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Ralph Deutsch – World War II

This was quite an interesting period in my father’s life and he has related many stories to people about this time. My father was enrolled at George Washington University (GWU) during the war and also worked for the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), now known as the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), and for the Naval Research laboratory. It is unclear if he worked for both simultaneously, so for the purposes of this paper I will refer to the NBS only. Both organizations worked on radar at this time. I know only a little about the technical work my father did for the NBS during the War. It was enough to almost keep him out of military service.

My father worked on problems involving naval radars. The one definite thing I know is that he developed the theoretical solution for radio transmission through triangular waveguides. He told me this – but it is also verifiable since his master’s thesis from GWU on this subject is available through Google Books. I have worked with radio waves in rectangular waveguides. The mathematics for this is hard enough – involving high-order Bessel functions. During WWII, the Navy was very interested in using triangular waveguides instead, since it might be possible to fabricate tall masts that were also radar waveguides. The triangular cross section would provide the needed rigidity. However, the mathematics for this shape is much more difficult! To my knowledge, the Navy never used these triangular waveguides in operations.

The other war story he has told me involves his hobby of photography. I don’t know when he began taking and developing slides as a hobby, but certainly he was doing this during the War. My father has color photographs of Washington DC during the war years. Color film was still very new and it was next to impossible for anyone to get a supply during the war. However, the laboratories at the NBS used color film to photograph instruments during experiments. They would use large rolls of film. When the rolls got to down to the very end, they would discard the last few inches. My father evidently got permission to scavenge these. He would piece them together into larger rolls and use them in his own camera.

Although the NBS had permanent facilities in Washington, the War put expanded demands on all government departments. This led the government to construct temporary buildings on the Washington Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. My father had an office in one of these. He showed me the buildings when he took me to Washington in 1968. So much for “temporary.” They are now long-gone.

Temporary WWII Government Buildings

We know for a fact that my father was drafted into the U.S. Navy on August 14, 1945 – VJ Day! There are varying stories about how this happened. I am relating the one he told me about a month before he died. According to my father, he had avoided the draft for nearly the entire war since his radar research was clearly viewed as critical to the war effort. There were very few American radar experts. However, each of the departments of the U.S. Government were expected to “give” their fair share of able-bodied men to the draft for combat service. The NBS was not exempt. The request was passed down to each division within the NBS and eventually came to the small radar group in which my father was working. Since he was the only draft age man in the group, they reluctantly submitted my father’s name to the draft board!

My father was shipped off to boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Air Station. My father said it was an experience – not necessarily a good one. After six weeks, he was sent back to Washington DC to continue his work at the NBS and serve light Navy duty. He was allowed to keep his apartment. His Navy mailing address was the Woman’s Barracks at the Washington Navy Yard. He also said that he spent some of his time teaching new recruits to play the snare drum. Of course, my father was a trumpeter, not a drummer. However, as he told me, he only had to stay a week ahead of his students!

After nine months, my father was honorably discharged. He started as an Able-bodied Seaman and worked his way up to Aviation Electronics Technicians Mate 3rd Class.

Since he had served in WWII for an entire day, he was awarded the Service Medal and attained the status of a war veteran. This no-doubt helped pay for his subsequent education.

As mentioned previously, he received an M.S. degree from GWU for his work on radar. The degree was awarded in 1947. He then moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan.