these engines, learning how they were built, and how they worked, and what their idiosyncrasies were, and then went out on the lake and ran a car ferry that had this kind of power plant in it, and that was mid-winter. I’ll tell you, ice gets thick on Lake Michigan.
Yes, it does. [Laughter]
And after that little stint, they sent me to Mare Island where they were building the first LSD, the LSD-1, and I stayed there until we put it in commission.
Where’s Mare Island?
It’s near San Francisco in Vallejo. It used to be a big navy yard, one of the biggest, perhaps. So then we went to sea, south Pacific, central Pacific mostly, taking tanks and troops into amphibious landing. It was an amphibious landing ship. We participated in amphibious assaults on atolls and islands in the Gilberts, the Marshalls, the Philippines, Guam, Tinian, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. During that period we came back to San Francisco once for three days or something like that. The rest of the time was Honolulu and beyond, mostly beyond. I felt like Mr. Roberts, spending the whole war sailing from tedium to boredom and back again. I was in charge of the port engine room for a long time, made chief machinist mate after about a couple of years, so I moved into the chiefs quarters, which were more comfortable than the enlisted men’s quarters, even though chief is an enlisted man. At the end of the war, we were in China, up in the Yellow Sea, and I left the ship there, went to Shanghai, and caught a transport back to the States in January of ‘46. The first thing I did was to register for Compton Junior College, which was like starting classes in a week after I got out of the navy. I went directly to Compton Junior College.
Where is Compton Junior College?
That’s in Los Angeles. It’s, again, southeast L.A., down near Long Beach, Watts, that whole area.
Clearly you wanted to be going to college. Was the GI Bill important for making it possible to get —
Crucial — absolutely crucial. Never could have gone without it. I suppose I could have gone, but it was a big help. I still worked. One of the problems I had in Compton was, one, I hadn’t been to school for a long time, forgot how to study. And another, I was still sowing wild oats. The third was I was working an eight- hour shift in the evening at Firestone, making inner tubes for car tires, so I didn’t do too well at Compton. I managed to stay in school. I got a ‘C’ average, but I wasn’t doing very well.
You certainly had quite a few things on your plate, doing that and full-time work.
And I also got married at that time.
1947, I believe?
Late ‘46 or early ‘47, I don’t know which, somewhere in there. My wife worked at Knott’s Berry Farm, and I lived in her grandfather’s house in Buena Park.
When you entered Compton, what were you thinking would be your course of study? What did you think at that point you wanted to do?
Chemical engineering. I think I knew from that point on that that’s what I wanted to do. I went to Compton for two years, got an AA degree; went to Fullerton Junior College for a semester. Then some kids that I grew up with, one of them you should interview if you haven’t already, is Art [Arthur E.] Maxwell who lives in Austin. I grew up with Art and his wife’s brother. Jim [McKay]. Jim had gone to New Mexico A&M, on the V-6 program. When he joined the navy, he thought so highly of that little college, that he convinced me and Art and another friend of ours from high school to go to New Mexico A&M.
Had you been to New Mexico at all?
No. But he made it sound very attractive, and it wasn’t too big, and the housing was available, and the GI Bill would cover most of what I needed. So I went there.
This was right after you had married; a year or so after?
Well, a year or so after, yes. And the professor of chemical engineering was a man by the name of Luke Berry Shires, and he was a dynamite professor.
What do you remember particularly about him?
Well, I think what he drove into my head was that he didn’t want you to just remember formulas and equations; he wanted you to be able to derive them, so that you didn’t have to carry all that stuff around your head. If you needed some equation or some formula to calculate the fluid flow, or friction in a pipe, you shouldn’t have to look it up in a book, you didn’t have to remember it and you should be able to derive it from the fundamental things involved.
Right back to first principles.
Yes. He was a bald-headed guy, tall, bald-headed, and he would stand up in front of class and scratch his ear over here and do this, and all of a sudden he’d whip out his finger and he’d point at somebody and say, “What did you think about this?” You didn’t dare sleep in his class. [Laughter] Anyway, he was very inspirational, very inspiring guy. And I got straight A’s there, at that college.
When you were at New Mexico.
Would you ever see him outside of class, or were your interactions mostly in the classroom?
Mostly in the classroom. I worked at a filling station there, too. I didn’t have much spare time.
What was Art Maxwell like back in those years? Did you stay very close to him?
Yes. He majored in physics. We socialized all the time. He hadn’t changed much since high school. He matured a little bit, but he was a hell-raiser. But we both worked also. We worked for what was called navy lab, which was run under a contract that the university had with the White Sands Proving Grounds out there for tracking rockets and reducing the data and producing reports on the results.
Was this still connected with the V-2 launches from White Sands, or were there other launches by this point?
There were other launches. We tracked them from the Organ Mountains. When they would veer off and head for El Paso. We’d blow them up. [Laughter]
So you would travel right out to White Sands, then, to do this?
No, we did it all in a lab. The Organ Mountains are right behind the university. I never went to White Sands. This was a physics department contract, I believe.
Did you get on board through Art in doing that, or your own connections?
Probably through Art. Art and his wife both worked for the lab. I think I got the job through them. Mostly it was just data reduction, calculations.
What did you have to reduce the data? Did you have a slide rule or Marchant machine?
Yes. It was strictly slide rules, no calculators, no adding machines. Slide rule accuracy was adequate for the task. [Laughter]
What other science courses do you remember taking at New Mexico?
Well, in addition, you had to take chemistry, physics, mathematics, English, etc. I don’t remember most of them very well; had to take engineering law. New Mexico A&M was heavily oriented toward engineering and science. But I don’t know of any particular courses that stand out in my mind.
There were a number of new institutes that were forming in New Mexico around that time. I believe Lincoln La Paz [phonetic] was there, interested in meteorites, and also with the way in which information from them might relate to the ballistics of the programs. I was curious if you —
I don’t remember that. About the only institute or program that I was aware of was a study of lightning, the frequency of lightning, the cause of lightning, and they were firing rockets off over on some mountain in Central New Mexico. Several of my friends were working on that project. I tend to focus on what I’m doing, and something that’s going on outside of my area of focus has to be a pretty strong signal before I pay any attention to it, so I’m not a big picture in the sense of what’s going on in the world.
New Mexico, clearly, it was the chemical engineering and your work on the contract, were the main thrust, the main areas of interest for you. Once you started working on the contract, did you still have to keep working in the filling stations, or did that provide enough income that you could concentrate better?
I think I was doing both. I had a good arrangement with the one filling station in Old Mesilla. I got along well with the guy that owned it, and he let me work whatever hours I needed. Most of the work in the lab was done between classes and sort of during the daytime, and I forget when I studied. I must have studied, because I got good grades. [Laughs]
How did you like living in New Mexico compared to —
Oh, I liked New Mexico. I liked Las Cruces. As a matter of fact, it’s the same kind of climate my wife and I are going to move to in Bend, except it didn’t have mountains right next to it, and it didn’t have a whole lot of trees and greenery.
I should say we spoke off tape, before we began the interview, about Bend, Oregon, to make that clear. When you were getting close to graduation; that was 1950 that you had gotten your undergraduate degree. What were you thinking, then, you might do thereafter? Had you thought about graduate school?
No. No, I hadn’t thought much about graduate school. I really intended to go out and get a job in the chemical engineering industry. And it just happened to be that about the time I graduated, there was a minor depression, or a glut of engineers, or something. But anyway, no recruiters came to recruit us marvelous new chemical engineers. Art had gone to Scripps the year before, and he told me about this wonderful place where they paid you to go to school and get an advanced degree. So when it became evident I wasn’t going to get snatched up right away by the chemical industry, and after talking to Art about what was going on out there, I said, “I know what I’ll do. I’ll go to Scripps, and I’ll get a degree in chemical oceanography, then I’ll use my excellent chemical engineering background to extract chemicals from the sea.” I already knew they were taking magnesium out of the sea and iodine and fluorine. I thought, “That’s a good plan.” So I applied, and they opened the door, in spite of my Junior College grades I guess they decided if I could get all A’s in my second two years of college, that probably I was okay. I couldn’t get in any institution today with that record, but at that time it was much, much easier to get into graduate school.
And at that time, did you apply directly to Scripps?
You’d been in San Diego, of course, during the war, but had you ever seen Scripps?
I was unaware it existed. It didn’t exist, almost. Have you been there?
Well, at the time we’re talking about, all it had was one lab building, the old building, and several wooden buildings. You had to make an effort to get there, because the main highway didn’t go by it. You had to make a special effort to drive down to it. My travels to San Diego were done the coast highway to the naval station and back to L.A. So, no, I wasn’t unaware it existed. And it wasn’t much. Even when I went there, it wasn’t much.
So it was just beginning to grow in that point after the war.
Yes. And I was very fortunate to get in and to get a job.
What was your impression of Scripps when you arrived out there? I’m curious which people you first came into contact with once you were there.
I don’t remember thinking, “This is a Podunk little place.” I don’t remember any thoughts like that. I just remember that they had some good people there, and I went to work, almost immediately, for Warren Wooster, who was in charge of what was called the CALCOFI program. It was a program, an extended program, of sampling the ocean waters all along the Southern California coast. When the sardines disappeared, they said, “My God, what happened to the sardines?” So we will monitor the ocean water and we’ll find out why they went away and when they come back, we’ll find under which conditions they came back. And it was a job of going to sea and taking massive numbers of water bottle samples and working in the lab, reducing the data, doing some reading of the reversing thermometers.
Were you involved in all phases of the work? Would you go out to sea, along the coast, actually do the sampling, or were you more in the laboratory?
No, I did both. I did more time in the lab. When you went to sea, you had to stay for one and two-week cruises, and I was going to school, so I didn’t do too much of that.
What ship was it that you would commonly take during those voyages all the times that you did do it? How many people were on board?
These were ships like E.W. Scripps. You know, maybe half a dozen people. Primarily out there it was a sampling program, and then the rest of the work was done in the lab doing the salinity, although you had to do the oxygen. Are we getting too noisy?
We’re just about at the point where we need to turn the tape, anyway, so I’ll do that.
We’re resuming in what we hope will be a little quieter location. You were mentioning about the work that you were doing on the sampling program, and much of the time you said was in the laboratory. What was the reduction work like?
At that time, you preserved the oxygen samples, brought them back. You brought back samples to measure salinity. They used reversing thermometers at that time, so you had to read the reversing thermometer readings when the wire came up, when the Nansen bottles came up, so you recorded that at sea, and this other data was analyzed in the lab, and then your job was to put it all together. Those were the three primary measurements. They did plankton samples and that sort of thing, but it was nothing I had anything to do with. That was for biologists, I was not involved in that end of the business. You essentially put the data in tables and weekly or daily reports, and I was not involved in trying to interpret it at that time, just data collection.
Were there any particular instrumental difficulties that were frustrating when you look back?
No, it was all pretty simple, it really was. There wasn’t any electronic stuff to worry about; it was strictly mechanical. There may have been some electronics, but we didn’t use it. They had SONAR and that sort of thing for measuring water depths, but we didn’t get involved in running those things.
Do you remember hearing where the funding for this work had come from? Was it mostly from the state because of the concern about the state issues?
Yes, it was. And I don’t know where they got the money. It wasn’t of concern to me where they got the money, but it was state funds, yes.
When you think about it, were any times out at sea or in the laboratory particularly memorable or left a strong impression on you?
The most memorable trip I took during that period was when the California Fish and Game wanted to learn about long-line fishing, which the Japanese were using to catch tuna in the western Pacific, and I guess they were moving into the eastern Pacific. So I went to sea for a month, six weeks, down to the Galapagos on a California Fish and Game vessel with a long-line expert from Hawaii and all the long-line hauling gear, and learned how to catch big tuna on a long line, along with sharks and swordfish, and whatever else got hauled in on the long line. But it was an interesting experience.
How long was that cruise?
I don’t recall exactly. I’d say six weeks, maybe two months.
And that came during the summer, I would imagine, when you didn’t have class?
Did you resume classes by the second year? How was that settled?
The first year, the first semester, you had to take the fundamental courses in physics and chemistry and biology, and the second year, you began to take further courses in physical oceanography. I don’t remember the exact courses, but they all had to do with traditional oceanography at that time. Since I was majored in chemical engineering, one of the requirements to get a degree in chemical engineering from Scripps was to go and spend a year at UCLA in the chemistry department, taking courses in chemistry, which I did during the second year.
What was it like being back at UCLA at that point?
It wasn’t nearly as much fun. It wasn’t nearly as friendly. I don’t know if you’re aware of the situation in the universities in chemistry and probably biology that a lot of people registered in those courses are pre-medicine, and they would cut your throat for a 1 percent improvement in their yield over your yield, and they would steal. You would synthesize a compound and it had to stay in the refrigerator overnight, sit and precipitate, you’d come back in the morning, and great scoops of it gone, because somebody had taken it and added it to theirs, so your yield was not as good as their yield. It was a cut-throat —
It sounds like that actually happened to you.
Yes, it did. I think it goes on to this day. Those people are so desperate to get into medical school that they’ll do anything to get there, so it was that kind of cut-throat competition. But it was just another school to me; it was not the relaxed atmosphere that exists down at Scripps.
So it was a real comparison for things like that. Who was teaching at UCLA? Were any of those people memorable?
No, not to me.
I meant to ask you, too, about the people at Scripps that you had taken the fundamental courses with in that first year. Do you recall any of those courses that you took? Did they make a very strong impression?
Yes, the fundamental course in physical oceanography was taught by [Roger] Revelle some of the time and some of the time by Bob [Robert 0.] Reid, who was here at Texas A&M has been for a number of years. That was a memorable course. The course in biology was memorable, taught by [Martin W.] Johnson. That’s because I had never done much biology or studied much biology.
So it was a fresh topic for you.
Yes. Chemistry was just learning about the chemistry of the ocean. [Norris] Rakestraw [phonetic] was a good teacher.
Rakestraw. Norris Rakestraw.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you. You were saying he was a good teacher?
Yes, he was a good teacher, but it wasn’t anything new to me. I was learning about the chemistry of the ocean. It was a good course, but it wasn’t a challenge in the normal sense.
How was Revelle as a teacher?
Revelle wasn’t a very good teacher. Bob Reid was a good teacher, but Revelle wasn’t a very good teacher. The other teacher we had was Shepard, Fran [Francis P.] Shepard. Fran Shepard was a good teacher, all right, but he wouldn’t tolerate any other theories than his own. At the time, this was about the time that — my memory starts to fail me after a while, because I didn’t pursue geology, but one of the European geologists came out with a different theory on the origin of submarine canyons. Johnson said to me, you better not read this other guy’s — He came out with a book on it. Better not read that book — better not get confused, because if you give the wrong answer on Shepard’s quiz, you’re dead. [Laughter]
Shepard just wouldn’t tolerate discussions that were contrary to his own?
Because clearly he was very interested about the question of the ocean level.
Oh, yeah. He was a topnotch researcher, but he wasn’t interested in somebody else’s theory. There was a lot of that going on in geology, a lot of that going on in geophysics, not just with Fran, but with people on whether or not there was sea-floor spreading, and other controversial theories.
Particularly, say, another ten to fifteen years later as that became a major controversy.
During those classes, did you hear about other centers of geology, the earth sciences, the works, say, of Reginald [A.] Daly at Harvard? Did that work come up?
I didn’t. It may have come up. It may have. It didn’t set in my mind.
How did you feel about continuing on in the program after the year at UCLA? Did it discourage you?
No, no. I maintained my interest in what I was doing, and I started taking German courses. They had the two-language requirement at that time. In order to get an advanced doctorate, you had to be able to translate in two other languages besides English. So I spent a lot of time attending German classes at San Diego State University. And Spanish I didn’t have too much trouble with, because I sort of grew up with it. I can’t speak it, but it’s easier to translate. German is just impossible. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried German, but I got to where I could translate words. I translated a whole page once, didn’t know what it was saying, didn’t know what it meant. There was a German at Scripps who was brought over from Germany after the war. Hans Klein was his name. He had vast experience in reversing thermometers and that sort of thing, and so I went to him and I said, “Hans, I don’t understand what’s going on here,” so he said, “Well,” he’s picking out the verbs. [Laughter]
Of course, they’re largely at the ends of the sentences.
Yes. But I managed to pass the exams, ultimately, and Spanish.
Who actually gave the exams? Were they done in the science departments at Scripps, or did you have to take those outside?
No, no. They were done — I mean, they’d hand you three pages and say, “Translate this.” You didn’t know in advance what they were handing you, so there was no way you could study for that. You’d go in, hope your skills were enough to pass the test.
Did you have a page on science?
Oh, yes, it was on science. It was out of some German textbook. When I came back to Scripps I went to work for Ted [Theodore R.] Folsom, and Ted Folsom is probably not a name you recognize, but he was an individual who grew up in San Diego, and went off to school at Caltech and got a degree in physics at about the depth of the Depression, and stayed on for a year at Caltech working with the X-ray machines, then went to work in New York for a city hospital, installing X-ray machines and running those things. He got tired of that. He was a very clever man. He went to work for a food industry in California, inventing food processing equipment. Anyway, he got tired of that and came to San Diego and got an advanced degree at Scripps. He was topnotch, innovative instrument specialist. So I went to work for him, and we decided what I needed to do was carry out a series of time tests on magnesium releases. We didn’t have any way of releasing things under water at that time, so I did a lot of machining of magnesium rods of various diameters and put them in tanks to see how long they would last before they would break.
Right, this was very much a tacit experience, to simply, cut and dry.
One of the programs Ted had worked on with the food industry in California was freeze drying. We decided one way to concentrate sea water without destroying everything in it, was to do it under low-temperature heating. So I built a machine that essentially heated water at high vacuum, so the temperature of the water was very low, and concentrated it down to salt. I collected lots of salt, never analyzed it. I don’t know, about that time something else came along. [Laughs]
It sounds as though there were continuous series of different projects.
There were. By that time it was 1953 or 1954, and Scripps had a contract with the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] to participate in nuclear testing in the Pacific.
Right. Revelle had been involved, for instance, with those measurements.
Yes, and John Issacs and Bill [Willard] Bascom. Our job at that time was to measure the long-period waves that might be generated by nuclear blasts, if such waves are generated by nuclear blasts. You know, a tsunami is the result of either a drop in the sea floor or raising a sea floor, but it’s an impulse. So the thought was, maybe these big nuclear tests generate tsunamis. So we put together a system to go to the test site at Eniwetok and measure the presence of long-period waves.
What was the system you developed?
Well, it was just some wave recorders that we set on an atoll about fifty miles away from the bomb site.
So you could measure both the frequency and the amplitude of the waves coming through.
Yes and our job was to change the wave record after every test and to reduce the data. I confess we never saw one, no long-period waves that we could detect, and, in fact, I don’t think there has ever been a tsunami generated by a nuclear explosion. But I got involved in that end of the business, working with Folsom and Issacs. I spent several months out there. The first hydrogen bomb was in ‘54. Anyway, I came back, and in ‘55, the navy wanted to do some underwater testing off the Coast of Mexico to see if — I don’t think any of this is classified, everything was classified then — but they wanted to see what the shock wave from an underwater explosion, would do to a submarine if it were around anywhere, so they set up an elaborate test about 300 miles off the Coast of Mexico in very deep water. My job on that particular operation was to go out and see if we could track the size of the plume, so we did. We had instruments you could lower to depths in the ocean while recording the data aboard ship. Let me back up for just a minute. During the ‘54 test, it was the hydrogen bomb, and they vastly underestimated the size of it.
Underestimated the size.
Yes. So Ted, whose background was radiation and X-rays, assembled a Geiger counter in a long steel tube, and we sailed our research ship around the ocean looking for radioactivity in the water — sort of how far out was it, how deep was it, and that sort of thing. It was pretty primitive, because it would build up radioactivity on the outside of it.
You mean, recalibrate the —
Yes, yes. But anyway, we did that, and we reduced the data and made a report to the AEC about the results. Then in 1955 they planned the test for an underwater explosion several hundred miles off the coast of Mexico, and so again we put together some instruments to lower in the water and measure the underwater extent of the radioactivity. We really found out what I guess a good theoretician could have told you, was that the radioactivity doesn’t form a big round plume. What it does is it reaches its equilibrium. It spreads out very thin layers about a meter thick, so we sailed around measuring its extent and the amount of radioactivity in the water. So in 1956, I had the opportunity to go back to the Marshall Islands, again under government contract, and try to measure the local fallout from nuclear explosions. We instrumented some fiberglass skiffs with small Geiger counters at various water depths. Given the number of skiffs, it was quite an elaborate system.
This, again, was the Pacific tests?
Yes. This to go was out in the Marshalls again. At that time, I forget the exact sequence, but Ted didn’t get along very well with people. I got along with him very well, but for most people he didn’t get along very well, and he was difficult, no question about that.
Yes. So they didn’t want him to direct that program. So they looked at me and said, “You direct it.”
How did you feel about it?
Seemed okay to me. So I left graduate-student status and became a senior engineer at Scripps, like that. [Laughter]
Again, a click of your fingers, and it went fast.
So I sort of directed this thing, at least I hired people, and they built the instrumentation and so on and so forth. We went out there, and we did an adequate job. We managed to measure — what they were really after was world-wide fallout, how much of it came down locally and how much it went into the stratosphere, so they could learn about the impact of these studies on the world as a whole.
Were you aware by then of Project Sunshine?
Yes. As a matter of fact, Project Sunshine was just beginning, and the colonel who was in charge of the testing program ultimately went to the University of Chicago and, I think, became in charge of Sunshine. Martell was his name, the brother of Art [Arthur Earl] Martell, who is a distinguished professor of chemistry here at Texas A&M. His name was Ed [Edward S.] Martell.
Right in that ballpark. When you took that responsibility on, were you worried that it might keep you from completing your doctorate, from writing your thesis?
Well, I had already spent something like two years not coming to grips with a thesis, not coming to grips with a PhD, so it didn’t bother me. I guess I decided that I could do that anytime. You know, bird in the hand. So, no, it didn’t disturb me greatly. On the Mexico test, they didn’t have good navigation. They didn’t have satellite navigation. They had celestial navigation, star sights and sun lines. And even LORAN, LORAN A, which existed at that time, wasn’t any good down there.
It wasn’t good?
No. So I ended up spending something like six months, looking at the data from all the ships, all the radar, their records, and the big ships that had radar, trying to find out where everybody was. Never did find out. [Laughter]
That must have been a bit frustrating.
Yes, it was.
When you had spoken earlier about the technique that you had developed for evaporating the salt water and getting relatively unblemished concentrations, it sounds as if your experience in engineering, the early work that you had done, gave you at least some boost.
Oh, yes. I built it. I had to machine it, and it was all standard scale, so I had to machine the thing, weld it, and put it together.
Did you have access, then, to the full facilities of the machine-shop experts to do that?
Was there a full-time machinist on call at Scripps already?
Yes. Yes, they had several. They were busy. I had demonstrated enough proficiency, that they let me use the equipment. I guess the puzzling thing now is it was never clear to me what I was going to do with this salt. [Laughter] Mostly I was just building the machinery.
I meant to ask you too, one of the interesting things that ultimately came out of the radioactivity measurements in the ocean after the Bikini blast and the other, the ‘50s’ blast, was to see the rate at which the convection was occurring in the ocean. Do you remember: Was that already an active program? Do you remember conversations about that, during the time that you were doing that?
One of our objectives was to measure the downward mixing rate, so we took lots of measurements over a long period of time, and we did watch some penetration there, it had mixed downward. But once it got to the thermocline —
That was the extent of which you could do anything with it.
Yes, yes. It didn’t really extend beyond that. Some heavy particles went on down. So, let’s see. I was working on the final reports of the 1956 Marshall islands nuclear tests, and Art Maxwell, again, had been talked into going to ONR [Office of Naval Research], a year or two earlier. He and Gordon Lill came to Scripps and asked me if I would like to join them back in Washington, D.C. in the Office of Naval Research. So I said “Yes, it sounds like a good thing.” And besides, by then I decided I wasn’t really serious research material. I was probably as good at administration and management as I was at carrying out fundamental research, coming up with new ideas and that sort of thing. So it didn’t bother me. I finally decided, well, I’m probably not going to get the PhD, so I went back to Washington to work with them.
Were there any frustrations with Scripps by that period of time? You mentioned a few of the issues, particularly the frustration with doing the reduction of the Mexico blast. How did you feel at Scripps at that point, as an institution?
I didn’t have any particular problems that I’m aware of. Rakestraw had given up sort of the head of the chemistry department, whatever it was. It wasn’t a department. And Ed [Edward] Goldberg had the responsibilities. And there, again, it was like high school. There wasn’t much guidance. Didn’t have any senior professor leaning over me and telling me I’d better get on with it, better get on with that. I just sort of floated. But it wasn’t a frustration to me, because I was fully involved in these other things, so it didn’t bother me.
You seemed to find them satisfying when you did get involved, by and large.
Yes. So anyway, Art convinced me it was a good thing to do, so I joined over.
One last question I wanted to ask before we talk about the ONR period. How much did you know of what was going on at Columbia at Lamont with [W. Maurice] Ewing by that period?
I didn’t even know they existed.
Is that right? Did you know of other oceanographic work that was going on in the West Coast? University of Washington was just beginning to get active.
I knew the University of Washington, because it was the only university to offer an undergraduate degree. And I was well aware of Woods Hole because it was a major competitor. A lot of people at Scripps came from Woods Hole. But Lamont, they weren’t producing students and academicians at that time, to my knowledge, anyway.
It seems certainly that those which may have been already out weren’t — people weren’t visiting, there weren’t many interchanges or exchanges between the two places.
I suppose that our geologists were aware of what was going on at Lamont, but I wasn’t. They weren’t strong at anything except geology and geophysics. I remind you again, I’m not —
I do understand. But still, it’s very interesting to understand the work that you were doing. You seemed to be with the major players. Did you have any regrets about leaving the West Coast to go east for the ONR work?
No, no, I had none, although I grew up in Los Angeles and never got east of the California border until I went to Milwaukee and studied at the Norberg steam engine factory. I had been in New Mexico for a couple of years, and it didn’t bother me to leave the West Coast, no.
Besides Art Maxwell, did you already personally know the other chief people in the ONR?
I didn’t know them. I had met Gordon Lill, who was head of the geophysics branch at ONR at that time, and I had met [Rowland] John Atkins, who was chief scientist at ONR, but I didn’t know them well.
When you arrived in ‘58, of course it’s the year after Sputnik’s launch had occurred. How many people were actively involved in the geophysics branch?
I was hired to replace Dick [Richard] Vetter. Dick Vetter had gone to the National Academy of Science. So there was me; there was Art; Gordon, who was head of the branch; Jim Hughes, who was meteorology; and Art [Arthur] Alexiou, who was geophysics. That’s it.
What were your impressions of ONR when you first arrived there? Did you seem to have enough funds and enough support to do the job it was mandated to do?
Oh, yes. It had a lot of resources. I had two things to do when I first went there. One, I had to take two weeks off and go to the mountains of West Virginia and write the final report for the 1956 Red Wing Operation. I owed the AEC further analysis, so I did that. And the other job was to draft what ultimately became known as the TENOC Plan, Ten-Year Plan for Naval Support of Oceanography. Most of my time, for the first year, was consumed writing those two reports, and mostly it involved extracting information from the various universities on the size of their program, how many people, how many ships, how much money, how many buildings, and making the assumption that the navy would expand its support for oceanography by 10 percent a year for ten years.
Do you remember discussions particularly about that? It certainly didn’t seem quite as assured in ‘58 as it began to later on in the 1960s that oceanography would expand.
There wasn’t much discussion about it. I was aware that one of the committees of the Academy of Sciences had said we need to do something about expanding oceanography, but I was busy writing the Navy’s along with Art and Gordon, drafting this long-range plan. We had to justify why the navy had to be in oceanography. We had to describe what each institution was good at and why we wanted them involved in the program, what size they were now, and then build a table of increased support for them in terms of money and manpower, occasionally a building, and occasionally a ship. We had a friend in the Chief of Naval Operations. I didn’t know him, but he was a captain, and so we submitted that plan to the Chief of Naval Operations Office, and he handed it to [Admiral] Arleigh [A.] Burke and said, “Sign this, Arleigh.” Arleigh signed it, and they wrote a letter which said, “From now on oceanography has the same priorities in the Navy Department as undersea warfare,” which meant that now we could now take the letter to the Bureau of Ships and say, “Put these ships into shipbuilding programs.” We could go to the Secretary of Navy and say, “You’re not giving us enough money, we need more money, because of the importance of oceanography to naval operations.” It’s the damnedest thing I ever saw. [Laughter]
That was a real watershed at that moment, wasn’t it?
Yes. So on that basis; we started building the capabilities at the major oceanographic institutions and a few minor ones.
When you mention the academy report, this was the report that Athelstan Spellhouse had put a lot of energy into, as I recall.
Yes, I think so.
Did you have much contact with the Academy folks, those who were putting together their thoughts?
No. No. [Laughter]
Really did work on a separate set of operations.
We used to go to the meetings of the coordinating committee, but I wasn’t involved in the politics over there.
I’m curious. When you were working to put together this report, what seemed to be the biggest challenges that were involved? What were the easier things to do with it, and what proved to be the more difficult aspects to pull together?
I suppose the writing of the verbiage to describe what each institution was involved in, without too much repetition. You know, stuff gets boring after a while; nobody wants to read it. It wasn’t too difficult to get the information, because it was a one-time thing. “How many people do you have now? What’s your total source of support, not only from the navy but from other places? What manpower do you have? What are your ships’ capabilities? What are your building capabilities?” And that was just the beginning point of the ten years, and it was pretty damn simple. Add 10 percent every year. The development of the funding tables and the objectives were not —
The formulae were pretty simple once you got the information.
Who, then, seemed to you to be the key players? Did doing that change your perspective on who was out there and which groups were doing significant work?
I don’t — well, it was evident who the big dogs were, and you’re talking about people, not institutions.
Well, both, because they both seem to play into this.
Well, there wasn’t any question about it; the two big institutions were Scripps and Woods Hole. We were already spending a million dollars a year, something like that, at those institutions. And the third one was Lamont, which wasn’t too far behind them, then Washington and Miami, and a couple of programs that were just getting started, Rhode Island, Oregon State, and Johns Hopkins.
Was Texas just beginning?
And Texas A&M, they were all just beginning. But we said, “We need to do more than just build up the big institutions. We need a base spread around the U.S.” So I got to know the directors of those smaller institutions, but didn’t really get to know them well until after we had developed this plan, and then got deeply involved in the annual visits to look at their research and decide how money we were going to give them, that sort of thing.
When you were first writing the report, that early first stage, did you actually visit any of those facilities, or was it remotely collected?
Yes, remotely collected. Art and Gordon had visited them, and they knew what was going on there and who was involved, but I didn’t. I spent most of my time sitting in Washington. About that same time, though, we were negotiating for purchase of the Trieste, and Art was spending time in Italy and Switzerland, talking to [Auguste] Piccard.
What sort of a person was Gordon Lill?
Gordon was very easy-going. Gordon somehow had the insight or the convictions that he could do some of these things, like work with the Academy of Sciences to develop a national rapport, work with the Chief of Naval Operations, with the Bureau of Ships within the navy, to develop a program like this, which was fine. Vastly underrated by the community as a whole. When he left ONR to go to work for industry on the West Coast, the oceanographic community just looked like they just turned on him, didn’t recognize the contribution he had made to them. It made me even more aware than anything else that when you’re out, you’re out; you can just forget about it.
Why do you think that happened with Gordon Lill, the reaction from —
Oh, I think it soured him. It hurt him.
Why do you think that others in the community reacted that way, why his contributions weren’t appreciated?
Well, for one thing, because he didn’t go around and say, “Look what I’ve done.” So I don’t think they were aware of the influence he had, except for a few people in the Academy of Sciences. He just didn’t run around saying, “Look what I’ve done.” But in addition to the National Academy of Sciences, he organized the agencies all involved in marine sciences to meet once a month, different places, tells everybody what they’re doing.
That was his innovation?
Yes. That was called the Coordinating Committee on Oceanography. He pulled all those people together and got them behind the National Academy of Sciences Committee. So I don’t have any great insights. At that time you didn’t go from fundamental marine sciences to industry; it wasn’t done.
Given the growth and the positions that had opened up in academic and earth sciences.
But Gordon wasn’t an academician. I don’t even know whether Gordon had a PhD or not. I can’t tell you that.
I was curious, too, how much involvement you had with the advisory committees to the different branches of ONR that were reviewing the extramural funding projects. Was that part of your bailiwick or outside?
No, no. I was aware that Gordon would occasionally go and talk to [Emanuel R.] Piori and those people who were up on the ONR advisory committee, but I didn’t have anything to do with them.
You say it took about a year or two after the report was put together before you really began to spend time at the different institutions after receiving —
Well, it wasn’t ‘til after we finished the report that I got involved heavily in the reviews of the programs. I guess I must have done some of it during the first year, but I don’t remember. And at that time — in fact, I guess it’s still going on, but the team was composed of an expert in physics and in chemistry and geology, and we would go as a team to an institution, having received a proposal ahead of time, and then talk to the principal investigators, talk to the directors. And early in the game, we pretty much rubber-stamped what they proposed to do. We felt that they knew what the problems were in fundamental oceanography, and we didn’t do much second-guessing of it. It wasn’t really until Mike Mansfield decided that if agencies were going to support research, it had to demonstrate relevance to the agency’s mission. So then we were on the hook to make a judgment about whether this piece of work really contributed to the navy’s problem or whether it didn’t. But that wasn’t a difficult problem, for the most part, because everything they were doing was relevant, but it did put us in the position of reviewing proposals and not funding everything that was proposed, and that wasn’t very acceptable to some of the directors. I remember Fritz Koczy, who was head of the Marine Science Institute at Miami, telling us we couldn’t do that without a committee of experts to advise us, and we said, “Yes, we can,” and we did. We used our own internal expertise to make a judgment, probably made a lot of mistakes, but not many.
After the Mansfield amendment, which is late 1960s, how many more proposals did you have to reject compared to the other earlier times?
Well, the way we were supporting those institutions: they submitted to us one big proposal, say, from Lamont for a million and a half dollars, and that proposal was made up of individual research tasks, each with its own budget. I can’t tell you a percentage of how many we turned down. We turned them down, one, because we didn’t have enough money to give them what they wanted, and we ranked them in priority on the basis of contributions to navy problems, whether they were good science or not, whether the people had been producing or not, so on and so forth. Once in a while we would get in some really bad arguments with the directors about shutting off some program that they thought was particularly valuable, but it didn’t come to fisticuffs.
But the tensions got pretty high.
Yes. But we were in a position to win the arguments, so, for the most part, unless they could convince us we were wrong, we stuck to our guns. I suppose the problem was that they began to ask for more and more money, and more and more money than we had, so that forced us to turn down more and more projects.
You’re thinking particularly of the late 1960s?
No, in the seventies. I guess I left ONR in ‘70.
Yes. But along toward the end of my tenure there, it got pretty heated. I’m sure it got worse after I left. Get out while you can. [Laughter]
I thought that was interesting that you were talking about getting to know the other directors as well as the individuals. When you went out to Lamont, I assume this was in around 1960, the first time that you actually went out to Lamont campus to visit?
I guess so. ‘59 or ‘60.
I was just wondering what you recall particularly from that early first meeting, how Lamont seemed, and how it compared to other institutions.
First impression was, it’s a one-man show.
Doc Ewing. The other is if it ain’t geophysics, it doesn’t get done here at Lamont, which was okay. They were running all around the world building up a data bank on the ocean floor, which was very important in the long run and was important from the navy’s perspective. It wasn’t a full-blown oceanographic institution in the sense that they covered all the disciplines. I don’t even remember any impression about its size in terms of buildings and that sort of thing. I already knew how many people they had, because I had —
When you went out to Lamont, did you get a tour, do you remember, of the —
Oh, we always got a tour, yeah, at every institution. [Laughs]
Pm sure you did, yes. Because at that time, I was curious if the tour included the geochemistry work that was being done, Larry [J. Laurence] Kulp’s branch at the time.
No, no. I was aware of Kulp’s work because —
You had connections through Project Sunshine, of course.
Yeah. But, no, we didn’t support it and we didn’t get a tour of it. In fact, I didn’t even know he was at Lamont. Was he at —?
Yes. He was the one who built up geochemistry at Lamont, and then when he had the Project Sunshine contract, much of the work.
We did not get exposed to his operation. We were only interested in —
In focusing particularly on those geophysical aspects that you were concerned with, who else seemed to be among the most significant people that you were encountering at Lamont?
Well, it was John Ewing. You’re going to have to help me with some of the names. There’s Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel. It was the map-maker, Bruce [C.] Heezen.
Did you meet Marie Tharp at the same time?
Yes, yes. Let’s see. Oh, a researcher who is now at Dartmouth, Chuck [Charles L.] Drake.
Do you recall meeting Chuck [Charles E.] Officer at the —
Oh, yeah. Chuck Officer is someone that I met later on.
Did you meet any of the people who were becoming involved in other parts of oceanography? Clearly Lamont’s focus was on the floor of the ocean, but they began to try to develop biologically based programs at the time with [Allan W.H.] Be and others. Did you come to meet them, or did that seemed to be a separate operation from those that you’d been doing?
Well, I think I got to know them ultimately because of my job at National Science Foundation, but I don’t think we got much exposure to them while I was with ONR, and, in fact, they weren’t very popular at Lamont. [Laughs]
That was the impression you picked up. [Laughter]
I mean, they were tolerated, but nobody was sure why. [Laughs]
Was that something you’d hear up and down from the top of the leadership to the advanced grad students?
Well, I think it wasn’t that their colleagues didn’t tolerate them; they just knew that Doc was not going to give them much support in his operation.
Because Doc was so focused on physical oceanography.
Yeah, yeah. Not on physical —
I mean, rather, the [unclear]. I misspoke. Did that seem to be a very great contrast to Scripps?
Oh, sure. Lamont was a one-man operation. Even at Scripps, Revelle was not a one-man operation, and at Woods Hole, [Paul] Fye wasn’t director then, it was his predecessor, it wasn’t a one-man operation. But at Lamont it was, and everybody knew it, so it was a great contrast. Didn’t mean it was bad, just meant it was a contrast.
Among the programs that Lamont brought to you for funding during this period of time, what seemed to be the strongest of the programs at Lamont?
At that time, Lamont was developing its sub-bottom reflection using dynamite, and gravity. Mostly what we were supporting, and we knew it, was just supporting Lamont to go out and take measurements, wherever Doc wanted to go, with sub-bottom reflection, refraction, gravity, magnetics, all the geophysical things you could measure from a ship, and not to stop anywhere very long and not worry about collecting water samples, because — pfffft. [Laughter] But it enabled Heezen to produce his bottom chart to the ocean. It was very good work. It did a lot.
Was there any tension that came from the multiple funding sources, money obviously came from ONR for a time, some money came from NSF for the work, and apportioning credit to the different agencies?
No, no. There wasn’t that kind of tension. I think, if anything, we felt we were all supporting the same thing. ONR, you know, they’d take credit for what they wanted to take, and we’d take credit for what we wanted to take. And periodically we’d have to cite something to convince the “purse” people in the navy that we were doing good work and doing significant work. So we’d take credit, and I imagine over at NSF they’d take credit for the same thing. Since their bosses didn’t talk to our bosses, it didn’t matter. [Laughter]
It all did function pretty separately during that period with ONR.
At that time, NSF, they didn’t have very much money, and they weren’t very big in supporting the field of oceanography, and there weren’t many other sources of money for those programs. It certainly wasn’t a geological survey; it wasn’t a coast and geodetic survey. Doc wasn’t into fishery, and, in fact, neither was ONR. We supported some work at Rhode Island on noise-making by cetaceans and that sort of thing, because it would interfere with SONAR detection. But there was a biological branch in ONR, and they supported some work, but we didn’t talk to them very much because they were biologists. [Laughs]
I was curious about that. There never really was a colloquium series or get-togethers where the people for the different branches would routinely meet?
Oh, we ran into each all time.
How close were your offices to…
We were all in T-3. I don’t know whether you know where T-3 was, but T-3 was a temporary building, World War II temporary building, in the shadow of the Washington Monument. It was on the corner of Constitution and Seventeenth, and it wasn’t a very big building. Main Navy was across Seventeenth by a catwalk that went across, but it was a pretty small building. We talked to them. We worked closely with the undersea warfare branch and the special projects branch, and within the geophysics branch, I believe, the geography department was coastal processes, coastal zone program. We talked to those people, but for the most part, we didn’t have much to do with biology. Or maybe we did but I was — [Laughs]
Were there ever times where you and Gordon, and there were others, felt a certain program ought to be developed at Lamont that wasn’t taken up? On the whole, did you find that Lamont, working within its resources, was doing what you hoped they might able to do?
Yes, I thought we agreed pretty much that what Doc was doing was the right thing to do. There were other programs in the use of SONAR and sound detection, and they were also being run out of Columbia, the Hudson Lab’s operation, and they were responsible for the long-range SONAR detection systems in the ocean. Doc cooperated with them by setting off explosions for them to check their detector system. In fact, it may have been some of Doc’s work that convinced the navy that that was a good avenue to go — you know, the sound channel.
Of course, there was some interchange of people between Hudson Labs. James [R.] Heirtzler.
Heirtzler, yes. So we were well aware of that, and, in fact, we knew the special projects office had supported Hudson Labs and the Bermuda operation.
How well did you feel you came to know Doc Ewing as a person during that time?
Oh, I didn’t know him. I didn’t feel like I knew him. I was on a first-name basis and we talked a lot, but his specialty was not my specialty, so the conversation didn’t go very far, but he obviously was a tough nut, you know.
When you look back on it, did Lamont change greatly from 1960 through 1970, say, during that period when you were in ONR and watching its development?
If it did, I was unaware of it. We did build a ship for them, we put the Conrad there, and they continued to do work on two ships as opposed to one, but I didn’t become aware of any real change in Lamont until I went to NSF, and it may be that it had been changing all along, and I was just unaware of it.
This might be a good time to at least begin talking about your NSF experience. I know we’ve been talking for a while and this background is getting a little bit loud. But what was it that inspired you to make the change from ONR to NSF in 1970?
Well, the change was really instigated probably by Worth [D.] Nowlin [Jr.], who is here at A&M, who’s a physical oceanographer. At ONR, we had a program of bringing in people for a year or so and taking advantage of their expertise. Do we need to move, or is it a wrap for you?
We may have to move if we want to continue the conversation. Let’s at least end it right now at this point and see if we can’t find a quieter space.
We are resuming after a change in locale. It seemed better for a moment at least. We’ll see if it continues. One of the questions I was very interested in was what you were beginning to describe, the motivations for leaving ONR to go into the NSF. Did you immediately become head of the International Decade of Ocean Exploration?
Yes, yes, that’s what I went there for. What happened was, they started that — it was a congressional act that authorized that program, and it got off to an aborted start because Larry [J.L.] McHugh, who was from Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, agreed to take over the directorship of it to get it started. Larry McHugh, after a couple of weeks, got a better offer or decided he didn’t want it, so they appointed a trio of advisors to help them get the program under way. One of those advisors was Worth Nolin, on physical oceanography, one of them was a geologist from Oregon State who ultimately went to Stanford, his name was Jerry Van Andel, and the other was John Ryther, a biologist from Woods Hole.
And certain names can always be added later to the transcript.
So anyway, they were advising the admiral, who at the time was assistant director of NSF, on what the program ought to look like. The admiral was Tom [Thomas B.] Owen, who was Chief of Naval Research when I was with ONR. Worth told Tom Owen that he ought to bring me over to run the program. This coincided with the time I was deputy director of the larger Marine Sciences Division of ONR. The director was about to step down, and he advised me that it was highly unlikely that I would be named director. So that specter, combined with an opportunity to go up a grade in the civil service and get a raise, I accepted the challenge and went over to be director of the IDOE [International Decade of Ocean Exploration]. Some of the ground work had been done before I got there.
Which do you mean, in particular?
Oh, well, sort of the major thrust areas that they would be interested in, and some of the ground rules for what their objectives would be, that kind of thing. And again, the act called for it to support programs which would further the development of the use of the oceans. So it had four major themes. One of them was the utilization of the ocean floor for mineral resources and that sort of thing. God, I can’t even remember them all now, but what it resulted in were four programs, one essentially devoted to the use of geology and geophysics in furthering the utilization of the ocean; one of them was involved in the environmental baseline for the ocean; one of them was fisheries; and the fourth one was environmental forecasting. Anyway, the ground rules were that we would build programs which had some chance of success, and to do this, we said, “We’ll put together the experts in this field. These experts will advise us on what needs to be done, and they will identify the people, who ought to play a role in this thing, and we won’t worry about institutions, and we won’t worry about disciplines, and we won’t worry about anything except the job to get done.” So we mounted large programs, the geochemical oceans sections, which measured essentially the concentrations of every known compound that was of any significance at all in the ocean. Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker was a member of that team, and that’s how I became aware that there were other people at Lamont.
In other parts.
Yes. And we put together programs like coastal upwelling, where you had to have the physicists and the chemists and the biologists all working together to try to understand coastal upwelling and its influence on productivity in the oceans, that sort of thing. We wanted to tackle the question of climate, and so one of the programs we undertook was one that Doc Ewing had suggested, and when he first came to me, I said, “No way, it’s not going to really contribute,” and so he talked to me for a while, and finally I said, “Well, if you limit your consideration to a hundred thousand years.”
He had been thinking over a much longer time?
Yes, millions of years. In that time frame, we might learn something about fluctuations in climate that would help us some. So we put together the CLIMAP program, and that involved a paleontologist at Brown University, Imbrie, John Imbrie. He had put together a theory of measuring different fossils and cross- checking them against one and other and coming to some grips on what the temperature of the ocean was at certain times. So we agreed to support that program. We were also interested in the climate We supported a large program in the Pacific Ocean, trying to determine the fluctuations of ocean currents and their influence on the West Coast of the United States, and we supported studies on El Niño and that work.
Were those Lamont studies at the time or were those Scripps?
No, they weren’t Lamont. Lamont’s participation in most of these programs were limited to CLIMAP, to GEOSECS, with Wally Broecker and several other people from Lamont who were involved in it. They still weren’t much good in physical oceanography, so they didn’t get involved in any of the physics programs. I don’t think they participated in the coastal upwelling programs. Mostly my familiarity had to do with paleontology and Wally Broecker’s interest in chemicals in the ocean.
How well did you get to know Broecker?
I got to know him very well. He was a member of the executive committee. He was one of the leaders of the GEOSECS [Geochemical Oceans Sections] program, he and Harmon Craig from Scripps, Karl Turekian from Yale, and Gote Ostlund from Miami. I guess also involved in GEOSECS was a Chinese from Lamont, who served on the executive committee for a while, I can’t think of his name. He was one of Broecker’s people. So I dealt a lot with — not much with Doc, but a lot with Broecker. I know, the core lab director at Lamont.
Dave [David B.] Erickson?
You mean later on.
It must have been later on. Anyway, he was responsible for the cores that were taken as part of CLIMAP, so we supported a big effort there.
We’ll see if we can get these names in here.
And I was aware then of the physical oceanography that was going on, the work that was being done in the Antarctic, but still Lamont was heavily oriented toward geology and geophysics. I’m not even sure that Doc and Broecker got along, because Broecker wasn’t a geologist, he wasn’t a geophysicist. I don’t think they had too much connection. They may have respected each other, but I don’t think they worked very closely together. And actually, I guess, Doc left — no, he was still there when we were supporting CLIMAP. I don’t know when he left.
It was in the early 1970s, the transition from 1972, ‘73.
So I stayed until ‘78, spent eight years at NSF. I found out that the Sea Grant College director’s job was available here at A&M, and I remember when I decided I wanted to leave Washington, I was headed for Fairbanks, Alaska, for a family reunion, driving up through Wyoming and Montana, and said, “What am I doing in Washington? I’ve got to get out of there.” The population pressure was getting to me. The job wasn’t bad, but I decided I wanted to get out there. So about that time the Sea Grant director’s job at Texas A&M came open, and again, Worth Nolin, who is my personnel manager, suggested I come down and talk to the people here. It was a golden opportunity, because I ready to leave. I wasn’t ready to leave NSF; I was ready to leave Washington. I’d been there for eighteen years or twenty years, and that’s enough, so I came down here.
I wanted to cover some aspects of that work when we pick up this interview at a later point. One of the things I didn’t want to cut off discussion on earlier was your perception of what seemed to be the most important programs overall that you were helping to develop during your time at NSF, and I don’t mean those limited to Columbia and Lamont, but generally the one’s that you felt were the most significant during that time.
Well, I felt the GEOSECS program was very important, not because it made an immediate contribution, but because it essentially set a baseline against which changes in the ocean can be compared later on, and they did a superb job. They had an Australian, Arnold Bainbridge, who essentially oversaw the development and conversion of shoreside lab equipment to shipboard equipment that would maintain its reliability and its sensitivity. Really a great job. I think the CLIMAP program was a good one. It’s certainly no good for predicting weather, but it is good for acknowledging that there are cyclical changes on the order of tens of thousands of years, so you don’t need to get too excited. Is man doing this or has it happened before? That kind of thing. Coastal upwelling program was, I think, very productive, primarily for use by the people interested in productivity from the sea. We also did an abortive program to see if you could use large containers in the ocean to study the actual biological processes. In the lab, you don’t get the kind of mixing processes that exist in the ocean.
Bill [William A.] Nierenberg had been a supporter of that concept?
Yes, I think so. But this was work that was done — it’s called CEPEX [Controlled Ecosystem Pollution Experiment], and it was carried out in Canada, primarily by American researchers. In fact, it was the forerunner of the kind of thing that they have at Rhode Island now. They have big tanks on shore. And we just couldn’t duplicate what goes on in the open ocean, so in that sense, you could track things from one part of the food chain to another, but it still wasn’t quite the same as the ocean. NORPEX, we spent a lot of money on NORPEX. We had the idea that we could put buoys out there, which would track incoming atmospheric fronts and associated oceanographic conditions. We never really were successful at it, but learned a lot about circulation in the North Pacific. And the follow-on is the kind of thing they’re doing now, using better tools, satellite navigation, remote sensing, and greatly improved over-the-side oceanographic instruments. I’m sure I’m overlooking one or two. I thought they were all well worth doing. I don’t have any regrets about any one of them, but those that I’ve mentioned stand out in my mind as making the biggest contribution, or if no contribution yet, will in the long run make the biggest contribution.
Certainly there are a number of themes I want to get to cover when we do pick up the interview, and I know that you’ve got to go in a reasonably quick time here. Let me just ask, looking at your ONR period or even before that, are there any topics or issues we haven’t covered that you wanted to make sure that we covered for that time?
I don’t think so. I might comment on the impression that people outside Washington think that everybody in Washington works thirty hours a week and doesn’t do anything. My experience in Washington was everybody was working full-out all the time.
What was the typical work week like?
Well, it was three days of writing up grants and projects, and reading proposals, and then three days on the road visiting Lamont, or Scripps, or Washington and reviewing those things, and then taking the red-eye back, and trying to write on the plane what you’re doing. For a while, I served as the oceanography representative on the Department of Defense, defending the navy’s budgets in oceanography, and preparing briefings for people that needed them. So you didn’t have much time. Fortunately, my wife raised the kids.
During those years, how often would you actually visit Lamont? In a typical year, if there was something like a typical year, how often would actually be at Lamont or any of the other major geophysical institutions?
Well, we’d visit at least once a year, and then if some issue came up that needed to be addressed, we would go back. Once or twice a year. But hell, we were visiting ten institutions, twelve institutions, and that’s a lot of travel time. It’s a lot of travel. So we didn’t make those trips any more often than we had to. Beyond the annual review of their program and the renewal of the contract, we didn’t spend much time at those institutions. Bob [Robert J.] Wall was with ONR, and we sent him back to Lamont to get his PhD. We did the same thing with another, with John [G.] Heacock [Jr.], who went to Lamont to work on his PhD. Ultimately, we put an ONR representative on campus, Dick [Richard] Stevens. So we had ONR representative at Woods Hole, one at Scripps, and one at Lamont.
How did you feel about that system?
I thought it was a good system. They didn’t have any authority, but they were able to help them solve local problems, working with us and working with the navy. It was a worthwhile adventure.
And when did that first begin?
I don’t know. Initially, we had one at Scripps, because that was our major effort, and ONR-Pasadena was the closest. Then we moved somebody from Boston to Woods Hole to work there, and then we moved somebody from New York to Lamont. For the most part, the branch offices at ONR were not science oriented, they were financial, and they were audits.
There will certainly be opportunity in the next interview to raise other points that we haven’t covered this time, because they may crop up. Let me thank you very much for this long session that we’ve had so far today, and you will be getting the transcript from Columbia University once it’s prepared.