This site is fortunate to have access to a memoir written by Neal Clarkson. His children, Rob Clarkson, Terry Clarkson Martinez and Suzy Clarkson Holstein kindly provided the memoir and also a collection of pictures with permission to illustrate and annotate Neal’s account. Suzy typed the memoir from Neal’s handwritten notes. I discovered, through conversations with Shudde Bryson Fath, Neal’s connection with the Department of Physics; sadly this was less than one month after his death.
The detailed memoir provides us an intimate look at the many contributions to his country, his state, his family and his friends. What emerges is a brilliant, resourceful and decent man. The Physics Department is honored to tell his story and to honor him in a way that will permit future generations to know him, his dedication and the power of education and hard work to lift one out of poverty to the upper echelons of the technical community.
Below is Neal’s Obituary, the memoir follows it. To achieve so much in his lifetime and to have a great family, it is clear to most that it could not have been achieved without the dedication and hard work of Neal’s wife, Melba Gillespie. His story absent her story would be incomplete and an injustice. Information about her is included following the memoir and picture album.
In Memory of
Henry Neal Clarkson
August 12, 1918 - February 23, 2013
Obituary (with annotations by Mel Oakes)
Neal (H.N.) Clarkson of Austin passed away on February 23, 2013. He was born in Hutto, Texas on August 12, 1918, and grew up in Bastrop. He attended Schreiner Institute and then the University of Texas, where he earned a BS and then an MS in physics. His 1941 master’s thesis was entitled, Sub-Harmonic Distortion, likely supervised by Professor C. P. Boner. He then taught at Texas A&I in Kingsville where he met and married Melba Gillespie. During World War II, he worked at the Naval Ordinance Lab in Solomons, Maryland and in England. During the war, he became a naval officer. After the war, he participated in testing the atomic bomb on Bikini Atoll. (See documents below.) He then returned to Kingsville and taught physics at A&I and earned his PhD from UT in 1954. His thesis was entitled, Accurate Determination of the Tidal Variations of Gravity. The work was supervised by Professor Arnold Romberg.
In 1955, he began working at LaCoste-Romberg making gravity meters. He continued working there until he was 86, and he greatly loved his many productive years there.
The greatest love of his life, however, was Melba, who preceded him in death. Together, they raised three children and lived life with joy. Together, they forged many long, dear friendships and cherished them through all their 63 years. They traveled extensively, with family and as a couple, and they spent many of their happiest moments in Port Aransas.
He is survived by his three children, Robert Clarkson (Peta), Terry Martinez (David), and Suzy Holstein (Jim), who will always be grateful for the love he showed them and the integrity he taught them. He was affectionately loved as "Papa Neal" by grandchildren Kim Vincent (Mike), Timaeus Martinez, Sofia Martinez (David Blumenthal), Glenna Holstein, Matthew Clarkson, Rachel Clarkson, Melida Holstein, and Michaela Clarkson, as well as great-grandchildren Chris and Rachel Vincent and Mateo, Ilario, and Paloma Blumenthal. He is also survived by a sister-in-law, Dotty Carter, and two brothers-in-law Roy and Victor Gillespie.
To honor his memory, in lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to Planned Parenthood or People's Community Clinic of Austin, 2909 N. IH-35, 78722.
A visitation will be held from 1:30 pm until 2:30 pm, Thursday, February 28, 2013 at Cook-Walden/Capital Parks in Pflugerville. The funeral service will begin following the visitation at 2:30 pm. Interment will follow at Cook-Walden/Capital Parks Cemetery.
My father was named Robert Henry Clarkson Jr. (b. Feb 5, 1865-d. April 25, 1945) but was always known as Bob Clarkson. He grew up in Mississippi, came to Texas when he was 15 years old, and then worked on a ranch near Waco. He eventually became a boiler tender (fireman) at one of the cotton gins in Hutto. There, he met my mother, Hardena Spooner (1879–1925) who was, I think, visiting her brother Henry Spooner. Uncle Henry was farming near Hutto at that time. Mother was always called “Dena.” (Neal’s grandfather was George Robert Clarkson (1838–1912), pictured at right.)
After their marriage, my parents had moved to Kelso, Washington because my mother's brother, Jim Spooner, had moved up there several years earlier and recommended it highly. In Washington, many years before I was born, they had had two sons, both of whom died very young. The first son only lived a few months, and Bruce, the second son, died of measles when he was about two years old Since my father was a trained boiler tender, he was able to get work in the saw mill. But after the death of their first two children, my parents moved back to Texas, perhaps because Uncle Henry and Aunt Kate suggested they come back and try cotton farming. My parents rented a farm north of Hutto.
On August 12, 1918, I was born on that farm in Williamson County. I was given the name Henry Neal Clarkson. My mother wanted me to be called Neal Clarkson. She thought there were too many "Henrys". My father was 56 years old when I was born and my mother was 39 years old. Like my father, I was born during a war – he during the Civil War and I during World War I. Later, my son would be born during World War II.
While we were living on the farm near Hutto, I was bitten by a rabid dog. I was four years old at the time. The dog was my pet dog, but a rabid skunk had bitten it. My father cut off the dog's head and sent it in for examination that proved it to be rabid. At that time the treatment for a rabid bite was 21 shots in 21 days administered in the abdomen. The treatments were giving at Austin State Hospital located on North Guadalupe. (The Pasteur Institute, which was the only place in Texas that offered treatment for rabies at that time, was located on the grounds of the State Hospital). Luckily for us, my Aunt Lizzie (mother's sister, Mary Elizabeth Alexander Spooner Brown (1875–1939)) operated a board and rooming house near the University of Texas. We stayed with her at the boarding house during the time of my treatments. Since the shots were so painful, I fought very hard to keep from getting them. My mother took me from Aunt Lizzie's out to the State Hospital on the streetcar. After she got off the streetcar at the hospital, she waited until she could get some man to help take me into the hospital.
I also fell on a rusty rake while we lived in Hutto and the prongs stuck in my knees. I almost had lockjaw before I was taken to get the tetanus shot. At that time, the shots were administered in the back. This was the second time that, as a small boy, I had come very close to death. My mother, having already lost two sons, was very concerned about the situation since tetanus shots were fairly new.
Still another mishap from that time was when we were visiting Aunt Kate (Katherine Rogers) and Uncle Henry's farm near Georgetown. I fell in a hole where a big red ant bed was located. The ants completely covered me and I had many stings. Aunt Kate, who pulled me out of the bed, said years later when I seemed immune to wasp and other types of stings that the fall in the red ants had developed my immunity to such poison.
When I was five years old, we moved to a farm near Georgetown, Texas. The farm was a good cotton farm; however, my father was new to cotton farming and this presented a real challenge to him. Although he had been a cowboy when he was younger, I don't believe he had ever farmed before they came to Hutto. Mother, however, had grown up on cotton farms.
My mother taught me reading and arithmetic before I entered the first grade at the age of six. At that time (1924), most children started school when they were seven. I did very well in school and enjoyed it very much. (Neal and his mother, Dena, shown below in 1918.)
At the time we were living on the farm in Georgetown, my Aunt Kate developed tuberculosis. Kate was the wife of Uncle Henry (1885-1963), my mother's brother. She was sent to a sanatorium near Kerrville, Texas. Their youngest children, Mary Katherine and James, lived with us for about a year. Mary Katherine was six months younger than I was, and James was two years younger than she was. At that time Mary Katherine (later M. K. Raum) was called "Sister" by all of us. Years later, when I was spending many summers with Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry on the farm and working for him in the fields, I started calling her "Kitty," which I still do today even though most others call her "Mary Katherine." She has always been like a sister to me, and James was like a brother. The oldest son in their family, Glenn, was about 10 years older than I and was also farming at the time I was working for Uncle Henry. For several summers, I worked for Glenn on his hay baler.
After my father and mother had spent two years on the farm near Georgetown, with both working hard in the fields, they were offered a job working for my Aunt Em (Emeline Spooner Taylor [1888-1965]) at the Bastrop Hospital where she was the Superintendent. My mother was to be in charge of the kitchen and my father was to be in charge of the grounds (Neal with mother and father shown at right.)
My father had to finish out the fall farming before giving up the farm. My mother decided to move to Austin, live with Aunt Lizzie, and work for her until they made the move to Bastrop. She enrolled me into Wooldridge Elementary School, which was overcrowded at the time. Austin had already instigated the "half-grade system" at the time. The low second grade was overcrowded, so they tested students and decided to move the better student to the second half of second grade. I did very well on the test and moved to the high second.
Before Christmas, just as we were planning to move to Bastrop, I caught a bad case of the flu, which my mother caught from me. We moved to the hospital where my mother and father were to go to work for my Aunt Em. My mother's flu got very bad and she died on Christmas Eve 1925 (Death certificate says Dec. 27, Gordon Bryson was attending physician). This move from the farm turned out to be the worst one my parents ever made.
(Terry Clarkson Martinez, Neal’s daughter relayed the story associated with the picture below, taken on the day of Neal’s mother’s funeral. The picture includes a despondent little boy, Neal, a mourning mother, Mary Spooner, Neal’s grandmother, and a grieving and shocked husband, Robert Clarkson. Throughout his life Neal never liked the smell of gardenias. )
I recovered, and my daddy and I stayed on at the hospital (Pictured at left. Operated by Dr. Gordon Bryson) where he was to be the groundskeeper and boiler tender. He was in charge of the maintenance of the entire hospital. Living in the hospital at that time was a very enlightening experience. As a small boy living in the hospital with very little supervision, I was able to see many things taking place in the operating room. I saw several births of babies and made friends with a number of young patients. One of these was Cliff Carter who became a life-long friend. I was also spoiled rotten by the staff. I even played golf in the downstairs hallways, and I cooked some of my own meals in the kitchen. My cousin Kitty spent several summers with us at the hospital, too.
When I transferred to the Bastrop elementary school from the school in Austin, I was put in the third grade, which resulted in my having skipped a full grade in school. Most of the students in the third grade were one to two years older than I was and were much bigger than I. As one can imagine, this difference presented a big problem both in class and on the school ground. I had a lot of fights, which, I, of course, lost.
In the spring of my fifth grade year, I developed a bad case of double pneumonia and was out of school for two months. My father took me to the Davis Mountains to recuperate. The climb up the mountain to the location of the sanatorium was very steep in many places. We were in my father's Model T, and, a number of times, we had to back up some of the steepest slopes. (The gearing in a Model T is such that reverse is lower than the low gear.) This period turned out to be a fun time for me. There was a golf course at the sanatorium, which I played many times. Balmorhea is a beautiful town at the foot of the Davis Mountains. It has a beautiful spring-fed swimming pool located at the state park. Several times, my dad and I went swimming in the pool when we had an occasion to go to town. (Neal and his father at right.)
When we returned to Bastrop, my teacher suggested that, since I had missed two months of school and was one to two years younger than most of my classmates, it would be best for me to repeat the fifth grade. This suggestion turned out to be a very lucky thing for me. For one thing, it later allowed me to become a very good high school football player and get a football scholarship to college.
The following year when I was in sixth grade, Aunt Em left the hospital over a misunderstanding with Dr. Bryson. (–Bryson, shown at right, was the brother-in-law of Conrad Shuddemagen, a 1904 UT physics graduate and eventual faculty member.) She moved to Woodsboro, Texas to become the hospital superintendent. My dad and I moved in with Aunt Stella, Stella Spooner (1891–1986), and my grandmother, Mary Sharp Alexander Spooner (1850–1939), everyone called her "Granny".
In the summer of 1927, the year of the big floods on the Mississippi, my father took me to Mississippi to see the place of his birth. We had to ferry across part of Arkansas. The crossing of the flooded Mississippi was quite an experience.
Aunt Stella (we all called her "Auntie") opened up a meat market. My dad had a job as a night watchman for the city. I worked on Saturday in the meat market serving barbecue. I worked with an African-American boy, and we became very good friends. However, as boys will do, we got into an argument one time, and I started to have a fight with him. He called me down and said, "Wait a minute, Neal. I think I could beat the hell out of you, but they (the white people) would kill me if I did." I never will forget this moment. Up until that time, I had never thought about segregation. I had many black friends in my years before I was out of high school.
In about 1933, the big depression caught up with Bastrop. My father lost his job and the meat market went out of business. Auntie finally got a job keeping books for a meat market; they paid her in meat. My dad raised a big garden, and that was what we lived on. The price of a movie ticket was a nickel, as was the price of a big loaf of bread. Most everyone in Bastrop was suffering from the economic depression. It is very hard to realize today how hard the times were.
My first close friend was a boy named James Simmons. We were fishing buddies. We set trout lines in the Colorado River and caught catfish, buffalo, and gasper goo, a fresh water drum. We tried to sell them by going up and down the streets of Bastrop. The times were so bad that we did not have much luck. However, we did have a lot of fun fishing and had a lot of good fish to eat.
My dad loved to hunt squirrels but his 12-gauge double barrel shot gun was almost too much gun for squirrels. I had a lot of trouble trying to find squirrels in the trees. Many years later, I found out that I am slightly red-green color blind which makes locating a squirrel in a tree very hard.
I spent much time on the Colorado River both fishing with James Simmons and swinging with many of my friends. The summer before I went into the 10th grade, I had a severe accident below the Colorado River bridge. A friend and I were playing around, and I slipped and hit a cement pier that tore a large hole in my leg. I was taken to the hospital where Dr. Bryson did all he could with pteroic acid, but it was not enough and it got infected and it took a couple of months to heal. I had to stay in bed most of the time. The accident severed a ligament and has kept me with a huge scar.
In high school, I became a fairly good football player. I played center and middle linebacker. In my senior year, I made the All-District team and had an excellent game in the championship game.
In my sophomore year, Alec Price entered the high school from the Alum School District. We became very close friends and went everywhere together throughout high school. When I went off to college in 1935, Alec joined the CCC and spent several years in Montana. We would later meet back up at the University of Texas.
For many years, I worked in the summer for my Uncle Henry on his farm in Georgetown. His daughter, Mary Katherine (Kitty), and James, his youngest son, were my very close friends. I learned to plow with mules and later with a tractor. I was a very poor cotton picker whereas Kitty and James were very good and liked to pick cotton. We were paid by the pound of cotton we picked. Since I didn't like to pick cotton, Uncle Henry had me do the plowing and corn and maize gathering which was fine with me. Kitty and James faired well and so did I. Henry’s oldest son, Glenn, obtained a hay baler in about 1937, and I went to work for him in the latter part of the summers. He taught me to feed the hay press and I made more money than I had ever made on the farm before then.
As you can see by now, I was raised by many of my relatives, all of whom had contributed a good deal to what I had become. There were of course, Mother and Father, then Aunt Em and above all, Auntie. Then Uncle Henry, Glenn and Aunt Kate. Aunt Kate had the best sense of humor one can imagine, and Kitty inherited it.
I graduated from Bastrop High in 1935. I was the highest-ranking boy in my senior class. My grades in science and mathematics were some of the best that had been given in several years. It was lucky for me that I didn't take chemistry for I didn't know then that I was slightly red-green colorblind and did not know it.
In my senior year I took trigonometry. The high school coach was assigned the job of teaching this class. He had never had any trigonometry, so he gave me the job of teaching the course. I worked hard on it and did a fair job I thought. I wanted to try my hand at teaching solid geometry for the second semester but they ruled that out. I had to take it in college.
My high school coach was a graduate of Trinity University (then in Waxahachie, Texas). He had been a star football player. He had obtained a football scholarship for me. I was also after a scholarship to Schreiner Institute in Kerrville which although very good was not quite as good as the Trinity scholarship. My aunt thought it would be much better for me to go to Schreiner because of the curriculum. (She turned out to be right.)
Cliff Carter (1918–1971) at left, my good friend from Smithville, also got a football scholarship to Schreiner. He had played football for Smithville High School and was All-District. We roomed together for the two years at Schreiner. In World War II, he served as an Army officer in the Italian Campaign. After the war, he became a U.S. Marshall for several years. He then served many years on LBJ's staff. After Kennedy's assassination, he became part of LBJ's Kitchen Cabinet.
I ruined both my shoulders playing football at Schreiner. However, I did very well in my physics and math courses and was able to pick up a small scholarship in physics to the University of Texas. This scholarship, along with working in my Aunt Effie's boarding house in Austin, made it possible for me to go to the University of Texas in 1937. My Aunt Effie had opened a boarding house near the University, and she gave me board and room to wait on tables and clean the rooms. This job and the physics fellowship allowed me to complete my BA degree in physics in 1939.
I did very well in all my course work except German, which I had to take three years of since I had not taken any foreign language at Schreiner. I had been an engineering major at Schreiner. When I enrolled at the University, I changed to a physics major rather than an electrical engineer, for two good reasons. First, I had gotten a job in the Physics Department and second, my cousin Lawrence Brown had recommended the change. ( Lawrence E. Brown (1906–1960) earned a PhD at UT in 1935. He had received a BS in 1927 and a MS in 1929. His PhD thesis was titled, Solution of electrical networks by the use of a general network equation. He was born July 2, 1906, in Bastrop, TX. He worked as an engineer at Bell Telephone Labs 27–28; served as chair of the Department of Engineering at Schreiner Institute during 1929–1930. He was a tutor in physics at UT between 1932–1935. In 1935, he was appointed Associate Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Texas College of Arts and Industries, Kingsville, Texas. Dr. Brown was the assistant director of the Military Physics Research Laboratory at the University of Texas, Austin, Texas.)
I was very lucky the first year as a student assistant. I was assigned to teach a lab. The usual procedure was for new assistants to be a lab assistant in two labs. I served as a lab assistant in one lab and lab director in the second lab. This gave me a head start in learning how to teach physics. The following year, as I completed my BA, I taught two labs each semester.
When I went to work in the Physics Department, I met Kenneth W. Erickson (Shown at right). Ken was also a teaching assistant, and we shared an office with two other teaching assistants. Ken was several years older than I was. He had stayed out of school about four years. He had worked until he had saved enough money to come to the University. Ken had a job as a maintenance man at Kirby Hall (a girls' dormitory). He arranged for many dates with the Kirby Hall girls. He later married one of the girls he met at Kirby Hall. (-Kenneth Warne Erickson (1918–1987) earned a PhD in 1950. His dissertation was entitled, Differential Cross Section as a Function of Angle for the D(d,p)T. Reaction for 10.9 Mev Bombarding Deuterons. Ken was a major weapons expert at Sandia Labs in Albuquerque.)
Ken became my best friend and through life remained that way. He did many good things for me throughout life. He got me a job as a machinist at LaCoste-Romberg Gravity Meter Company. In 1938, Dr. Lucian LaCoste and Dr. Arnold Romberg, physics professors at the University of Texas, had developed a gravity meter. They employed the principals of a zero-length spring. The zero-length spring had been invented by Dr. LaCoste in 1933, and he had obtained a patent on it as a seismograph. They set up a shop to produce these gravity meters in the basement of Dr. Romberg's home.
Wilson Lawson Richards (1915–1987) was the machinist for LaCoste and Romberg. Wilson (from Mineral Wells is pictured at right in 1938) was a good friend of Ken and me. He got both of us jobs as machinists with LaCoste and Romberg. Ken had some experience as a machinist, but I had absolutely none. In fact, I had never used any machine tools at all. They counted on Wilson to teach me how to use the lathes, drill presses, and milling machine. I think he did a very good job, as I did become a pretty good machinist. My starting salary was only 50 cents an hour. In about two years, I was getting over three dollars an hour. This would not be the first time, but one of many times, when Ken proved to be a wonderful friend. I worked as a machinist for Dr. LaCoste and Dr. Romberg until August of 1941 when I received my MA in physics.
In the fall of 1939, Auntie and Dad moved to Austin, and I moved in with them at 704 W. 29th Street. I gave up my job waiting tables at Aunt Effie's boarding house (Effie Spooner Anderson(1882–1963).) My friend, Alec Price, took over. Alec joined the Air Force in 1941 and became a bomber pilot flying the famous B-17s. He was one of the early 1319 pilots, and after completing his 25 missions, came home. He was killed in a flight mishap in North Texas. (Air Force Major William Alec Price (1917–57) was in the 10th Bombardment Squadron. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters and Army Commendation Ribbon. He died with three crew members at Dyess AFB, TX and is buried in Crown Memorial Cemetery in Dallas, TX—Mel Oakes).
While I was working for LaCoste and Romberg in 1939, Ken and I hitchhiked to Florida on a dare. While we were gone, my cousin Glenn Spooner (Uncle Henry and Aunt Kate's son) was killed in an auto accident near Round Rock. This was very hard to take because I was very close to him, especially after working on his hay baler during those summers.
In the summer of 1940, I developed a bloodstream infection after having some wisdom teeth removed. My fever went up to about 105, I think. I would have died if I had not been treated with Sulfapyridine, a drug that had just been developed. (Discovered in 1937, it was used in 1942 to successfully treat Winston Churchill’s pneumonia and in 1944, Nero, the Royal Circus lion—Mel Oakes).
In the spring of 1941, the Canadian Air Force was allowed to recruit at the University of Texas. They were in World War II and needed pilots. Ken and I both applied and took their test. I turned out to be slightly red-green colorblind and Ken failed the eye test. As it turned out, it was probably lucky for both of us. Had we gotten in the Canadian Air Force, we would have been shot down over Europe.
I received my master's degree in physics in the summer of 1941. The subject of my thesis was Sub-Harmonic Distortions. The work was under the supervision of Dr. Paul Boner. This is a subject that has been neglected because it rarely occurs. Dr. Boner was very interested in all types of acoustics. He taught a course in acoustics at the University. He had a large pipe organ in the Physics Department.(The organ can be heard on Professor Boner's page: Physics Organ—Mel Oakes)
In the summer of 1941, while I was finishing my master's degree, Ken and I applied for a job with the Naval Ordnance Lab. We made out our applications and mailed them at the same time. Ken got an offer, which he accepted, but I never heard a word. We had mailed the applications in the same mailbox at the same time. After he got to Washington, he found they had never received my application.
After I missed out on the job at the Naval Ordnance Lab (NOL), my cousin Lawrence Brown (shown at left), who was a professor of physics and mathematics at Texas College of Arts & Industries in Kingsville (later Texas A&I), offered to get me a job as an instructor in physics there. I accepted the job and moved to Kingsville to teach. This lost application to NOL turned out to be the biggest break in my life. Had I not gone to Texas A&I to teach, I would have never met Melba.
When I took the job at A&I, Mr. S. W. Bass was chairman of the physics department (shown at right). He gave me a very good teaching load. One of the courses was an advanced course in electronics, which required a great deal of preparation on my part. This turned out to be very good for me in the work I was to do at NOL.
Melba Gillespie was a sophomore at Texas A&I and was living at Mrs. Freddy's boarding house. I was eating at the boarding house and so I met Melba. We had our first date before Christmas 1941. This was shortly after Pearl Harbor. Melba liked to kid me that after we went to war in December 1941, many of the eligible male students left for war, and I was about the only one available for her to date. We continued to date in the spring of 1942. (Here are two pictures of Melba and Neal from the 1942 Texas A & I Yearbook, El Rancho.—Mel Oakes)
About the end of February, I went to Fort Worth to be the best man at Wilson Richard's wedding. I hitchhiked to Eagle Lake with a friend of mine. A girlfriend named Catherine Davis was teaching in the high school at Rosenberg, a town near Eagle Lake. She had just moved from a school in West Texas. I wanted to see if we still had a romance going. It turned out that it was over as far as we both were concerned. I saw a used car on a lot in Eagle Lake that I liked very much. It was a 1937 Ford 60-horsepower coupe. They were built with aluminum blocks and ran very good and fast. They got extremely good gas mileage for that time, about 40 miles to the gallon. It turned out that they got about that many miles to a quart of oil, too! I didn't have enough money to buy the car, so I called Dr. Romberg in Austin, and he lent me the money (which I paid back when I sold the car in May).
This was the car that I courted Melba in from then until we got married. In April and May, we were double dating a good bit with Nina Ramsey and Jimmy Smothers. They secretly married in May. Jimmy was going into the Air Force at the end of the school year, and the Air Force did not accept married men at that time. Melba and I went with them to the Duval County seat for them to get married. Marriages were not reported in Duval County at that time. Later Nina and Jimmy were our attendants on June 4, 1942 at our wedding in Robstown, Melba's hometown. This day turned out to be the date of the famous battle of Midway, which was a turning point in the war in the Pacific.
After Ken found out that my application to NOL had never been received, he had them send me another one, which I sent in during the spring of 1942. I was accepted and told to report in the latter part of June. Therefore, after Melba and I got married we were going to Washington for me to go to work at NOL. We were going to have a short honeymoon in Galveston where we stayed at the Galvez Hotel. On the way from Robstown to Galveston, I discovered that I had left my traveler's checks in Kingsville. Lucky for me, my cousin Lawrence Brown found them in my desk at the college. He wired me some money and sent the checks on later.
We were very poor at that time and, lucky for us, the loans from Dr. Romberg and Lawrence Brown saved our necks. The NOL job paid very well, and I was able to repay the loans fairly shortly.
Without our many very good friends, I don't know what we could have done. Ken had taken care of us and rented us a small apartment in Washington, D.C. The apartment was located at 1210 1st St N.W. Washington is divided into four quadrants (N.E., N.W., S.E., and S.W.). This causes a problem at first for strangers. It got me into trouble the first day when I was going to work. I took a taxi and told the driver what I thought was the address at NOL. I didn't say what quadrant it was in. He took me to the wrong address. After I told him I wanted the Naval Yard, he took me there but it cost the greenhorn a pretty penny.
After working a few weeks at the Naval Yard and getting used to the routine, I was assigned to the Naval Location Department. We were to work on location gear primarily for locating mines and torpedoes. This turned out to be a rather permanent assignment. The mine test station was being setup in Solomons, Maryland, located on the Patuxent River near where it flows into the Chesapeake.
Melba and I lived in a rooming house (owned by Aunt Sadie Webster). Solomons, of course, was a fairly small town, but, because of the war, many of the homes rented out rooms to people working at the test station. We lived there until about October when we were able to rent the house next door, from the Klostermans. Melba had gone to work for the Burns Co. that was building the Amphibian Base on the Chesapeake side of Solomons. The Mine Warfare Test Station was on the Patuxent side. Most of the boats used in mine location operations were rented from William Preston Lore (1893–1983). Pres, as he was called, was one of the largest oyster fisherman in Solomons. Two of his brothers, Joe and Deck, ran an oyster house. One of his brothers, Ornsby, had been an ocean pilot and had a fleet of boats and pile-driving rigs which did all the setting up of the piers at the Mine Warfare Test Station. All of these men gave me a great deal of training in operating boats on the Chesapeake and Patuxent River.
Pres Lore had many oyster beds located in the Patuxent River. One time, when we were stopped while testing some of the location gear in about ten feet of water, he said we were right over one of his oyster beds. He told me to dive down and get an oyster and bring it up. He opened the oyster and gave it to me. This was the first raw oyster that I ever had eaten.
The location gear we were developing was designed to find aluminum mines. Prior to this time, the only location gear that had been used was for iron mines and torpedoes. We had magnetic detecting location gear as well. The idea of the Mine Warfare Test Station was to perfect all types of location gear.
In October, I was given an assignment to go to Philadelphia and investigate a device the Brush Company was developing for underwater, non-magnet, depth location to be used with our non-magnetic locations. This turned out to be a wonderful trip. Melba quit her job and went with me. It turned out to be a better honeymoon than our first one. We moved in to the Klosterman house shortly after our return. This was their summer home. He had made a lot of money during the prohibition era by manufacturing yeast. They reserved the right to come down during a part of the summer and live in part of the house. We were very lucky to keep the place until about October after the war was over.
We first rented the Klosterman home with Donald J. Hughes and Bill Chamberlin, both worked for NOL and were also assigned to the Mine Warfare Test Station. In fact, Don Hughes was the boss of our group. (He is shown at right.) Don had a PhD in physics from the University of Chicago. We had kept our rooms in Washington, but we gave them up because the assignment to the Mine Warfare Test Station became permanent.
(Donald J. Hughes (1915–1960) was an American nuclear physicist, chiefly notable as one of the signers of the Franck Report in June, 1945, recommending that the United States not use the atomic bomb as a weapon to prompt the surrender of Japan in World War II.
Before the war Hughes worked at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory. By June 1945, the U.S. was deciding whether to use an atomic bomb against Japan, and a very few nuclear scientists knew about the weapon's potential. Some, including Hughes, were wary, and wanted to urge the President to choose a different option. Arthur Compton appointed a committee to meet in secret, in all-night sessions in a highly secure environment. This committee included Hughes, and was chaired by James Franck. The final report, largely written by committee-member Eugene Rabinowitch, recommended that the nuclear bomb not be used, and proposed that either a demonstration of the "new weapon" be made before the eyes of representatives of all of the United Nations, on a barren island or desert, or to try to keep the existence of the nuclear bomb secret for as long as possible. The advice of the "Franck Report" was not followed, however, and the U.S. dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After the war Hughes went to Brookhaven National Laboratory and formed a group of physicists working on contemporary problems in nuclear science. His work centered on the neutron and he had many publications and a textbook. His neutron work was highly regarded. He was known, not only for his brilliance, but also for his exceptional hard work and his demand for the same from those around him. His high regard for Neal reveals much about Neal’s intellect and work ethic. Hughes died suddenly in 1960.—Mel Oakes)
As I said, this house turned out to be our home for many years. It had two bedrooms upstairs and a living room, dining room, bathroom and kitchen downstairs. Each year I grew a wonderful tomato garden, better than I was ever able to grow in Texas. The water came from a deep well that also must have had a small leak because the water was a little salty. Melba and I got used to it. In fact, we enjoyed it very much.
We had plenty of oysters to eat all the time. Pres would keep us well-supplied during oyster season. I think the Chesapeake oysters are bigger and better than the Gulf Coast oysters; at least they seemed that way at that time.
The English were very interested in the EDD. (Electric Discontinuity Detector), which we had developed, as well as the magnetic detector. The Germans had dropped some aluminum mines in the English Channel and the Thames River, as well as on some of their coastline. The British knew of many unexploded mines dropped along the Southern Coast.
They requested that we bring over our location gear and see if some of these mines could be located. We did not know the type of assignments we would have, but NOL was given the assignment. Don Hughes (my boss) was assigned the job and chose me to go with him since I was fairly well schooled in both electronics and handling of small boats.
Melba went home to Robstown before Christmas 1942, and Don and I left for England after the first of the year in 1943. Don and I took a train to New York to catch a plane to England. We had some time to spend in New York. Don took me to my first opera. The opera was The Marriage of Figaro starring Ezio Pinza. This was quite an experience for an old country boy.
I had never been in an airplane in my life, and my first flight was across the Atlantic in a seaplane. The plane flew first to Bermuda and then on to England. The EDD locater and equipment had been shipped ahead. We spent one day in Bermuda because of the weather. I bought Melba a bottle of Chanel No. 5. I carried it with me until I returned to Washington.
As it turned out, the plane had to land in Limerick, Ireland. This was another good experience for a country boy. Ireland was not involved in the war at all, yet they were warm toward the Americans who spent time in Ireland. Don and I went to a dance in Limerick with Irish girls. We had to stay a couple of days.
We flew from Limerick to Hastings, England on the South Coast. We were in a seaplane, so we had to land on the water. From Hastings we took a train to London. We arrived at night and took a taxi to the Cumberland Hotel. London was completely blacked out as a result of the Blitz.. This was quite an experience. The taxi driver drove in complete darkness from the railroad station to the hotel. A few German planes were still flying over in the middle of the night, but there were no big raids like there had been in previous years.
When we were not traveling out of London to various destinations, we took time to look at some of the secret files about what was going on in the war. I read the complete details of the sinking of the Bismarck and what they knew about the German wolf packs.
Our first trip was to Edinburgh, Scotland to the British Laboratory for Mine Warfare. The EDD had been shipped to the test station, and they were waiting for us. They, of course, understood the principle of the EDD. We demonstrated for them as we knew it had a limited range, which was its only drawback. However, it was the only known device for detecting aluminum mines such as the Germans were using. (The Germans were also still dropping iron ones.)
The first job we were assigned was to take the EDD to Scapa Flow and look for a torpedo that had been fired from a British submarine in the harbor. The torpedo was fired by a deranged sailor on board the submarine. (Scapa Flow is one of Britain's most historic stretches of water, located within the Orkney Islands, off the northeast coast of Scotland.—Mel Oakes)
The British took Don and me along with the EDD to Scapa Flow from Edinburgh on a British destroyer. It was a very rough trip in high seas. This was as close as I ever came to getting seasick. There were even a few sailors that were green around the gills. We spent about ten days touring the EDD around the harbor. We found many large anchors and other large objects but no torpedo. We pretty well combed the entire harbor. They came to the conclusion that perhaps the torpedo had gone out of the harbor and would not be a threat to the ships in the harbor.
The EDD was returned to Edinburgh and would later be used in London. In the meantime, we were given the job of trying to find unexploded bombs along the south coast of England. We had also brought over small magnetic detectors that, of course, had a greater range than the EDD. It was also many times smaller and could be hand-carried. The British knew that there were many bombs that had been dropped along the coast that had not gone off. We had a hard time locating any, but we did train the British on the equipment and turned it over to them.
We returned to London about the middle of February and discovered that there were orders for Don to return to America for some secret work. He was leaving NOL and, although I didn't know it at the time, he was going to work on the Manhattan Project. When I returned to Solomons in June, Dan made a trip down to see me, but he couldn't tell me any of the details of the project. He said it was work that was being done for the next war. I never got to see Don again. He died from a heart attack shortly after the war (1960). This was very hard to believe; he was such a healthy man. He did not smoke and only drank in moderation.
After Don left England, I made several trips back to Edinburgh to work with the British location group and they began using our magnetic location equipment. An Australian officer who was working with the mine location group decided that it would be a good idea to try to use the EDD to attempt to locate an unexploded mine that was somewhere in the Thames River near the center of London. They thought it was probably an aluminum mine. This presented a real problem, for the EDD was an instrument about 3x6 ft and 1 ft thick. There was no way to get a boat to work this in the Thames River. Therefore, we rigged up a cable across the Thames and dragged the EDD back and forth across the river. We used a small boat to carry the electronics. The system worked very well. It worked off a small motor generator that provided the electrical current. As hard as we tried, we did not find a mine. The divers went down on several old anchors and other large metal objects.
In May, I was recalled by NOL. They felt the British could now operate the systems. There had been a big shakeup in the location department. Many things were changed, and the mine warfare at Solomons was now under military control. So I left England, not knowing what I would be assigned to do.
I sailed back to the United States on the Mauritania, a sister ship to the famous Lusitania. We left out of Liverpool, England in May 1943, without escort. The ship was a very fast seagoing ship at that time; it normally cruised at about 35 knots (more likely 23 knots). The crossing was usually made in less that 5 days; however, because of very rough seas, it took us about 7 days to make the crossing. There were many people sick on the journey, and I felt bad enough to miss meals one day. Several of us spent time playing bridge for our English money. I think I came out about even.
(—This was the Second HMT MAURITANIA, a Cunard line ship that became a troop ship. An incident that Neal would have been familiar with: Following the Allied victory in North Africa, the MAURETANIA finally returned to the North Atlantic, and, as part of 'Operation Bolero', she made twenty-one round voyages between April 1943 and March 1945, each carrying as many as 7,124 American and Canadian troops in the build-up for the D-Day Landings. On one occasion the MAURETANIA had a 'close call' off Northern Ireland with 5,500 American GIs on board. Two 'wolf packs' of German U-boats were reported to be closing on the liner from port and starboard. The MAURETANIA put on all speed, but a surfaced submarine was picked up next morning by radar, just five miles ahead. As she turned about, an urgent signal from Western Approaches Command in Liverpool was received - the U-boat had reported the MAURETANIA's position to all other submarines in the area. Steaming at full speed on an intricate zig-zag course, the MAURETANIA evaded her pursuers and safely reached the Clyde. She is shown at right in her wartime gray.—Mel Oakes)
After landing in New York, I took a train back to Washington. Melba had returned from Robstown. She was pregnant at the time with our son Robert. She had gotten pregnant the last week before she went home in December. The couple who owned the rooming house at 1210 1st Street where we had stayed when we first came to Washington allowed us to stay until we could go back to Solomons. When I returned to the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, I was told that the Solomons test station had become the mine warfare test station, separated from NOL. The station was now under naval supervision. However, a civilian named Mr. Harwood was still in charge of the operations at the base. He requested that I be assigned to him to take over the mine and torpedo location in the Patuxent and Chesapeake.
The testing had now grown very large in the area. It now included the mine warfare test station, the amphibious training station and a naval air base across the Patuxent. The mine warfare test station was now under the control of a naval captain. The chief executive officer, who effectively ran the base, was Lt. Commander Richard T. Spofford. The chief diving officer was Lt. JG Neal Shanahan. I worked very closely with him, and we were the best of friends. He even taught me to go down into deep water in a diving suit. The water in the Patuxent reached a depth of 120 ft in one place. I never went down to this depth, but I was sent down to 50 ft one time.
Pres Lore was still supplying all the location boats, and he arranged for me to have a small boat, which I could use to go around to the different jobs we were on. I worked all up and down the Patuxent and much of the Chesapeake. Pres taught me a great deal about operating boats in those waters. This knowledge would all serve me well many times over. Both Pres and his brother Ornsby were great teachers, and I do believe that they were the best men in this capacity I ever knew.
We worked many hard jobs together. Neal Shanahan and his divers relied on our location group to locate many different things in the Patuxent and Chesapeake. One of the most difficult jobs involved all of us. A torpedo had been lost off Bloody Point at the deepest spot in the Chesapeake. The depth was over 200 feet. Pres Lore, operating one of his boats with our magnetic locator, discovered the torpedo in the deepest and swiftest part of the bay. The divers tried many times to get a cable on the torpedo but they did not have any luck at all. Pres suggested that Ornsby could lasso it if we got him to drive his barge up there. This we did. We located the torpedo very carefully and then maintained a position over the torpedo. Ornsby circled us with a long cable and lassoed the torpedo. This was quite an experience!
There wasn't a hospital in Solomons so we had to go to Prince Frederick, a town 21 miles up the highway toward Washington to go to a hospital and see a doctor. We needed a car to get back and forth for Melba to see the doctor and also be in the hospital for the birth of our baby. I bought a second-hand car, a 1939 Chevy coupe. This car turned out to be a lemon. Sometimes it was very difficult to get the car out of second gear and the lights would often go out while driving at night. I applied for a permit to buy a new car. The Prince Frederick board gave me a permit with the understanding that if I didn't find a car in a week, I was to return the permit.
Our good friend Bob Campbell was with me when we left Prince Frederick to go to working. On the way the brakes went completely out and the emergency brake quit working. The only way I could stop the car was to curb it. I drove in to a used car lot and they didn't want it. We walked across the street to another lot and the car salesman offered to buy it. I said, "fine" if he would go get it.
Bob and I rode the bus back to Solomons. The next day, Melba and I went back to the Ford place and found a new Ford coupe. Melba wrote out a check for $1200. This was a great deal of money at that time. Our having this kind of money to spend at that time was a result of the savings we had, both from being on per diem at Solomons (from NOL) and my trip to England.
We were very lucky to have Ruby, a black woman, come up from Robstown to take care of Melba and Robert after he was born on Sept. 1, 1943. We enjoyed her stay very much, and I think she enjoyed very much cooking for us. Ruby loved to play the slot machine at the grocery stores. Of course, Ruby was very fond of Robert and showed it many times in years to come. I think she was a very special person. I could never stop her from calling me Mr. Neal.
In 1944, Congress had passed a law that required men 26 years and younger who were working for NOL and other government agencies to be commissioned. I first had to enlist in the Navy and pass a physical exam. Then I was commissioned and had another physical exam. This time I was given a waiver on my color blindness. I was subject to a written exam on the various aspects of navy regulation. This required a good bit of boning up. I received my commission as an ensign in September 1944.
In the fall of 1944, we shared our house with W.D. and Geneva Roebuck. He went by the nickname of Buck. He was a non-commissioned officer in the Navy stationed at the amphibious training base. They were great friends and fell in love with Robert. They stayed with us until he was shipped out in the spring of 1945. We got to make one very memorable trip to their hometown in North Carolina. We had a wonderful time. I got to go quail hunting with them. Gas was strictly rationed during the war, but Buck had been able to bring home enough gas from the base to make the trip.
The Chesapeake had many sudden variations in depth and variations in the flow of the tide. The worst was the one I wrote about earlier at Bloody Point. At another time, a submarine had been brought to the mine test station for the purpose of checking on a minelayer, (name of ship?) which had been set up in the Chesapeake. Commander Spofford (the executive officer of the base) called me (an ensign) in and told me he wanted me to pilot the submarine down the Chesapeake where the mine had been located. He said I was one person that could probably keep the submarine from running aground. Thanks to Pres and Ornsby, I knew a great deal about all the variation of depth and ins and outs of the Chesapeake. The submarine captain with the rank of a full commander was taken aback when a lowly ensign was assigned to pilot his submarine. He watched the balloon when several times I told him to come up to a shallower depth. He saw the balloon follow us up. He was very pleased with the results and was very complimentary on the job I did. Commander Spofford also paid me high praise.
In the spring of 1945 (shortly before President Roosevelt died), my father passed away. I think he died from a bad case of the flu. The death certificate never showed this, but from what my aunt told me I am fairly sure this is true. He was only 82 years old, and, except for having occasional bronchitis, he had been in good health. He lived with Auntie in Gonzales, Texas. When she called me, he was ill, and she told me he was not doing very good. I caught a military plane from Washington to San Antonio and a bus to Gonzales. When I got there, I found out that he had died and then had been taken to Bastrop to be buried. He had died while I was flying home.
Shortly after my father died, President Roosevelt died. Harry S. Truman became President. We were very lucky to have two great men as President during the war years and those years before and after the war. Roosevelt had pulled us through the Great Depression and World War II. Truman took over, and with his Marshall Plan, he set up the recovery of Europe. The plan was called the Marshall Plan, because Truman knew he could never have gotten it through Congress if it were thought of as his plan. Truman also had made the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which ended the war much sooner.
In the Korean War, President Truman did something few, if any, presidents could have ever done: he relieved General McArthur of his command of the war after he had decided to invade China. This, we now know, would have gotten us into a war with China and Russia.
Melba was pregnant with our daughter Terry at the end of World War II. Terry was born on the 18th of August, four days after VJ day. Since things were in such turmoil after VE day and Melba had gone home to Texas to have the baby, I moved onto the base. Terry was born at the Naval Hospital in Corpus Christi.
The end of war in Japan, and, thus, the complete end of World War II meant the end of the mine warfare test station in Solomons. NOL was now moved to White Oaks, Maryland, located beyond Silver Springs. I left Solomons on terminal leave with no set time to return to NOL. As it happened, I never would be going back. I had not seen Melba since May and had not seen our new daughter, Terry. A friend of mine at NOL left Washington and drove with me, stopping in Houston, Texas where he lived. I drove into Robstown to see Melba, Robert, and Terry.
All the NOL naval officers who were commissioned because they were 26 or younger were put on inactive duty in the fall of 1945. I still retained my job with NOL, but was assigned to a different division in October 1945. The division was the underwater acoustic division under Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff, physicist and one of the early inventors of the computers. (—In 1972, a court ruled he was the official inventor of the computer. He is shown at right.—Mel Oakes) Melba and I kept the house in Solomons because housing in Washington was so hard to find. I finally got a place to rent in a group of row houses near Laurel, Maryland. The house was located about 10 miles from the location of the NOL. The road from where I lived to the lab was a country road and gave me a lot of trouble during the winter when it snowed.
Before I got the house, for more than a month I commuted back to Solomons on the weekend where Melba, Robert, and Terry were living. I went all over the northern part of Washington looking for furniture for the house after I rented it. I was lucky and found a man who wanted to sell everything or nothing in the apartment he had rented. This included everything but the beds. I bought it all and had it moved to the house I had just rented. We moved in shortly and needed only to buy a couple of beds and a refrigerator, which we bought in Silver Springs.
In the spring of 1946, the section of NOL I worked in started developing hydrophones and electronic equipment to measure the atomic blast that was to be set off at Bikini in the summer of 1946. I was not scheduled to go, although I was working on the hydrophone. The development of a special hydrophone to withstand the intense blast of the underwater test was a very important project. I took the hydrophones to the machine shop in the naval yard to machine the surfaces so flat that they would not require any kind of O-rings. The job proved to be a failure; we had to do some re-lapping at Bikini.
After the equipment was prepared, my great friend, Ken Erickson, went to our boss, Atanasoff, and told him that it would be a good thing to take me along to lay out the hydrophones. He said I had a great deal of experience in managing the operation of small boats and that I had once piloted a submarine in the Chesapeake. He added me to the group, and I was given a bunk on the ship. During the trip, I helped with the electronics since I had worked with electronics at Solomons and had taught a course in it at Texas A and I.
The ship we were assigned to was the USS Kenneth Whiting, a seaplane tender, (auxillary aircraft support ship). The ship had been hit by a kamikaze plane during World War II. It was our home in the Bikini Atoll where we were set up with our electronic equipment. My primary job was to direct the laying of the hydrophones in the waters of the atoll. The same layout would be used for the two tests. Since we had plenty of time for the test, Milt Doobin, who also worked with us and was a geophysicist, requested that we make a seismic survey of a part of the atoll. I supervised the laying of the geophone and he got his test.
The captain of the ship was very good and followed orders very well. The radio of the ship was often playing the theme song from the movie Casablanca, "As Time Goes By". This was the song that Melba and I considered our song.
The first drop was an air drop. For the test, we sailed out of the lagoon about 15 miles. We were issued very dark sunglasses to watch the bomb's explosion. We sat on the deck to observe it. This was really quite an experience. We first saw the explosion, then felt the heat wave, and much later, we heard the mighty explosion. I don't think anyone who ever sees an atomic explosion will ever forget it.
After several hours, we started back to the lagoon to observe the damage done to many of the ships. The air drop missed the target by a good bit. However, it did explode over the lagoon and did quite a bit of damage. The lagoon was full of ships from the Japanese and American navies. There was one big American carrier as well as a big Japanese battleship that at the time was the biggest battleship in the world. The carrier and battleship were still afloat, as were some of the smaller ships. (The carrier later sank in the underwater blast that came later.—Mel Oakes) All the animals had been killed by the first blast. All our hydrophones were still working, and we had received good signals from the blast even though the drop had been well off target. The hydrophones were now ready for the underwater blast, and my work was complete.
Dr. Atanasoff (my boss) came to see me after their first test. Now that my work was over with, he told me the best thing for our work was for me to pack up and go back to Washington, and start writing up the work I had done since I was not needed for the second test. I was very unhappy at the time, for I was going to miss the big blast. I now think it was a lucky break for me because there were bad results for some of the people who returned to the lagoon after the underwater blast. At that time, little was known about the radiation effects from atomic blasts.
I didn't know it at the time, but I had already overdone my exposure to the sun that summer. I worked all that time with nothing on but a pair of swimming trunks and no hat. The sun really did a big job on my body. I have to see a dermatologist twice a year to get the pre-skin cancers zapped. I have had several (non-lethal) skin cancers. After the test, Ken left the lab and went back to the University of Texas to work on his PhD. He did his research at Los Alamos. There were several other men who had been at NOL now working at Los Alamos. Our very good friend Bob Campbell was one of them.
On my way back to Washington, I came by Robstown to pick up Melba, Robert, and Terry. The Air Force flew me from Bikini to San Antonio, Texas. Then I had to take a commercial flight to Corpus. In the process, my suitcase was lost, and it was many years before it showed up.
While I was in Robstown, Melba and I went down to Kingsville to see Mr. Bass and see how A&I was doing. He offered me a full professorship if I would come back and teach physics at A&I. The salary of a full professor at that time at Texas A&I and, for that matter, at all small colleges was not so great. However, it was a great opportunity for me to get a chance to go back to UT and work on my PhD. My cousin, Lawrence Brown, had left A&I and moved back to Austin to work in the Defense Research Laboratory. The effects of the tuberculosis he had had as a young man limited the amount of work he could do.
This job at A&I worked out very well for me in spite of the low salary. Mr. Bass allowed me to set up all the advanced courses and even direct the master's degree program. Several men got their master's degrees under my supervision. (Photo at right: L to R: S. W. Bass, Neal Clarkson, ?.)
The fast move from Maryland to Kingsville was a very hectic one. I worked fast with lots of overtime to write up the work at Bikini. Ken had returned and was also working at a feverish pitch because he wanted to enter UT It now seems impossible but we did get moved. We were very lucky. The movers arrived ahead of the date they had given us. We happened to see the truck passing through Robstown and caught them, and then we went ahead and arranged for the school to store our furniture on the East Campus.
The college had taken over the military barracks on the Kingsville Air Base after the war and was converting them into apartments. There was not any availability at the time we arrived. The college had set up a trailer park on the East Campus, and we rented one and stayed there a short time. However, it looked like we might have to live there a long time for we were far down the list for the apartments.
Melba and I decided to buy a house near the campus. It was an expensive house, and the terms were very bad. We were supposed to pay off most of it in four years. We were both young and very inexperienced. This, however, turned out to be a lucky thing for us. A couple of years later when we got an apartment on the base and sold the house, we got a good amount of money from the large payments. This amount, along with my G.I. Bill, paid for nine months at UT.
We enjoyed our stay at the house on Lantana Drive, very much. I was within walking distance of school. We made many good friends, including the Brinleys. He was chairman of the physics education department. They were Mormons and opened up a Spud Nut place in downtown Kingsville. After they closed up the shop at night, they often brought us Spud Nuts (doughnuts made with potato batter) that were left over which we enjoyed very much.
Melba joined the Methodist Church, which she enjoyed very much and became very close friends with the choir director and the preacher. At that time, the church had two services with Sunday School in between. We only had one car (that's all most people had then). I took Melba to church at 9:00, came home and got Robert and Terry ready for Sunday School, and took them back at 10:00. Melba, Nancy (Melba's cousin), Ralph Kent (the choir director) and I then went for coffee while Sunday School was going on. I picked up Robert and Terry and took them home. Then Melba, Nancy, and Ralph went back to church. I took Robert and Terry home and then went back and picked up Melba after church. This was the Sunday routine until we moved to the East Campus.
The final summer that we lived on Lantana Drive, I started working on my PhD. I went to school for six weeks at the University in the summer of 1947. Ken was working on his PhD, and we both took the same courses and studied together. It seemed like old times. Lucky for me, I had been in the service and had the G.I. Bill to pay for the tuition and books. I could not have taken off from teaching for six weeks to go to school otherwise. The six weeks was hard on Melba since we had only one-car and I had it in Austin except for a couple of weekends.
When we sold our home and moved to East Campus, we got a very large one room apartment where the Navy Corpsmen had lived over the garage for the ambulances. The school gave me partitions to put up to make rooms out of the one big room. I made a living room, dining room, and three big bedrooms. We had four toilets and four urinals and three showers in our bathroom.
The Mooneys, who were very good friends of ours, lived downstairs and across a breezeway. We often played bridge with them on weeknights at their place. Several times, Terry, who was about three years old, would wake, find us gone, and start to come down the stairs. Then she would fall and roll down the stairs. It didn't seem to hurt her, and she never complained.
Across the parking lot from our apartment, there was a large building which had housed the theater and recreation area for the Naval base. One night, while our good friends Dorothy and Leonard Stone were spending the night with us, this large building caught on fire and burned to the ground. All that was left was the swimming pool and a juke box. We took advantage of the swimming pool and heard the records on the juke box many times. I will never forget "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" was played very often.
We enjoyed our time on the East Campus very much. I had built the rooms, our rent was very low, they replaced our many light bulbs when they burned out, and we had a wonderful place to entertain our friends. We paid only $27.00 a month rent.
Then, in the summer of 1949, I went to school at UT. We traded our East Campus apartment for a trailer house of some good friends Ed and Harriet Leissner for the summer. We moved the trailer to a location in the Pecan Grove Trailer Park in South Austin.
Connected with the move was a very funny event that occurred. (It didn't seem funny at the time.) Robert had had the mumps about three weeks before we made the move. I have never had the mumps and since he got right up in my face the day they appeared, I was afraid I was going to catch them. He got over them, and I didn't think I had anything to worry about and had completely forgotten about them when we made the move to Austin. The morning we arrived in Austin and set up in the trailer park, Terry came down with the mumps. We had eaten breakfast at a cafe in Austin, and I had eaten some of her food after her. We should have known that something was wrong because Terry was such a good eater that she would never leave food unfinished. I thought I would surely come down with the mumps and miss out on the entire summer school. For some reason, I did not catch them and got to attend school for the entire summer.
Our next door neighbors in the trailer park were Roy and Frances Sykes. They became our very close friends. We made many road trips with them, and Roy taught me how to hunt deer. For years, we spent every Thanksgiving with them on a ranch near El Dorado hunting deer.
When Melba and I got married, I weighed about 205 lbs. and she weighed about 105 lbs. By they time I got out of the Navy, I weighed about 225 lbs. I had developed the 205 lbs. trying to be a football player but had dislocated both my shoulders and never went very far as a football athlete. I decided at about the time we moved in the trailer park to try and take off some of the weight. Melba's father had been put on a high protein diet to attempt to lose weight (in hopes it would improve his heart condition.) I decided to try this type of diet since I loved eggs so much and ate lots of protein anyway. I did not have any problem avoiding sweets and starches. The diet started to work, and in a couple of years I had gotten my weight down to 155 lbs. I was eating as much as a half a dozen eggs a day. There had never been any mention of cholesterol. When the concern about cholesterol first came out and they discovered that eggs were highest of anything in cholesterol, I got a real scare. They now know that there is good and bad cholesterol and eggs are primarily a source of good cholesterol.
In the fall of 1950, I took a nine-month leave of absence and went to the University to finish up on most of my course work. I took my prelim exams for my PhD and came through with flying colors. I made one of the highest grades that had ever been given on the exams. However, I used up all my G.I. Bill and was left not knowing how I would finish my work on the PhD.
At the same time, in the fall of 1950, the U.S. government took the base back over and we had to move off. We first moved to Brackenridge Apartments in Austin to go to school and then, when we finished the 9 months, moved back to Kingsville.
Using a G.I. loan (for which I was eligible), we bought a house on East Warren in Kingsville. Our very good friends the Leckies and Stewarts also purchased houses across the street from us. We were very close friends for many years. Boyd Stewart was an English professor and was Dean of the college of Arts and Sciences. Bill Leckie was a professor in the history department. We enjoyed their company for the years we lived on East Warren. We made a number of trips to Mexico and had wonderful times on those trips.
While we lived on East Warren, Robert and Terry went to school at Harvey Elementary school which was only a few blocks from our home. A freak lightning bolt struck the baseball backstop one day at this school and killed four young students. Luckily, Robert and Terry were not outside at that time. (Ed. Note: Actually the lightning struck a nearby junior high, not at Harvey Elementary School.) Our younger daughter, Susan Quanah, was born on Memorial Day in 1951. We called her Suzy Q. Terry, who was six years older, spoiled her younger sister in every way. She was so happy to have a younger sister.
I applied and obtained a Ford Fellowship in the fall of 1952 which paid for board, room, and tuition at the University. We moved back to the Brackenridge Apartments. I had taken a second leave from Texas A & I. My course work was almost completed so I planned to start work on my doctoral thesis. My good friend, Ken Erickson, had applied and was accepted at Los Alamos to do his doctoral thesis. When I applied to do the same thing, I was turned down because I had a family, and Los Alamos was not set up at that time to take in families.
As I mentioned before, Dr. LaCoste and Dr. Romberg had left the University physics department and formed a gravity meter company in about 1938, and I had worked as a machinist for them before the war. Dr. LaCoste had a major project for a PhD thesis. He recommended it to me. He obtained the service of a physics professor at the University, Arthur Lockenvitz, to supervise and direct the thesis. The project was to develop an earth tide gravity meter and measure the earth tides. The marine effect of ocean tides is well known. In the Bay of Fundy between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the ocean tide on the full moon and dark of the moon is over forty feet. That is, in a six hour period the bay rises and falls forty feet.
Very little was known about the earth tides, that is, how much the surface of the earth rises and falls each day because of the pull of the sun and moon. A very sensitive gravity meter will detect and measure this change in gravity. The theoretical amount can be calculated, and the difference will be due to the actual displacement. Dr. LaCoste had a gravity meter redesigned to make these very small measurements. I developed the electronics and measuring equipment to make these measurements.
I completed my research in the summer of 1953, but since Ph.D.s were only awarded in June of each year, I didn't receive my PhD until June, 1954. I went back to teaching at Texas A&I in the fall of 1953. (Neal’s dissertation was entitled, Accurate Determination of the Tidal Variations of Gravity.” It was officially supervised by Professor Arthur Lockenwitz though Lucian LaCoste suggested the problem and provided much of the technical support. The results of the work was presented by Clarkson and Lockenwitz at the 1954 APS meeting in Austin—Mel Oakes.)
When Melba and I got married in 1942, she had completed two years of college. Her major had been in music. Melba's mother asked me to promise that Melba would go back to school after the war and get a college degree. After I took the professorship at Texas A&I, Melba decided to go back to school but to change her major. She first decided on education, but after about one semester, she thought better of this and changed to history which she enjoyed very much. Bill Leckie was now a full professor in the history department, and she took several courses under him. She received her BA degree in history in the spring of 1954, the same year I was awarded my PhD from the University of Texas.
In the summer of 1954, I worked for Dr. LaCoste in Austin. We stayed in the Town and Country Apartments on 32nd Stret. Dr. LaCoste wanted me to start doing some research on a new type of optics for tidal gravity meters. It was called chopper optics. The optics were diagonal so it would be drift-free.
In the fall of 1954, I returned to Texas A&I to teach and do the research on the chopper optics. This was a very big load since the teaching load at A&I at that time was five three-hour courses per semester, and I had the job of teaching all of the graduate courses and most of the advanced course. I did not get much sleep.
As I said, we were living on East Warren across the street from the Leckies and Stewarts. We always had coffee with them at about 10 o'clock at night and then went back to work on our preparation. It was fun but lots of hard work. Also, my research on the chopper optics was going slowly.
Mr. Bass had decided this would be his last year to teach and was planning on retiring. His age was such that he could not have stayed on as chairman of the department. The president of Texas A&I wanted me to take over the next year as chairman of the department. I did not want that job at all. It was not the kind of work that I was suited for. I had already suggested that Sumner Williams be made chairman but since he did not have a PhD, that was out.
I don't know whether Dr. LaCoste knew what was going on or not, but in the spring of 1955, he called me and offered me a job with him at a salary of $10,000, which at that time was very great. My salary as head of the department at A&I would have only been $3,300 for two semesters. It was only $3,000 as a full professor, which is what I would have had if I had stayed. (Neal's memory of these figures was a bit different than what the family found in old contracts later. The amounts used here reflect their research—Mel Oakes)
I was very happy with my work and our lives in Kingsville. However, I also knew that working for Lucien and living in Austin would be great. The salary was just too much to turn down. I accepted his offer and in the summer of 1955, we moved to Austin. We leased a house on West Francis Place which suited us very much.
Robert was now in junior high school (the 7th grade), and Terry was in the 5th grade. They were both very happy in their first schools in Austin. However, we decided in October to buy a house at 4209 Parkwood Rd., which we have lived ever since. This was fine except that it did necessitate the changing of schools for Robert and Terry. Robert moved to UJH (University Junior High) and Terry moved to Maplewood in the middle of a term. The many moves for both were very hard on them. Terry had a very bad experience soon after she changed schools. Since there were already two Terrys in her class, the teacher decided to call her by her middle name "Jeannette." This made the rest of the year very hard for Terry. Robert's move in school was fine, but he did have a bad experience outside of school. For a Boy Scout merit badge, Robert had built a transistor radio. He was very proud of his work and was showing it off at a scout meeting when it was knocked off the table and then laughed about. Robert dropped out of the Boy Scouts. He said they were not serious about anything.
My work at LaCoste and Romberg was very interesting and very demanding. One of the things Dr. LaCoste wanted me to work on was a type of optics for reading the position of the beam in the gravity meter that was not subject to any kind of drift, either mechanical or electronic. The optical device is called a chopper optics. A small motor turns a dish in front of two small lamps. One shines on a mirror mounted on the weight on the end of the beam and then onto a photocell. The other shines on a second photocell. A chopper dish turned by the small motor breaks the light up into an alternating light signal. The output from the two photo cells is amplified and then rectified in the electronics with the output from the fixed mirror controlling the phase of the rectification of the signal from the moving mirror. This output is a D.C. signal which gives the position of the beam at all times. There has never been, and I don't believe there ever will be, a better way of obtaining a beam signal from a gravity meter. However, it has many drawbacks in the field. If it were set up with LEDs instead of incandescent lamps, I think it would be much better. The incandescent lamps burn out after a given length of time, and reinstalling new lamps is quite an undertaking in the field. For one thing, an oscilloscope is required, plus a trained operator. The capacitive readout which is now used on all air-sea meters, underwater meters, and earth tide meters does not require any reworking after it is once set up.
After I came to LaCoste-Romberg, we set up the second earth tide meter on a pier in the Lacoste-Romberg Laboratory at 6610 North Lamar. The company had moved to that address in the fall of 1955. The set-up at that location I think was the best the company ever had. The pier that the earth tide gravity meter was set up on was built so that it was not connected to the building. The earth tide meter was set to run continuously and record the data on a chart recorder. The sensitivity of the tidal meter is so great that it will pick up earthquakes around the world. It fact, it picked up the famous 1960 Chilean earthquake. The vibration from the earthquake traveled around the earth many times. We recorded all this on the earth tide meter.
Dr. Slichter, the head geophysicist at UCLA, talked to Lucien (LaCoste) about this. We sent him the records we had obtained, and he became very interested in our work and decided to purchase some earth tide meters. He installed one at the South Pole which operated there for many years. There was no direct communication to the operator, C.L. Hager, at the South Pole. He had to connect to me through a ham operator located somewhere in the United States. When there were any questions, he would call me via some ham operator at any time, day or night. The meter gave some interesting results which Dr. Slichter published. He continued to do this type of work until his death. He once located one of his meters on Bermuda Island, and I flew out one time to check on it.
(Louis Byrne Slichter (1896–1978) was an American physicist and geophysicist who directed the Institute of Geophysics at UCLA. Slichter was notable for, among other things, earth tides research, submarine detection, development of three-component short-period seismographs, studies of the earth temperature distribution, and the invention of a number of important geophysical devices. Slichter Foreland peninsula in Antarctica is named after him. The Institute of Geophysics building in UCLA where he used to work as a director of the Institute has been named Slichter Hall. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the chair of the Academy's Geophysics Section. He was also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Physical Society, and a fellow of the American Geophysical Union. The New York Times called Slichter a "widely honored pioneer in the earth sciences". The National Academy of Sciences called him "one of the foremost geophysicists of the twentieth century, an outstanding leader, scholar, and teacher". UCLA called him "the world leader in the analysis of the solid earth tides". A quote from a geophysics journal states, “A highly sensitive gravimeter has been designed for this, and Louis B. Schlichter, Director of the Institute of Geophysics, University of California, who helped to develop it, recorded a maximum amplitude of tidal motion of the earth of about four inches in November 1956 in Honolulu. The device we learn from Neal’s memoir was developed by Clarkson, Lockenvitz and LaCoste.—Mel Oakes)
When I first came to work at LaCoste and Romberg, I put in a 5-½ day work week and worked 10 or more hours several days. The work was fun. We were developing the first air sea gravity meter which was a gimbal meter and could only operate in moderate seas. It was very good in a submarine. Dr. LaCoste had developed a horizontal accelerometer measuring device called the Ham. We developed and sold about 14 of the meters. I believe working on these gimbal meters was the hardest work I ever did in my life. The testing of these systems required a great deal of time and patience. The adjustments on the Hams were very critical. John England worked with me on the many long tests we made. Several nights we worked without sleep. Twice we put the testing machine in our camper truck and took it to Morgan City to recalibrate and test the gimbal meter.
Dr. LaCoste and Dr. Romberg were very good to me and gave me all the vacation time I wanted. They also sent me to New York for about 10 years to the IRE convention to look for new equipment. Melba always went with me, and we had a ball. After attending the convention in the daytime, we took in the Broadway theater, seeing many of the famous plays and musicals. I think the first play we saw was "No Time for Sergeants." And one of the last was "Hello Dolly." I guess we were young and very impulsive. Our good friends, Todd and Rose Kenny, lived out on Long Island, and we always made a point to visit them while we were in New York.
The first trip was in the spring of 1956. There had been a snow storm in New York so we had to land in Washington and take a train to New York. On that first trip to New York, we ran into Dick and Pat Chalmers. Dick was a high school friend of mine who now lived and worked in Austin, but I had not seen him in many years. We enjoyed their company for several nights while in New York.
It was always OK with Lucien for us to stay a little longer than a week. He and Dr. Romberg had told me to do so. One time on Sunday, before we were to come home on the next Monday or Tuesday, Melba and I rode the subway down to the Staten Island Ferry location and took the ferry over to Staten Island and back. The ferry goes right by the Statue of Liberty. We enjoyed the trip very much. When we arrived back at the dock, we decided to walk back to our hotel, which is nearly the length of lower Manhattan. There didn't seem to be a soul in lower Manhattan, which sort of scared Melba. She saw a fisherman and asked him if it was dangerous. He assured her it was fine. As you can imagine, we spent most of the rest of the day walking.
During our trips to New York, sometimes Melba's parents and her Aunt Jessie and Uncle Fillmore came up and stayed with our children while we were gone. We were very lucky.
When Melba and I got back from New York the first time, Robert and Hank Howard met us at the airport with the news that Allen Junior High in east Austin had burned down, and so the students would be sharing University Junior High on a half-day basis until Allen could be rebuilt. This meant carpooling from now on.
In the summer of 1958, we took our whole family to New York on a driving vacation. We came back to New Orleans and had a great deal of fun for the entire trip. In our hallway, we still have the charcoal portraits of Robert, Terry, and Suzy that were drawn in New Orleans on that trip.
In about 1965, we stopped having the time to go to New York. This was the year we produced the air-sea meter with gyroscopes and accelerometers. I had only thought we had been busy. The demand for the air-sea meter was very great. We had shifted over to the capacity readout for the meter, and Lucien and I had developed an automatic reader for the meter.
When we moved into our Parkwood house in the fall of 1955, we thought we were very lucky. Everything looked good except the yard. It was covered with poison ivy. We started out to try and get it cleaned up. It turned out that Robert was very allergic to it, as was Melba. So it was up to Terry and me to try and get it up (Suzy was too young to be much help.) (Editor's note: Suzy was also allergic to it.—Mel Oakes) Lucky for me, I am not affected by poison ivy, for although we do not have any in our yard anymore, there is still some next door and across the creek.
There were a large number of willow trees on the creek when we moved in, and I did not realize that they produce fuzz like cottonwood does. We had installed an air conditioner in the house shortly after we moved in since I had obtained some money from my teacher retirement when I left A&I. The fuzz from the willow trees clogged up the air conditioner and burned up the motor. We had to have it replaced the first year. Since then, I have always kept screens on the outside of the air conditioner and have had most of the willow trees cut down.
Our yard is very shady. We have a number of large elm trees, cedar (juniper) trees, and a large pecan tree. This is wonderful for the carpet grass and English ivy, but it makes it hard to grow a garden. Some years, we have made (grown) tomatoes, green beans, peppers, cucumbers, and many other good vegetables (including okra and black-eyed peas). I had real good luck with asparagus until I failed to take care of it one winter and it all died.
Our three children, Robert, Terry, and Suzy, all grew up at our home at 4209 Parkwood. (Ed. note: Robert was going into 7th grade and Terry was going into 5th when we moved in.—Mel Oakes) All three attended the University of Texas. Robert had a National Merit Scholarship which paid his tuition. He stayed at a boys' co-op. After he graduated, he married a girl by the name of Sherri Tate. They had a daughter named Kimberly. Robert and Sherri divorced after Kim was about two years old.
Robert went on with school and received his PhD (in nuclear physics at UT) a couple of years later. He took a post-doc at the Max-Planck Institut in Heidelberg, Germany and liked it very much. In 1970, while he was still in Heidelberg, I had to do a job in England. The British had bought a couple of our air-sea meters and had trouble with the auto readers. I went over to repair them, and Melba went with me. I worked with their machine shop, and we fixed the readers. They never had any more trouble with them. Mike Tulley was a geophysicist working for the British who had come to America when they received the air-sea meters. We became very good friends, and he worked with me when I repaired the auto readers in England. I have since worked with him many times. He now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. We have visited him several times, and he has visited us. After we finished repairing the auto reader, we went to London where we met Robert and took in the sights. London was quite different from what it was when I was there during the war. Melba and I then flew back to Heidelberg with Robert and did a great deal of sight-seeing. We went to Switzerland and Paris and had a real good time.
Robert left Germany the next year and took a post-doc at the University of Oregon. He stayed a couple of years, and we visited him there. He finally decided that, at that time, it was hard to get a professorship in the States where he could teach and do research in nuclear physics, so he took a job at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.
Terry completed her BA degree at the University of Texas and took a job as a social worker. She had met David Martinez at the University, and they fell in love and were married at about the same time she graduated from college. When Robert had married Sherri, we gave him our old Ford Falcon. When Terry married David, we gave them our Volkswagen. Shortly after their marriage, they took off for Mexico in the Volkswagen and had a great time.
Suzy also attended the University. She took the Plan II program offered by the University and completed her degree in four years. She lived in a girls' co-op. She met and married John Feather when she graduated from the school. (Ed. note: Actually, she married John at the end of her junior year. They lived in the Brackenridge Apartments for her final year of school.—Mel Oakes) Shortly thereafter, they moved to Ann Arbor where he went to the University of Michigan. John worked as a student instructor there, and eventually received his PhD. Suzy and John were divorced in about 1978, and luckily they did not have any children. A good friend, Jim Holstein, who was a fellow student at Michigan, fell in love with Suzy and Suzy fell in love with Jim. They married in 1980. They had a daughter in 1985, and she was named Glenna Kate Holstein.
Right after Suzy and Jim married, they moved to California where Suzy enrolled in the PhD program at UCLA. Jim eventually had a post-doc at UCLA, too, and in 1984, he took a job at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Suzy completed her PhD. in absentia after they moved to Wisconsin.
Suzy was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia called hairy cell leukemia. The disease is much more common in older men. It can (sometimes) be arrested by shots of interferon. After several years, she is now off the interferon but seems to be having trouble keeping her white counts high enough. (Ed. note: She was on and off the interferon. More accurately, it is red cells, white cells, and platelets whose counts are low. Since Neal wrote this memoir, Suzy has had a different treatment with longer-lasting results.—Mel Oakes)
We are very proud of all our children and feel that they are living up to their potential. I guess the mixture of genes between Melba and me worked out very well.
In the late 1970's, LaCoste and Romberg was making and selling a large number of air-sea gravity meters. We had a big waiting list, but in about 1982 the oil boom collapsed and we did not have much of a market. John England and Jerry Bishop were my right hand men in the production of air-sea meters, but they left in the early '80s. The only lucky thing was I still had Durwood Philips to produce the air-sea meters. We were introducing some computer controls in the system, and he was a great deal of help.
(John E. England Sr. picture at right, Partial obituary from Austin American-Statesman on Feb. 22, 2008: US Army 1SG, Retired John England, 72, of Dripping Springs, Texas, passed away on February 19, 2008 after a lengthy battle with Leukemia (AML). He was born January 31, 1936 in Summit, New Jersey. John had a strong work ethic which he demonstrated throughout his life both professionally and in his local community, where he was a strong civic leader. His professional career included coaching hockey, building gravity meters for LaCoste and Romberg, commander of operations for Loomis Armored Car Service, dispatcher for the City of Austin and a pharmacy attendant at Dripping Springs Pharmacy. John served in the United States Air Force and the Texas Army National Guard. While in the guard he was called to active duty to serve during Operation Desert Storm, in 1991. He retired from the guard in 1996. John was a faithful child of God and a founding member of New Life Lutheran Church in Dripping Springs. He was a member of the SRSTA and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. )
Unfortunately, the memoir ends here. We think Neal stopped working on it when Melba got sick and never really went back to it. We're grateful for what we have, for it is a record of a remarkable, well-lived life.—Suzy, Terry and Robert Clarkson
The following is a list of all of Neal and Melba's offspring at the time of his death:
Melba Jeanette Gillespie Clarkson (1923–2006)
Melba Jeanette Gillespie Clarkson of Austin passed away at home on March 11, 2006. She was born in Palacios, Texas on September 5, 1923, and grew up in Robstown, Texas. She attended Trinity College and then Texas A&I, where she met Henry Neal Clarkson. They were married on June 4, 1942 and were deeply grateful for their long, wonderful marriage.
After living in Solomons, Maryland during World War II, they lived in Kingsville, Texas, where she graduated from Texas A&I, until 1955 when they moved to Austin where they lived until her death. Melba loved life, and she will always be remembered by her family and friends for her unfailing interest in all the people she met.
Her husband and her extended family were the center of her life, and she leaves them with wonderful memories of her love of music, her love of travel and of the beach, her enthusiasm, her humor and her strong spirit as she faced the end of her life.
She is survived by her husband and her three children, Robert Clarkson (Peta), Terry Martinez (David) and Suzy Holstein (Jim). She was affectionately loved as "Peaches" by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was the loving grandmother of eight, Kim Vincent (Michael), Tim Martinez, Sofia Martinez (David Blumenthal), Glenna Holstein, Matthew Clarkson, Rachel Clarkson, Melida Holstein and Michaela Clarkson as well as four great grandchildren, Christopher Vincent, Rachel Vincent, Mateo Blumenthal and Ilario Blumenthal all of whom survive her. In addition, she is survived by two brothers, Roy Gillespie (Dorothy) and Victor Gillespie as well as one sister, Dotty Carter (Jack). Melba is further survived by many beloved nephews, nieces and cousins. One sister, Cherry Gillespie, preceded her in death.
The family will receive visitors from 1:00-1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 16, 2006 at the Memorial Chapel of Cook-Walden/Capital Parks Funeral Home. A service will immediately follow with Reverend George Holcolmbe officiating. Interment will follow at Cook-Walden/ Capital Parks Cemetery in Pflugerville, Texas. The family would like to thank the pastor and congregation of Asbury United Methodist Church, of which Melba was a member for 50 years for their love, faith and support. The family is also grateful to Hospice Austin, Austin Cancer Center at East MLK, St. David's Hospital and Rehabilitation Unit and their respective staffs for the compassionate care they extended to our wife and mother over the last few months. To honor Melba's memory, in lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to Asbury United Methodist Church, 1605 E. 38 1/2 St. 78722, Hospice Austin, 4107 Spicewood Springs Rd. 78759, or the charity of one's choice. We were blessed to have Melba with us, and though we grieve her loss, she left us with a legacy we will cherish.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on March 14, 2006
Background information on Melba Gillespie.
Information and pictures below courtesy of Luayne Pierce, granddaughter of Stella Thompson, a daughter of Wilber James Hughes and Rebecca Thompson. Many thanks for her generous help.
Melba’s father: Roy Ernest Gillespie Sr.
Melba’s mother: Florence Nightingale Myatt Thompson Gillespie
Siblings of Melba: Cherry, Roy Jr., Dotty and Victor
Melda’s parents were Roy Ernest, Sr. and Florence Nightingale Myatt Thompson Gillespie. She was born in Palacios, Matagorda, Texas. Roy, Sr. and Florence move to Palacios with their parents when they were young. The Thompson family moved to Palacios for the sea breezes.
Wilbur James Hughs Thompson, father of Florence and maternal grandfather of Melba, taught school at a one teacher school across the bay from Palacios during the week, and he came home on weekends. He is pictured at left. Wilbur’s wife and Melba’s maternal grandmother, Rebecca Jan Turnbough is shown at right.
The Gillespie family was from Illinois, moving first to MO, then to OK, and then to south Texas. Roy farmed with his dad per his WW I draft card. He was born in Lawrenceville, Lawrence Co, IL. Florence was the 8th child born to WJH and Rebecca Jane Turnbough. She was a person very much like her daughters Melba and Dorothy 'Dottie' Gillespie...always laughing and interested in everyone.
Roy and Florence had a three daughters Melba, Dotty, Cherry and two sons. Roy Jr., was the oldest child and after he served in WW II, he worked at the Post Office in Robstown, Nueces, Texas. Roy Jr. was a Mason and Shriner serving as secretary for 50 years. Victor was the younger son.
Roy, Sr. was a Rural Route Mailman from about 1925 until his retirement in Robstown, Texas.
Rebecca Jane Turnough Thompson was the daughter of Rev. Madison Carroll and Martha Ann Johnson. They moved from TN to Arkansas where Rebecca and most of her siblings were born. They then moved to Erath Co, TX and lived there for a while before moving to what was then Greer Co, OK and later Jackson Co. She was the youngest daughter of the family. WJH was teaching in Erath Co, and she was his student, but when she finished school at 15, he married her. He had been married before and had a son from that marriage. His first wife died in Arkansas. He and Rebecca had 11 children that lived to maturity.
Photos of Melba’s mother. Photo at left shows Florence with brother Joe. At right is teenager Florence.
Obituary for Robert Gillespie Clarkson, son of Neal and Melba Clarkson.
Robert Gillespie Clakson, September 1, 1943 ~ August 28, 2016
Rob Gillespie Clarkson passed away on Sunday, August 28, 2016 at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. He was 72 years old. Born on Solomons Island, Calvert County, Maryland, Rob was the son of the late H. Neal Clarkson and the late Melba Gillespie Clarkson.
He was the beloved husband of Peta Watson Clarkson; father of Kimberly Vincent and her husband Michael; Matthew Clarkson, Rachel Clarkson and her companion Matthew Khosh and Michaela Clarkson; grandfather of Christopher and Rachel Vincent; brother of Terry Martinez and her husband David and Suzy Clarkson Holstein and her husband Jim. Also survived by many nieces and nephews.
A graveside service will be at 3:00PM on Friday, September 2, 2016 at the BIRMINGHAM-LAFAYETTE CEMETERY, 1235 Birmingham Road, West Chester, Pennsylvania. There will be no viewing. Visitation with the family and a reception will follow the graveside service on Friday, September 2, 2016 at 4:30PM at OBEROD ESTATE, 400 Burnt Mill Road, Wilmington, Delaware.
The family asks that flowers be omitted and that memorial contributions be made in Rob's memory to: Doctors Without Borders, Tribute Gift Donation. https://donate.doctorswithoutborders.org/
Clarkson Photo Album
Operation Crossroads was an atmospheric nuclear weapon test series conducted in the summer of 1946. The series consisted of two detonations, each with a yield of 23 kilotons:
1. ABLE detonated at an altitude of 520 feet (158 meters) on 1 July
2. BAKER detonated 90 feet (27 meters) underwater on 25 July.
(Note that Neal returned to San Francisco after the Able detonation and two days before the Baker bomb.—Mel Oakes)
It was the first nuclear test held in the Marshall Islands.
The series was to study the effects of nuclear weapons on ships, equipment, and material. A fleet of more than 90 vessels was assembled in Bikini Lagoon as a target. This target fleet consisted of older U.S. capital ships, three captured German and Japanese ships, surplus U.S. cruisers, destroyers and submarines, and a large number of auxiliary and amphibious vessels. Military equipment was arrayed on some of the ships as well as amphibious craft that were berthed on Bikini Island. Technical experiments were also conducted to study nuclear weapon explosion phenomena. Some experiments included the use of live animals.
The support fleet of more than 150 ships provided quarters, experimental stations, and workshops for most of the 42,000 men (more than 37,000 of whom were Navy personnel) of Joint Task Force 1 (JTF 1), the organization that conducted the tests. Additional personnel were located on nearby atolls such as Eniwetok and Kwajalein. The islands of the Bikini Atoll were used primarily as recreation and instrumentation sites.
Before the first test, all personnel were evacuated from the target fleet and Bikini Atoll. These men were placed on units of the support fleet, which sortied from Bikini Lagoon and took safe positions at least 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometers) east of the atoll.
In the ABLE test, the weapon was dropped from a B-29 and burst over the target fleet. In BAKER, the weapon was suspended beneath an auxiliary craft anchored in the midst of the target fleet.