2021 McMullen Naval History Symposium

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McMullen 2021  Naval History Symposium Part I

September 23-23,  US Naval Academy.  Observations of John T. Kuehn.

 I am using my downtown in my travels to write this, as we call it in the Navy, hotwash of this recently completed event.  This is also an effort to revitalize diffusing naval and military history conference summaries, hot washes, and just general interest information relating to these on H-WAR again, as was done in the days of yore (often by the not-so-humble, hand-grenade throwing, author).  Any mistakes in transcription of names and content are mine.  Also, The views are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Naval War College, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

It was great to see so many old friends attend in person, although the organizers of the conference did a fine job of allowing for remote participation by presenters and commentators.  Overall it was a highly successful event, as anyone else who attended the conference will probably attest.

September 23. DAY ONE

Dr. Kathleen Broome-Williams, whose father served in in the Marines and brother in naval aviation, has had a long and productive career and served as the USNA Class of ’57 Chair in History in 2018-2019.   She delivered the keynote/kickoff lecture in the near-sacred atmosphere of the Mahan Hall Theater.  Dr. Broome-Williams was also one of three 2021 Dudley Knox Naval Historical Foundation  (NHF) award recipients at the dinner on the final night of the conference, more on that later.

Broome-Williams' lecture audience included quite of few (several hundred?) midshipmen.  She addressed the career and influence of  “Grace Hopper: Naval Officer and Computer Pioneer.”

After initial comments about Admiral Hopper and here pioneering computer work for the government/Navy in WW II,  she returned to Hopper’s earlier life, and especially wanted to focus on her service between WW II, and when she rose to some considerable prominence in the late 1960s Navy.

Her early education was civilian, but she became involved in the Naval Reserve in New York City, later taught math at Vassar.  Here Ph.D. was from Yale (rare in those days, especially in math).

3 things to know about  Grace Hopper:

First, her long devotion to the U.S. Navy

2-computing, her pioneering efforts in this field, especially as an inventor of computer languages, the “Mother of COBAL” and,

3-she achieved distinction in male-dominated fields throughout here life.

At 35 years she was considered too underweight to serve as a WAVE when WW2 broke out—She picked Navy because her family navy service in Civil War, and she thought she “looked good in blue.”  However, the Navy quickly overcame its reticence and waived the height weight requirements and brought her onboard, Due to her PH.D. she came in as a LTJG.  She Worked with Howard Endstrom, another early computer pionerr. She Ended up at Harvard.  US only had one digital computer, Harvard’s Mark-1 for WW II.

Worked for Aiken(?) who claimed he was the  “only man in the world who was a CO [commanding officer] for a computer”

She became the first ever computer programmer in that capacity and was critical in developing the part of the process for computers known as “compiling.”  [Of note, the author first took a college computer course in 1973 (age 16) and still remembers creating the compiler punch cards for his first ever program for an IBM computer (360 I think).   Compiler cards help the computer "align" for the subsequent actual program/algorithm cards to follow.  We used FORTRAN, not COBAL.]

Hopper went to Remington-Rand and then Sperry as the Head programmer.

Remained in the naval reserve.  She wrote programs for everything from rocket trajectories to termite extermination.

MAY 1952 she completed a tour for the Navy’s Bureau of Ordinance (BuORD, more on these dues in another panel later).  Hopper received  rave reviews. 

She was an effective speaker, bridged the gap between civilian producers and military consumers.  Always had excellent fitreps (fitness reports).  She was promoted to the rank of commander in 1953.  One commander said of her,  “He value to the Navy Could Not be Measured by Normal Standards”

She never had to lobby for where her duties every year should be (ACDUTRA), the Navy sent her wherever she thought best, a “team player”

Late in 1966, the Bureau of Personnel  (Bupers) informed her she was over 23 years and approaching 60, and asked her to apply for retirement.  She later said it was the, “The Saddest Day of My Life.”

A year later she was brought back on active duty (Aug 67), a temporary appointment for 6 months that lasted 19 years and promotion to flag rank, the first female admiral. She became the COBAL Tsarina. 

1969. computer science magazine gave her its “Man of the Year” award.

Final years at computer center at Navy Yard DC.  She was brilliant, but unlike another brilliant long-serving naval officer, Hyman Rickover, she was kind, warm, and had a very very good sense of humor.

Retired as Rear Admiral in 1986.  D. 1992, buried in Arlington.

When the lecture was finished there was an opportunity for questions.   Unfortunately I did not transcribe these questions and answers that well and only remember my own question, which was to ask if Hopper had ever worked or met Heady Lamar (Hedwig Eva-Marie Kiesler), the genius Hollywood actress who worked on frequency hopping communications and torpedo guidance, among other things, during World War II.  Dr. Broome-Williams said she had seen nothing in her research to indicate that the two had ever met.

Categories: Discussion

Have her book on computing. Well worth the reading.