Oral-History:Hal Walker

About Hal Walker

Dedication of IEEE Milestone #198, LURE Lunar Raging Experiment on 1 August 2019 at the Lick Observatory in California. From left to right: Dr. Mostafa Mortezaie, Galen Boggs (Congressman Ro Khanna Staff Member), IEEE Past President Jim Jeffries, Mrs. Jeffries, Dr. Bettye Walker, Prof. Hildreth “Hal” Walker, Jr., Remington Stone, Elinor Gates (Lick Observatory Staff Astronomer), Brian Berg (IEEE Milestone Proposer), David Bart (IEEE Milestone Advocate)

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana on 28 July 1933, electrical and aerospace engineer and laser system specialist, Hildreth “Hal” Walker, Jr., grew up in Alexandria, Louisiana and later Los Angeles, California. Walker’s life is a story marked by a supportive extended family, which included educators; a curiosity about how things worked; a drive to succeed despite segregation and racism; and a little serendipity. He gained hands-on technical experience working at the Bruno family repair shop in Alexandria and school electrical shop classes.

After graduating high school, Walker joined the U.S. Navy in 1951 and served four years, ending his military career as an electrician’s mate. Discharged from the U.S. Navy, he took a job at the Douglas Aircraft Company, installing radar systems in Navy jet bombers, but there was limited opportunity for advancement, so he left and worked as a laborer with his step-father. He also enrolled in the electrical engineering program at Los Angeles City College on the GI Bill. He recalled the transition from the era of vacuum tube technology to the transistor was quite challenging, stating “Us folk that were primarily developed in the analog era didn't understand digital stuff very easily.” He took jobs as a contractor engineer, including working for RCA on the Atlas ballistic missile in Van Nuys, California. Then he worked on RCA’s Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS0 at sites on the northern Alaska frontier which was part of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command. He returned from Alaska, took a break, and started at a laser company called, the Korad Corporation, a subsidiary of the Union Carbide Corporation, in 1964. Hughes Aircraft Company recruited Walker away from Korad to work in its Laser Division where he worked on lasers from military applications.

In 1969, while employed at Korad, Walker led a team that adapted a ruby laser for measuring the distance from the Earth to the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Walker, successfully directed a laser beam, from the Lick Observatory in California, at an 18 inch wide reflector mirror that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had set up on the Moon’s surface. The telescope was operated that day by research astronomer, Remington Stone. This technical achievement, the Lunar Ranging Experiment (LURE), was recognized as IEEE Milestone # 198 and dedicated on 1 August 2019 at the Lick Observatory. The IEEE Milestone citation reads: “On 1 August 1969, Lick Observatory made the first Earth-to-Moon distance measurement with centimeter accuracy. The researchers fired a gigawatt ruby laser at a retro-reflector array placed on the Moon by Apollo 11 astronauts, and measured the time delay in detecting the reflected pulse. This was the first experiment using a hand-placed extraterrestrial instrument.”

Since retiring from Hughes in 1989, Walker founded a laser systems consulting firm, Tech Plus in 1990, and co-founded, with his wife, Dr. Bettye Walker, the African American Male Achievers Network, Inc., (A-MAN) in 1991, to offer mentoring and exposure to science, technology, engineering, math, and business for inner-city youngsters and minorities to foster interest in STEM education and careers.

About the Interview

HAL WALKER: An Interview Conducted by John Vardalas for the IEEE History Center, August 2, 2019.

Interview #829 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Hal Walker, an oral history conducted in 2019 by John Vardalas, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Hildreth (Hal) Walker Jr.

INTERVIEWER: John Vardalas

DATE: 2 August 2019

PLACE: San Jose, California

Introduction

Vardalas:

This is an oral history with Hildreth (Hal) Walker Jr. on August 2nd, Friday, 2019 in San Jose, California. Good morning, Mr. Walker. Thank you for participating in IEEE's Oral History Program. Let me start with by stating something that I think you may concur with. I believe that the man informs the engineer. A man's achievements must be put in the context of how he faced life's adversities.

Your journey will be as important to historians and to future generations as your achievements. Let's start your journey with your childhood

Walker:

Okay.

Vardalas:

What is your date of birth, for the record?

Walker:

28 July 1933.

Vardalas:

In certain articles, I read you were born in Alexandria, and yet yesterday, you mentioned Louisiana. Did I read wrong? You mentioned New Orleans yesterday. Did I read wrong?

Walker:

Yes, the article that you read misinterpreted the facts. I was born in New Orleans.

Vardalas:

You were born in New Orleans? Tell me about your family. What do you recall of your parents and your childhood?

Family

Walker:

I unfortunately came from a family that was broken up very early in my life. After only one year, I didn't really get a chance to live with my mom and dad as a family. I was pretty much raised in what we called in the South the extended family, and that allowed me to have many different variable variations of family life. For example, aunts and cousins and those types of close family members raised me until about the age of seven or eight years.

Vardalas:

Did any of those relatives have a strong influence on you more than others?

Walker:

One or two of them were very strong. It's because they were educators and that gave me an opportunity to be around people who worked at schools. I was at those schools at a very early age and that influenced my later interest in school.

Vardalas:

I gather then you never really met your father at all.

Walker:

Oh yes, I did meet my father in Alexandria, [Louisiana].

Vardalas:

Oh, that's where the Alexandria…

Walker:

That's how Alexandria got to be a part of the story.

Vardalas:

Any vivid memories of that encounter?

Walker:

Oh, specifically it was a very important part of my life. I mentioned that my dad was a laborer. He worked in different menial jobs. He wasn't a professional type, but his interest in things that were involved with music was very strong. He was known as a very important, or at least recognized musician and singer, around the Alexandria area. He did something that really changed my life at a very early age. I sort of described the story thus. I wanted to get a BB gun for Christmas one time and I asked him would he get me one. Young kids in those years loved those little things. You could kind of plink around. When I went to where he worked at the Greyhound bus station, probably as a custodian or something like that, rather than a BB gun, he had a brown paper bag which I thought was oh oh. You're not going to find much of a BB gun in that, but I was thankful for it. I went and got it, and he was happy to give it to me. When I opened the bag, inside was just a gray, shiny Buck Rogers ray gun. I looked at it and I was so disappointed, but when I pulled the trigger and saw the sparks inside the little cellophane compartment, I said whoa. I'd never seen something like this before.

Vardalas:

The disappointment turned to interest.

Walker:

Interest, yes. I immediately wanted to know how that was happening. What was making that work?

Vardalas:

That’s interesting. You exhibited a strong curiosity for how things work.

Walker:

Yes.

Life in Alexandria, LA and an Interest in How Things Worked

Vardalas:

Do you recall how that started? Did somebody put you in that direction? Where did that interest start?

Walker:

I had the fortunate experience, to live as a neighbor to an Italian family there in Alexandria who owned and operated a local grocery store and also an electrical repair shop. Their son and I became very friendly. Then the result of that was that I had a chance to sometimes be in this electrical repair shop while his dad was working. I had an opportunity to see him at work. That was my first view, or observation, of mechanical things being done with electrical power being applied. For example, toasters, refrigerator items and so forth. I started to study this in my mind and pretty much paid very careful attention to what he was doing. When things were fixed, I thought I had a general idea about how that worked.

Vardalas:

It's interesting because not every child would've thought that way.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Somehow you had an innate, I mean the fact that you took to it…

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

In the segregated South, was it unusual to find an Italian neighbor and to have a white friend? How did that work out?

Walker:

Well, I'm glad you asked that question because that was exactly the social environment we lived in. We were in a segregated community. The Bruno family, I'll mention their name just for the sake of my thought, had this store there for years. Their son and I became friends, but he was not allowed to interface or get involved with the other African American kids in the community. Since we were next door to each other, sort of a proximity thing, he and I used to talk to each other through the fence and things like that. We got to know each other and that led to him coming into my yard and me going into his yard. That opened the door.

Vardalas:

The workers, were they white, African American in the shop

Walker:

All white, yes.

Vardalas:

They let you into the shop?

Walker:

Yes, yes.

Vardalas:

It must have been a kind of implicit mentoring. Could you watch them working? Did you ask questions? How did this all work?

Walker:

I think the thing we want to understand, he was also exposing his son to this and me as an observer and partner to him. I had a chance to observe it and learn similarly the things that he was also understanding.

Vardalas:

Oh, that's really interesting. Did you keep this friendship?

Walker:

Oh yes, for many years.

Vardalas:

You did.

Walker:

For many years, yes. I moved away from Alexandria at twelve years old. Many years later, he became the proprietor of that business, but I never saw him again after that. My family had then moved to California.

Vardalas:

To clarify, you were in Alexandria where the vacuum cleaner shop was?

Walker:

In Alexandria.

Vardalas:

From New Orleans where you were born.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Tell me something about the neighborhood where you grew up in, in Alexandria. Who were your childhood friends other than this Italian boy? What was your other life like there?

Walker:

We lived very near the Red River. The levee to the Red, which was located about a couple hundred yards away from our home, was to the large Red River that ran through Alexandria. Many of us in the community gathered there on those levees in the Red, near the Red River. We just played there. That was sort of a playground for us, around the river because lots of things was happening around there. Now on the other hand, the community at our local school, just there within blocks of our homes, there were other playgrounds that we had in the community. We were adjacent to large farms, small farms, sorry, not large, but small farms. We got a chance to see farming equipment working and things like that. We could observe those types of activities. But the thing that came to my attention is that I did not want to get involved in farming.

Vardalas:

Why is that?

Walker:

I wanted to be more in the electrical shop.

Vardalas:

Were you the kind of boy that got into mischief playing by the river?

Walker:

Of course, we had many little issues down there. One of the things that stands out in my mind is one day Junior Bruno, the son of the store owner, and I were playing near the edge of the water. He got caught in quicksand which we didn't know was there. He kind of started quickly sinking to, maybe to around his ankles or knees. I said oh my goodness. I was trying to get to him, but he was going down fast. I said I better go get some help, so I started running from where we were up to the top of the levee. About halfway up the levee, I looked back, and I could tell if I went further away to get help, he wouldn't be there when we got back. I ran back down the levee, and I always remember some of the old movies we used to see of Tarzan and those things when they would get trapped in the quicksand. They would always go get a tree limb or a branch or a stick and lay flat on their, on their stomachs and ease out to where the person was that was in trouble, and hand them the other edge. Then they would start to kind of pull back and forth 'til they could break the suction

Vardalas:

Did you do that?

Walker:

Yes, I did.

Vardalas:

Oh my.

Walker:

It saved his life.

Vardalas:

Oh my, that’s very resourceful of you. What age would everybody have been about? Third grade, fourth?

Walker:

We were about ten, eleven. That would be what, about…

Vardalas:

Sixth grade?

Walker:

Sixth grade, yes.

Vardalas:

Oh my, that's fascinating.

Walker:

It is, yes. I love that story.

Early Education and Inequality

Vardalas:

What do you remember about going to school? What was the curriculum like? What were the teachers like, as you perceived them as a young boy?

Walker:

I'm happy to talk about this because I want to remind us that I was born into the educational system when it was called separate but equal. We recognized in reality it was separate and unequal. An example of that inequality was how I opened my educational experience as a first grader. I'll say I was in the classroom. We were just in one room at that time. The class was made up of the elementary and the other high schools all just in one big room.

One of the things that happened, we were waiting for our books to come and the gentleman white guy drives up with a pickup truck outside. Then a large box of books and things were brought in and set down in the middle of the room, in the classroom. The teacher then said to us, "Go over to the box and get a book." Well, all of us lined up, went in the box, and got a book out. When I got my book, I sort of searched around and found a book that looked interesting, and I pulled a book out. I went over to my desk, sat down, and opened the book. The first thing I noticed, half the pages were ripped out; others were just crumpled up. The book was desecrated, if we use the proper term.

We found out that as a matter of routine, these were the books we got handed down to us from the white schools. Since we didn't have any financial resources to buy books for our school, these were hand-me-downs. These folk, at the other school, would actually desecrate the books that they would send to us. We learned to read by studying the books' pages that existed, and then learning, as I sometimes say, how to read between the lines to make the story complete.

Vardalas:

That's literally between the lines.

Walker:

That's right; that's right.

Vardalas:

Oh my. Did you find the teachers devoted enough to try to overcome these difficulties? I mean what did they do? How did you feel?

Walker:

I think they tried to give us a view. They challenged us not to get too concerned about that because we were going to make it work for us. Our objective was to learn to read, and there was enough material there to do that, but you had to use your imagination to fill in the blanks.

Vardalas:

What about arithmetic?

Walker:

In that case, I think that got to be a little more challenging, yes. But at least certainly in reading, we were able to use workaround methods.

Vardalas:

Did any of those teachers, like I know in my case, a teacher took me aside and helped me out an awful lot. Did you find any teacher that had a great influence on you at the elementary school level?

Walker:

Yes. My mother was an elementary school teacher, so I had that benefit.

Vardalas:

You didn’t say.

Walker:

I didn't say that earlier, but when I was with her, and this was in those early years I mentioned, when I was in first grade she was involved in my early education. Later in the extended family, my other aunts and cousins were also teachers, as I mentioned.

Vardalas:

I see, so you were very fortunate.

Walker:

I was very fortunate, very fortunate.

Vardalas:

They kept you on the straight and narrow.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Oh, I see. That's very interesting. Your mother must've been a very determined woman.

Walker:

Yes, she was a college graduate. In those years, their degrees were only acceptable in the public system in the South. Outside the South, those degrees weren't recognized, but we were in the South and it worked out quite nicely.

Vardalas:

Oh, I see. Did you ever re-encounter your father later in life, or is that something that…

Walker:

No, never, never, never did. He passed away years later when we were not together anymore.

Vardalas:

One thing, too, you mentioned he was a musician.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Now I hear you're a musician.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Is that where you think you got that, or was it just natural talent you inherited?

Walker:

I think our family, the Walker family, has a little bit of a musician, musical bone in us. I was involved in music for many, many years. Later, my son Raymond Walker and his son Justin were involved in music, and a number of our family relatives also were involved in music. My brother, Marshal Wilkerson, was a blues and jazz singer.

Vardalas:

When did you start playing an instrument?

Walker:

I'll have to talk about that a little bit. I started playing at thirty years old.

Vardalas:

I didn't realize it was that late in life.

Walker:

It was late in life, yes.

Growing Up in Los Angeles

Vardalas:

Now you moved to Los Angeles.

Vardalas:

Now you moved to Los Angeles and I gather the move was because your mother saw better opportunities or something of that…

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

As a child, did you understand or like the idea of leaving Alexandria and going to this strange place? What was your…

Walker:

It has a little bit of a story to it. I'll try to briefly describe it. My mom remarried. My stepdad, Joseph Wilkerson was his name, and we came to California, Los Angeles in the early part of the war years, I'd say like maybe 1942, 1943 and then we came to Los Angeles in 1945. We moved here, along with my mom and my other brothers and sisters. I had two other brothers and two other sisters. We again came to Los Angeles and lived in Los Angeles in the early years of post-war era, as you would call it. We got to be a part of the Los Angeles Unified School District system, where I was in the junior high at that time. I was thirteen years old. My other brothers and sisters were scattered at the elementary level through the years.

Vardalas:

What was the neighborhood you lived in, in Los Angeles? What kind of neighborhood was that? Was it also segregated?

Walker:

Yes, it was. Interestingly enough, we used the word segregated, but in the South it sort of has a connotation with racial segregation as such. But, here in Los Angeles we found it to be more of an economical separation. We lived in a poorer area of Los Angeles.

Vardalas:

Did you mother teach in Los Angeles?

Walker:

Well that's an interesting thing. I mentioned earlier she had a college degree from Southern University. When she applied to be a teacher in Los Angeles she was denied that because the degree was not recognized by the state of California.

Vardalas:

That must be very demoralizing to somebody.

Walker:

Well she had to end up working as a housemaid to help support our family because of that, yes.

Vardalas:

Yes, and so the school you're in was also, did it reflect the poor neighborhood, the quality of the school, the education? What did you think of that education in junior high school and high school?

Walker:

The school name was Lafayette Jr. High. We were a mixed school. The Latino/Hispanic population was very predominant in that area also. So we had the advantage, I'll call it, that we had what later became known as industrial art studies very early in these schools.

Vardalas:

Yes.

Walker:

I was able then to start experiencing some of my hands-on knowledge I'd gained by being around the shop in Alexandria, by working in the metal shops and the electrical shops at the junior high school level, and making projects like electrical motors and crystal oscillator radios and things like that very early in my life.

Vardalas:

That's when you started to discover your love of…

Walker:

Love of hands-on things, working with technology, yes.

Vardalas:

I guess it's an obvious question, but I'll ask it. Were you a good student?

Walker:

Yes, I was average student. I was, I was a little, they sometimes called it back in those days, called it scatter brains. I was all over the place. But for those things, I had very strong interests. I was very active in those--

Vardalas:

Well - - when you're not interested…

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Not so good.

Walker:

Not so good, yes.

Vardalas:

One of the things I find very fascinating is there's a story about running into a shop teacher.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

You said somewhere that this was an electrical…

Electrical Shop and Mentor Teacher

Walker:

Electrical shop.

Vardalas:

Oh, very good, electrical shop. What are your memories of this man? Apparently, he had an influence on you.

Walker:

This gentleman, I'll never forget this gentleman. He did have an influence on the rest of my life. He kind of quickly recognized as the class developed, his name was Mr. Dietz, I'll never forget him. He quickly recognized that I had a touch for this, as we all say sometimes when we talk with young kids, and we see them able to perform certain tasks. You got the touch. He recognized I had the touch. He then gave me personal mentoring. I would call it that. When I had a question, he would always go a little deeper into the answer than maybe he did with some of the other students who weren't at maybe the same experience level that I was with electrical, electricity at that particular time. So he did. His assistance to me was quite prevalent. It built my base for further interests in electrical technology.

Vardalas:

Did you have an interest in science and math, or did they grow out of your interest in electrical - -? How were your approaches to science and math at the time?

Walker:

I always was, as a young man, interested in making something. Metal shop interested me because I knew you had to have a box to put things in. I wanted to learn how to make boxes, metal boxes, and things, so metal shop and electrical shop were my two favorite shops as a youngster.

Vardalas:

Did they have math and science for you then?

Walker:

Not as I would call it in the sense we have today, but in those years, it did give us a basic, good understanding of math and science and the relationship. We were introduced to the atomic age during World War II. The war ended in 1945, the year we came to Los Angeles. In my early years, yes.

Vardalas:

It mentioned you were involved in a lot of projects. You did extracurricular stuff and projects with fellow students.

Walker:

Yes. One was the Sea Scouts and the other the Los Angeles Deputy Youth Police.

Vardalas:

Friends, like-minded friends. Were these like-minded friends Hispanic, African American, white? Who were these like-minded friends?

Walker:

Our community was very diversified, and included Mexican kids, black kids, and a few whites. I found myself involved with my immediate neighbors. These folk I'm describing, these young folk I'm describing were my immediate neighbors, and they were African Americans. We had a natural interest, curiosity may be a better word, for things like electricity and devices. We formed ourselves into a little neighborhood group, I don't want to call that a club because we didn't give it a name. We just always kind of met after school or on the weekends and made things, built things. We did things like making derby race cars for, I think it was called a derby downhill racer. We designed the cars and tested them in the alleyways behind our houses.

Vardalas:

Oh, yes?

Walker:

Back in those years, we were the kids in the block that would make a derby racer together as a team and learn to take skates and convert them into wheels for the derby vehicle, so that kind of was a general thing. We were just guys that liked to build things.

Vardalas:

Right, right, and the electrical. You said you made AM crystal oscillator radios.

Walker:

Oh yes, we had a lot of strong interest in radio because that was a very prevailing technology in those days. Because each one of us at our homes had a crystal oscillator. We could tune to our particular frequency, and we could talk to each other through our radio.

Vardalas:

No kidding.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Oh really? Were they expensive? Where'd you find the money to do all these things?

Walker:

My family was aware. I was talking to my brother last night on the phone. He was reminding me that they didn't get sometimes some of the things they wanted because my mom and stepdad were giving me money to go out and buy these devices. It was a lot of fun for them to see me doing this and I was excited. We were doing it as a group. I always encourage young people to team up with other folks that have like-wise interests.

Vardalas:

Yes, it's very fortuitous that you could find friends who had those same interests.

Walker:

Yes, yes.

Vardalas:

You mentioned your siblings. Did they follow a technical path like you, or did they go in different directions?

Walker:

They went in different directions. One of my brothers was a very well-recognized athlete as a young man. One of my other brothers was a very early singer at churches and places like that. They found themselves being involved with practice for football games and music for church choirs and things like that.

Vardalas:

You weren't drawn into that at an early age.

Walker:

No, I wasn't involved yet. Sports never really was a big attraction to me. I found it more interesting to be around technical things.

Vardalas:

You're a big guy, so that could draw you into sports.

Walker:

Yes, yes. I entered high school in 1949 at Thomas Jefferson High School. Track and field was very popular. I was interested also. I was always being recruited to participate in technology things, such as operating the schools high powered 35 mm motion picture cameras and servicing the theater lights and backdrop systems. I was being recruited to be on basketball teams. I tried it for a little while, but it took me away from the things that I wanted to do. I really was interested in track and I tried the 100 yard dash, but I was not fast enough, so I became a team assistant and that allowed me to be around the track team to learn more about it. An event I loved was the 4 X 100 yard relay. One my good friends was the anchor man for our team. I admired their courage and determination. This attitude I adopted in my life and used it quite effectively (Get Me the Baton and I will Win!)

Vardalas:

Okay, very good, very good. You're getting ready to graduate from high school. Bring yourself back to those exciting days, when you were thinking “I'm getting out of here.” What were your thoughts of the future? What did you think you were going to do?

Sea Scouts and Service in the U.S. Navy

Walker:

I had strong interests in the Navy as a high school student.

Vardalas:

You did?

Walker:

Yes. I participated in what was called the Sea Scouts which was an organization similar to the Boy Scouts.

Vardalas:

Oh, you did, so did I.

Walker:

Yes. Oh, really?

Vardalas:

Yes.

Walker:

Interesting. I was a Sea Scout. It actually gave me another place to develop leadership, to develop discipline, to get involved, and to actually go out in small boats and be at sea. I loved that.

Vardalas:

Oh, you did?

Walker:

We went aboard boats and ships at Long Beach harbor. We went fishing, sometimes with some of the big stars in Los Angeles. Hollywood stars would have a day on their boat for the Sea Scouts from my high school as an outreach program, so I got to go to sea and I loved it. My intention was to become a sailor and get involved in the Navy.

Vardalas:

I was curious about how you made that decision. It started early on with the Sea Scouts. You joined the Sea Scouts because somebody told you to join or said…?

Walker:

No, I think what led me to the Sea Scouts is a dear friend Alfred who also in the radio group. I called it the radio group. We worked together on radio and he got involved in Sea Scouts first. He mentioned to me that it was really quite exciting and he mentioned some of the things they were doing like learning about the naval ships and radar. World War II had just gotten over. We saw a lot of action films in the movies and theaters about World War II actions and naval activities. Again, that was how we developed our interest and it was about that for us two guys. We both were leaders and kind of really excelled in the Sea Scouts. A lot of guys were there, but I felt we were the two leaders in our particular group.

Interestingly enough, just about the time we were ready to graduate from high school, we got our notice from the Defense Department that we were being drafted into the Army.

Vardalas:

Oh, no.

Walker:

Oh, no. Right away we put our heads together and said let's go get into the Navy. That’s how we did it.

Vardalas:

That explains that evolutionary track.

Walker:

Yes, that's right, it was summer 1951.

Vardalas:

You have to imagine me thinking. I came from an urban, a poor urban environment, so the sea and the Navy is the last thing…

Walker:

That's right. That's also right.

Vardalas:

I see. The Sea Scouts got you in.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

That answers a whole lot of questions.

Walker:

Oh yes, right, right.

Vardalas:

When you got your draft notice, you said “I'm going to pick my service.”

Walker:

I'm going to pick my service, and we're going to the Navy.

Vardalas:

When you joined the Navy, I don't know how it worked then, did you became an electrician's mate?

Walker:

No. We would have to seek that classification.

Vardalas:

Did you first choose a specialization or go through the basic training and then choose a specialization?

Walker:

A very interesting and a good question. This is a very good question because it talks about the time and the changeover or the integration of the U.S. military.

Vardalas:

Oh, does it?

Walker:

Oh yes. This would have been 1951. The war ended in 1945. There was a move between the 1945 and the early 1950s to start to integrate the military. As you know, in the past we had been a segregated armed forces. We found ourselves being that first group of integrated military people. There was a lot of trouble and difficulty there because there were some whites that didn't accept us based on the historical areas that they had grew up in. Other people, mostly from the Eastern seaboard, were quite happy to see us. In the Navy, I think there was a little bit of a more mixed environment. But again, for example, my induction process was quite troubling.

Vardalas:

Really?

Walker:

My friend, Alfred, and I went down to the naval recruiting office in Los Angeles. We walked in the door and we're there with young eighteen year olds. We were recognized immediately as folk that qualified to possibly be in the military. This African American guy comes up to us, introduces himself, and asks us to come to his desk. He's a recruiter, so we did. After we took a test, I think it was called the general service GSA or something like that, he brought us back to his desk together. He asked us what kind of work we were interested in doing in the Navy. Right away we said we'd like to be in something involving electrical technologies, maybe communications as a second choice, but something like that. He said, "That’s not for you guys."

Vardalas:

Really?

Walker:

We looked at him and then recognized why he had said that. He was a steward's mate/chief petty officer who had spent some nearly twenty-some years in the Navy. A steward's mate are the people that serve food. They work in the kitchens onboard the ships and in the bases. He said, naturally, that's where we're expected to go based on the old Navy

Vardalas:

Yes. Right.

Walker:

We said oh no, no, no, we would like to be in these new areas of technology and things like this in the Navy. In a way of speaking, he was getting very angry with us. He told us “you're going to get into trouble if you don’t do this.” There was a white officer, a lieutenant, sitting next to him at a desk down the way a little bit. He walked over and asked the chief petty officer, what's going on here? He said, I'm explaining to these guys about what I think their best positions in the Navy should be. The lieutenant turned and said let me see their tests. Let's see those test papers. He picks them up and he reads them. He said, “these guys scored high, so why are you suggesting that for them? Let them go into the general services. I think that's the place to let them come in and they can work it out from there.” We would go into the Navy in a general category where we could, once we're inside, choose our field.

Vardalas:

You were free to choose.

Walker:

Free to choose, yes.

Vardalas:

Assuming you met the qualifications.

Walker:

Exactly, exactly.

Vardalas:

All right.

Vardalas:

I see two young men. I guess at the time you were eighteen and a senior African American petty officer did not see your best interest.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

You stuck to your guns.

Walker:

Yes, because we knew change was happening. We signed for four years.

Vardalas:

You did.

Walker:

It was the Sea Scouts and our activities there that gave us the vision. It was the Sea Scout experience where we got to understand who the ranks were, the particular jobs, and the classifications, so that general knowledge helped us make decisions.

Vardalas:

You were informed.

Walker:

Yes, we were informed; that's correct.

Vardalas:

Now that you get in, the basic training is over.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

How did you then make the leap through electrical training? What did you do next to do that?

Walker:

We went through basic training together at San Diego through the naval station there.

Vardalas:

They accepted you right away.

Walker:

Oh yes, we went directly in. From that meeting, maybe thirty days later we were actually in training. Then we moved to the training center in San Diego where we went through training that lasted something like three months, a number like that, and then we went to our assignments. In my particular case, I'll just talk about that, I was assigned shore duty at Guam in the Marianas Islands for eighteen months. In 1952, when I got to Guam there was a need for military policy, so due to my open category I was assigned to the military police. That was fine. I was happy to be in that. I wasn't doing other things that I wouldn't have liked as much, but it was an experience I did enjoy for a while.

In the case of my friend, he went aboard ship and went off to sea duty, so we didn't see each other for a while.

The thing that happened is that the military police were kind of again not something I was familiar with as a culture. Police in the community I came from were usually people that sort of dogged you and there was trouble, so I didn't really like the idea of being a police person. But, as a naval police, we were really security guards around the naval facility.

Sometime later, about six months, an incident happened that changed my life. I had just come off of duty around 10 p.m. and I was getting into my bunk in my compartment. Some of my colleagues, other military police, rushed into the room, and said to me hey, hey, get up Walker, we've got to go quickly. I jumped up, put my clothes on, and I thought there was some emergency. I reached to get my weapon. He said you don't need that. We have something in the vehicle for you. I said fine, but I thought that was sort of extraordinary. I just put my clothes on and we walked out, got into this Jeep, and drove off.

We drove off to the back of the base rather than toward the central part of the base. That sort of quickly caught my attention. Why are we going this way? They wouldn't answer a question. Where are we going? When we got to a large warehouse area in the back I was told to get out of the vehicle. We all jumped out and walked inside. I found a room where all of the African American military people in our base were standing in lines.

Vardalas:

Oh my God.

Walker:

Inside I was told go get in line, so I did. A few moments later, everyone was sort of like what's going on? Out of one of the offices nearby, here comes the military police guys with a white woman who had claimed she had been raped. They were going to have her march up and down in front of us and point out the person that did it because she said it was by a black person.

My God, I was scared. I said to my colleagues, hey you all know I was on duty. Why am I in this line? The word had come down to get all of them and bring them. That was the word that I was told later how it happened. Get all the black guys here and bring them down here. They marched this lady up and down in front of us and she could not identify anyone, so they took her away. We were given a lot of very strong threats by these white officers that they would find the person that did it and so forth and so on. I just said to myself this is not for me. I felt betrayed that this would happen. The next day I asked for a change of duty and I became a truck driver, which is the only thing that was available.

Vardalas:

Were you trained as an electrician mate yet?

Walker:

No, not yet. I was still in general service.

Vardalas:

Oh, still general service.

Walker:

Still in general service, yes. We understand that the lack of specialization sometimes gets you out of your interests and environment that you like to be involved in. If you get too general, in other words, that happens.

We had allowed ourselves to do that just to get in. We weren't challenged enough and we weren’t demanding anything. We wanted to be sailors, so to get in the Navy we took that as a doorway. But, it did turn out to be a little bit of a problem for us as time went on (like the incident I described).

After the year and a half was over, in 1953, I left Guam and went back to San Diego where I was assigned aboard the escort carrier, the USS Redova CVE 114. That’s where I was asked what I would like to do? I said interior communications or electrical shops. This allowed me then to go in as electrician's mate into the electrical engineering department, where I served the rest of my time in the Navy.

Vardalas:

Did you receive onboard training?

Walker:

Yes, and I received onboard training.

Vardalas:

Was this like an apprenticeship kind of training, mentoring? How were there classes? How was that training done?

Walker:

When you go in the Navy, as I did in those years, you were actually put to work with a partner, a senior person, maybe a class. We were seamen and we were put with another third class electrician's mate. We would be his companion on his job, so you really learned by what we call on-the-job training.

Vardalas:

Right, right, right, right.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

It's important who becomes your partner.

Walker:

Absolutely it does. I had a great guy to help me out. He was a second class petty officer, a white guy from outside of Los Angeles who was stationed…

Vardalas:

He was willing to share?

Walker:

He was very helpful, he shared information, and just took me under his wing. I already had a good understanding about the basics of things.

Vardalas:

What kinds of things did you wind up doing on the escort carrier? First of all, the aircraft carriers are pretty good places, but they can still be confining places. There weren’t too many African American electrician's mates.

Walker:

No. There was only two of us.

Vardalas:

Your friend?

Walker:

Not my friend, but another person that had come from another state. He and I happened to be on board the ship at the same time.

Vardalas:

You had to do your work. You had to integrate with other officers and at times that must not have been so okay.

Walker:

Aboard a ship, there's a little bit of, as you probably know from your naval experience, there's a job to do, and you do it every day. You wake up in the morning, you do that job, you go to bed, you wake up the next day, and you do that same job. It sort of gets to be our routine. You're being trained and developed to operate certain systems aboard the ship. Obviously when the need of combat comes, that's your job.

Can you handle that for us? For example, we had to handle the electrical power system, the control system for the ship. We worked in the engine rooms where the steam generators were. I controlled the master panels and operated those master panels that distributed 110 volts, 220 volts, and 440 volts electrical power to all parts of the ship. If we had trouble in those areas, we had to go there, shut down those circuits, go inside those compartment areas where the problem may be, solve it, and get it back online as quickly as possible. We were busy all of the time, all the time.

Vardalas:

What theater was your ship in?

Walker:

At that time we were in Task Force 77 in the Northern Pacific. We operated out of Japan in the post Korean War era.

Vardalas:

Am I correct in saying that your whole life was shaped by the Navy?

Walker:

I think it is, yes.

Vardalas:

Does anything come to mind from a technical perspective that you found particularly fascinating about electrical work on an aircraft carrier? It must be a diverse environment?

Walker:

Sure. I was quite pleased with the experience. I'd always hoped that I would get a sea duty assignment on an aircraft carrier. I didn't like things like battleships and big guns. I wanted to be more around aircraft and things that were more what I called technological. That led me once I was aboard to start to want to learn about those electrical systems for the aircraft.

I asked my leadership in the engineering department if I could work with those guys once I had satisfied them that I can handle other normal routine electrical systems on board the ship. I said to them, could I get involved now with the electrical system that supplied power to the airborne operations that we carried onboard the ship. Then I was assigned to the flight deck, where these electrical systems were all located. You now ran the 28-volt systems that most of these aircraft equipment was powered by. I got to learn about DC voltage operating on those levels.

Again too, we got to interface with the air crews which was quite exciting for me. Working on a flight deck, as we all know, is an exciting place because there's aircraft taking off and there's aircraft coming in. There's trouble happening here and there's trouble happening there. You have to remember who you are and what you are doing because there’s a big circus of things happening. Otherwise you can get in trouble real fast.

It was very interesting and working on the flight deck I learned about the radar systems that the aircraft used. I got to be around the people who were servicing the radar systems and see how they operated them. I also had an ability to operate them from learning the operational parts of the technology they were using. I was a quick learner from observation, in some way.

Vardalas:

You strike me as a man who was determined to learn.

Walker:

Yes, I always did. As you mentioned earlier, I wanted to know how things worked. It didn't matter what. I just kind of wanted to feel it. As long as it was in a channel that I felt would continue to add to my development or interest, I would learn about what makes that work

Vardalas:

You left the Navy in 1955.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

You did not want to re-enlist for more? You had enough?

Walker:

I thought that once I had the experience of the shipboard life it had satisfied my needs. I was at sea for nearly two years, operating in the South China Sea in the war, and then Indochina in the later years as the French were fighting there. We were down there helping them, delivering aircraft from the ship. This was the beginning of the Vietnam War era, so I felt at the end of those four years that my personal interest about being aboard a ship and being at sea was satisfied. As we sometimes say, been there, done that.

Now I wanted to come out of the Navy and get more involved with flight. Flight had caught my attention and aircraft at that time, especially some of the new aircraft, were quite interesting. Jet aircraft were quite interesting. I said I would come out, use my GI bill to go to school, and study electrical engineering. That would be my next subject matter. I came out and I took ninety days, I think they gave us something like ninety days, to be on discharge status.

After ninety days, you have to make a decision to come back in or to be discharged, so I made the decision to be discharged. Again, this is was one of those serendipity things that have happened many times in my life. I was sitting around the house, waiting to make a decision about going to college. A friend called me and said “hey Hal, my car is not running today, and I have a job interview at Douglas Aircraft Company. Would you mind dropping me off there for that interview?” I said sure, I'd pick him up, and we'd drive over to El Segundo, California to the Douglas Aircraft Company's facility.

I let him out and took the car and parked it in the parking lot. Then I started noticing as I was sitting there kind of looking around, I saw these big, new bomber-looking Navy planes I'd never seen when I was in the Navy. They were brand new, A3Ds I later found out. I said to myself “wow, let me go inside this employment office where I just dropped my friend and see if they have any literature on these aircraft and things like to read.”

I go in and there was nobody in the room. I sat down and started reading about them. A gentleman sticks his head out the door and says, "Next." I look around and there was nobody there but me, so I said oh, no I'm not looking for a job. The guy steps in out of the doorway. He says you're not, what are you doing here? I said I dropped my friend off, so I'm just hanging out until he's finished. He said what do you do if you're not looking for a job? I said I got discharged from the Navy. He said what'd you do in the Navy? I said I was an electrician's mate. He said come, I got a job for you. That's how it happened

Douglas Aircraft Company

Vardalas:

Wow. Talk about serendipity.

Walker:

Yes. As it turns out, I go into his office. They give me an exam, which I scored quite high with. And I was quite pleased about that, because I hadn't been tested in years through any, a formal process. But anyway, the sort of strange ending to this story at that point is that my friend didn't get a job but I did. So unfortunately that's the way that worked out.

I went to work at Douglas Aircraft Company in the assembly area, the manufacturing department, installing radar systems in these A3D aircraft which at that time were the most advanced jet bombers in the Navy. I already was familiar with, but I learned a lot more now about those systems. After working there, I think for three or four years, I found it very limiting. It gets back to our story about furthering your career. There weren’t very many people interested to see if you were being what I would call proactive, who would look at you as an opportunity to move you up into leadership.

Vardalas:

No mentoring.

Walker:

No, very little of that. I was disappointed by that. So, after three years of kind of doing that work, which was fine to learn from, but I said I need to move on now. I got out of that job. I left that job and went back to just being out of work for a while until I took a look around. I just didn't feel I was getting promotions that I thought that I deserved. Again, I was a young man and there were the older guys. I didn't understand that at that time. I felt I was doing more things than many of them because I felt very empowered in that area. Looking around for work, I came across RCA Corporation, who was looking for contract workers to work on the Atlas missile checkout system.

Vardalas:

Before we get to that RCA story, there was I gather, unless I misread, there was a considerable amount of time between leaving Douglas and finding this job. I gather it was a difficult time for you because you were trying to figure out and you’ve got to survive.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Can you recount the feelings you had in that time?

Walker:

Absolutely. I'm glad you're having me reflect on some of these things, many of these things I've kind of dismissed in consciousness, but you just restored one area. I certainly went out to other aerospace companies. The word aerospace didn't exist then, but I'm going to use it in the context of what the future was. I went out to many companies, technology companies, and applied to be a technician in their laboratories and so forth. I was just turned down and turned down again. I couldn't understand why this was happening. I never did and I'll have to make that as an ending. I never understood what that was all about except I believe what those jobs potentially would've led for me in my life wasn't what my destiny was. I'm a believer in that idea.

During those years, I was working with my stepdad as a laborer. I used to work with him. He was in the construction industry. He would have his company sometime hire me as a laborer worker to work with them cleaning up things, knocking down things, pushing things, loading up things, stuff like a general purpose person. I was happy to do it because I earned a living maybe for about a year or two doing that. In the meantime, I was looking for new opportunities to get involved in, in technology. Then I decided maybe now is the time I'll go back to school and use my GI Bill.

Vardalas:

You tried again.

College Education and the Age of the Transistor

Walker:

I'll try again. I went and enrolled at Los Angeles City College [LACC] in electrical engineering. Now the strangest thing to me that happened is that I all of a sudden found myself not being able to absorb very quickly the engineering jargon that was being taught because I was at the end of the era of vacuum tube technology and the transistor was just coming in. Digital was the subject matter. I was sort of the person, it's interesting to think about this, because that transition was quite digital if we use it, coming from analog to digital. Us folk that were primarily developed in the analog era didn't understand digital stuff very easily. It just didn't play out to our typical classical understanding, so I struggled with that.

Vardalas:

A lot of engineers who were trained in vacuum tube technology also struggled with the new solid state paradigm

Walker:

That’s right. I was one of them. I did not do well in my electrical engineering courses at all at that time. It was just a whole new language to me.

Vardalas:

It must've been discouraging.

Walker:

It was very discouraging. I couldn't partner with others, which was usually my traditional way of getting assistance, because most of them were in the same boat I was. Students were in the same boat as me. They were going through the transition also. I said, oh my goodness. In the meantime, an interesting thing happened for me. I got involved with contract engineering work as it was called, job shopping as they sometimes call it. In those relationships, I was able to get assignments at reasonably high level technology companies, for example, where I started again work with semiconductor and digital technology at the very early age of it. I sort of learned it from the bottom up.

Vardalas:

Learned by doing it.

Walker:

Right, by doing it. Then I could take what I used as my experience from the analog and put it into reality because there was still a bit of a mixture at that time in the technology, analog to digital combination. I felt comfortable over there, and I was learning over here.

Vardalas:

It would have been okay if you wanted to be an electrical power engineer.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Utilities, you wouldn't have to worry about that.

Walker:

That's right.

Vardalas:

You were going to the area, it was military.

Walker:

Military science.

Vardalas:

Electronics.

Walker:

Exactly.

RCA and the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System

Vardalas:

Please continue on the story about the RCA now. Contracting didn't work out forever, right?

Walker:

No, contracting didn't work out, so my contract ended 1957 with a particular company who I don't recollect right this moment. I was then open for a new contract, which was with RCA Service Company, the folks that handled field operations, RCA Systems. I found myself working in the automatic programing checkout system for the Atlas ballistic missile in Van Nuys, California at an RCA site. We were working directly with other RCA field engineers at the launch sites, testing and solving design and rework implementation problems with the automatic missile checkout system.

I quickly moved up. Very quickly in that environment I was recognized to be a person who had good knowledge, good background for this type of work using logic circuits, and things like this. I got the attention of my management team there. One of the things that they quickly brought to my attention is that possibly I could get to work in the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System [BMEWS] if I was interested. I said oh wow, what's this all about? They said we're selecting persons now to go into the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, but they're in isolated sites in the northern Alaskan frontiers. Would you be interested in that? I said let me take a look at it. Of course, I said yes, I'd take a look at it. Then I got a letter from the RCA BMEWS [Ballistic Missile Early Warning System] office out of Riverton, New Jersey offering me a job as a field engineer at the Site-2 located 200 miles from the Arctic Circle in Clear, Alaska of the BMEWS. It was a lucrative job. At that time Alaska was not a state.

Vardalas:

You were married at this time?

Walker:

Yes, I was married. My family at that time felt this was an opportunity to make some money for us, so it was an economical part of it, the economics of it. The other part is I felt that I needed to do something like this because I knew the Sputnik era had opened up the thing about missiles. If I could be a part of it and help to defend the country, I was willing to go do that.

Vardalas:

What kind of work was exactly being done up there? What was your daily routine in terms of work? What were your challenges?

Walker:

We were building at that time the largest radar system in the world. It actually covered the northern whole frontiers of North America.

Vardalas:

Was it part of NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command]?

Walker:

It was part of NORAD, yes. Oh yes, NORAD. The site location at Clear, Alaska covered the western access to the continental U.S. along to the central section. We had a Site 1 at Thule, Greenland which covered the northeastern part of the country and so forth and another site in England that created a radar as we called it fence across the Northern Hemisphere for our protection here in North America.

The challenges there were quite unique. To detect Soviet missile launches, we had to be very near those launch sites where the radar detection could possibly be made at the lowest level of the launch process and later at the insertion phase. With these data points we could predict the impact points in the U.S. We wanted to look at the trajectory the missile would take once it went to orbit/insertion and determine the flight path. If the path was determined to have a course to impact in the U.S., NORAD was notified of an attack. This 15 minute time line would give U.S. missile operations time to prepare to launch their missiles. This concept was described as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). That was the general idea of the theory.

Then we had to go to Alaska in late 1959, to Thule, and to England to be in the position to protect the U.S. mainland. Some of the challenges there were we worked ten hours a day, seven days a week. The installation team consisted of 1,500 men. There was no thing called off time. We were in a continuous work schedule. First, the site had to be constructed and it was done prior to our arrival by the construction companies.

We used these very large, what's called parabolic reflectors, as the radar reflectors. They were 100 m long in length and something like 75 m height, three of them lined up. We put two radar beams on each one. Then those two beams going out into the sky allowed us the opportunity to detect a missile when it entered the lower beam. We would detect it, exit at the upper beam. From there we could get the trajectory and the speed, and then our computers (IBM 7090 Systems utilizing tape drives and punch card readers) could make attack predictions.

Vardalas:

Where it was going.

Walker:

About where it was going, yes.

Vardalas:

Your component of all this complex system was what you developed?

Walker:

We were developing this while we were putting it in place, yes.

Vardalas:

Specifically, what was your part, your tasks?

Walker:

Oh, I worked in the Control Switching Equipment (CSE) system where we operated the RF transmitters beam control system that directed the radar energy through the waveguides to the scanner. In other words, we controlled where the radar energy went to what sectors projected the radar beams onto the three antenna reflectors and then detected return signals to the system. What we did? We were the people that listened online to the folks who were making observations in the display rooms, where targets were being tracked. If they needed more energy in those particular areas, get more definition or more Doppler energy, we would switch different power levels, megawatts, radar power into those sectors. We controlled the power section of the site.

Vardalas:

Then you were also responsible for maintaining?

Walker:

We maintained it and repaired it; that's right.

Vardalas:

It was a cold climate, wasn't it?

Walker:

Oh, I wanted to mention that. We were operating in a range of temperatures during the winter was minus 75 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit and in the summer as much as 110 degrees Fahrenheit. It was quite challenging.

Vardalas:

I can see why you didn't vacation.

Walker:

That’s right. We were totally isolated in those frontiers.

Vardalas:

All right. You were isolated from most habitation, right?

Walker:

Oh yes. When you're using large radars like that, you can't be around inhabited areas.

Vardalas:

Your day after work was you'd come home, and then what?

Walker:

Ten hours, again, I'll say it again, we worked ten hours a day, seven days a week to build those systems. No, this was an isolated site. Just the workers were there.

Vardalas:

Where did your children go to school?

Walker:

Oh, my children were back in Los Angeles. My family was back in Los Angeles. It's very important to understand that we were actually teams working on contracted time, so things like our families we left behind, in a way of speaking, to come and do this work. Again, the nuclear threat was so high that this was really a very dedicated team of people working there.

Vardalas:

This is the height of the Cold War now.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Did you sense the importance of your work on the bigger geopolitical stage of the world? Did you see that? I mean I'm doing my job, but my job is important for a lot of reasons. Did you feel that at all up there?

Walker:

We, for example one of the things that kept us alert and motivated now, I want to time-mark this. This began in 1959. We were there after the Korean War.

Vardalas:

After the Korean War and it’s the rise of the Soviet.

Walker:

This is the rise of the Soviet Union power and the Cold War as such and Sputnik. We were watching missile launches once we were operational early in the 1960s. We were watching Soviet launches, one of them being Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit earth. We watched that from our site in Clear, Alaska. We recognized they were headed to orbit, but it turns out it was the actual launch of the first human into space.

Vardalas:

Did you sense internally that this was more than a job, this was important for the…

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

I mean did you sense there's a big mission to this other than just do my job?

Walker:

Let me describe it this way. That’s a great question. We were continuously under harassment from Russian force, airborne forces, there at those sites.

Vardalas:

Oh, you were?

Walker:

Oh yes. They were trying to understand if they could locate those beams.

Vardalas:

Trying to see how the beams worked?

Walker:

Just how the beams worked. They also were very interested to know if there was any overlap or underlap and if there was a hole through there. They had aircraft flying, trying to jam us. They had these large T90, 192 bombers carrying heavy radar systems, flying as close as they could to turn those beams on and see if they could jam us. We were continuously getting word from the DEW (distant early warning systems) that they were coming, and they would recognize the aircraft. We would then switch our frequency to start to use counter measures.

Vardalas:

You could keep rotating the frequency.

Walker:

We kept rotating our frequencies, yes, yes. Every day was a challenge because we were part of a dynamic defense system that was under threat.

Vardalas:

How long were you Alaska?

Walker:

My role there lasted just about a year and a few months over. Then I came back to the States. I rotated back in 1961.

One of the things I had decided upon was that I didn't need to start in engineering school all over again. I had just gone too far into the advanced technology area at that time. I wanted to continue building my strength and technological base in field operations where I spent many years developing that type of technology interest. The ambition for that and also the dedication that it takes to do that kind of work, I felt I had finally transitioned and was able to now take on those kinds of jobs.

Vardalas:

Did that come easy though after RCA?

Walker:

That came a lot easier after RCA because I felt, and we were given that status too, that we were special people now. We were identified as folk who would do this type of work, so there was a continuing interest to get in touch with us, find out what our availability was to go to foreign areas, and to work in those sites.

Vardalas:

When you got to this stage in your life and this stage of your skills did you think that the racial considerations were still much of a problem for you?

Walker:

It was in the background. In fact, it even happened at BMEWS. After some maybe four or five months at the site, my manager comes to me one day and says Hal, I'm going to ask you to take a job working with General Electric. Okay. I asked why. We had just got our system operational. He said there are some guys here from the South, from Tennessee specifically he mentioned as I recollect, and he said they've never really worked around African Americans or black people before. They were kind of hoping I could find you another spot. I was so irate. Hey, we're all here trying to do a job that saves all of us. What's this all about? This is going way too far, but I said to myself, “hold it.” Remember, go where people are looking for you, so I said ah, my friends in General Electric in the radar system and I have a good relationship because I'm the guy working the radar vanes and the transmitter section. They know me. I'll go work there. I love those transmitters. So, I went and finished my task there working with General Electric

Vardalas:

You shifted over.

Walker:

I shifted over.

Vardalas:

But that was still in the same remote environment.

Walker:

Oh absolutely, just to another part of the site.

Vardalas:

Another part of the site.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

That presented a different kind of technical challenge?

Walker:

Yes, a different type of technical challenge. Now we're working with high voltage up in the hundreds-kilovolt area with the big Klystron transmitter tubes. Again, always finding out how things worked kept me involved in a lot of things. There I was operating these big megawatt radar Klystron transmitters, working with General Electric. I was still in RCA employment on assignment with General Electric. I did a great job, the guys there worked with me, and I got to learn how these things worked.

Vardalas:

In retrospect, that was quite fortuitous.

Walker:

It was; it was. It actually opened the door for me to go into laser technology.

Vardalas:

Right, that’s what I'm thinking.

Laser Work, the Korad Corporation, and Taking Up Music

Walker:

Once I came out of BMEWS and I went back home, I took a break. After you've been away on the frontiers, you've got to take a break for three or four months. I then saw the opportunity through a contract job to go to work at a laser company called Korad, [the Korad Corporation, a subsidiary of the Union Carbide Corporation],

Vardalas:

Okay, so at that point how old are you now?

Walker:

I came to Korad in 1964, so I would have been thirty-one years old.

Vardalas:

This is the time you started playing jazz and blues music.

Walker:

That's right, exactly.

Vardalas:

This is when you got out of BMEWS? Is that when you started taking it up?

Walker:

Yes, when I got out of BMEWS, I had time on my hands. I started taking up music. It was while I was waiting around.

Vardalas:

What prompted you to do that?

Walker:

The Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix, Motown musical groups.

Vardalas:

No kidding.

Walker:

Yes, the Beatles. I loved the Beatles. I loved the guitar sound the Beatles had. I thought a guitar would be an instrument I could love to play, so I started playing with the guitar, teaching myself the guitar. Then I also had what sometimes is called a run-in with real, what I call local musicians in the Los Angeles area who were professionals. They took a liking to me because two or three of them that were sort of the leadership, one of the guys' name was Bobby Day, one of the real popular crossover musicians of those years. He and I got to know each other and he said “Hal, I want to be an engineer and you want to be a musician, let's get together. I'm going to teach you music, and you teach me engineering.” So, that's how that came together.

Vardalas:

The migration of the Beatles to jazz, did that just come…

Walker:

Well I think - - the question about the Beatles as what caught my attention. I kind of loved them, but then I got involved more in my professional playing with music and rhythm and blues as it was called.

Vardalas:

Do you recall yourself as being quite competent at it?

Walker:

Yes, I was a very dedicated learner and I was learning to get into the feel of it. Once you get involved with real professional musicians that are eager to help you, certainly those guys, there were some that weren't, some that were, I got to work with a fellow that took me under his wing and sort of taught me the art of handling the guitar. See, there's a difference between playing the guitar and handling the guitar.

Vardalas:

I never heard that.

Walker:

Yes. Handling it means you can entertain with it.

Vardalas:

Oh, is that right?

Walker:

He taught me the skills of handling the guitar while you're doing things like singing, not just sort of standing there going through a song presentation, but actually being an entertainer using a guitar as an instrument.

Vardalas:

You still do it.

Walker:

Yes, I still do it to some degree. I'm an older man, but I still do it sometime.

Vardalas:

There was never any temptation to go totally professional?

Walker:

Oh yes, there was. Probably around the mid, late 1960s or so, if I recollect, Motown. Everybody knows about Motown. To make a long story short, I had an opportunity working with a band that I was involved with on the weekends to get a job working with Motown, which they wanted to use our band as an opening act in Vegas for the Temptations show.

Vardalas:

No kidding.

Walker:

Yes. We went to that interview with Berry Gordy, and he talked to us and listened to us play some music and whatever. He offered us a job, but I had to say unfortunately guys, I won't be able to do that because this was a crossroads for me as a person. I would have to leave technology to be in music. I love music, but I got to stick with my thing. I decided not to go, which was very disappointing to a lot of the other guys that didn't get to make…

Vardalas:

That's right; you told me. I mean that’s very seductive.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

The music, to give it up must be hard.

Walker:

Yes, I mentioned Las Vegas. We were being asked to go to Las Vegas. Be on the shows there, that would have been a totally - - on the weekend maybe.

Vardalas:

Vegas, right, right, right. A lot of people would've taken that.

Walker:

Oh yes, well yes.

Vardalas:

But technology had your heart.

Walker:

Of course, yes, it had my heart. That's right. I stuck with that because we still had the moon yet to get to.

Vardalas:

All right, all right, all right. Then so you played music as a hobby.

Walker:

To me it was a hobby. Earlier we talked about my dad. He was a musical person and many of us in the family had sort adapted those musical interests. I think I took it as far as I could. I like to think of it that way. I could have gone further, but I took it as far as I could. I was satisfied that I could still do my usual things around Los Angeles and other places, which I did, and I could still stay focused in my engineering and field operations work.

Vardalas:

Before I go onto that, in the course of your career, did you ever moonlight, play music while you were doing an engineering job?

Walker:

Oh sure, sure. No, well sometimes. Sometimes if I was at a place where there were some guys I'd get to know, yes, we would do that sometimes, yes, yes. Sometimes when I was offsite someplace working on a project, especially up maybe in New Mexico or China Lake, in places like this, I would look to see in the local newspapers where there was live music being played. I would sometimes go there and I mentioned to fellows there that I was in town and if they would allow me, I'd sit in with them. When you say you're from Los Angeles most of them were always interested.

Vardalas:

Tell me how you entered Korad. What were the circumstances that led you to Korad?

Walker:

The story at Korad is very important in my life. It took all the things that I think were my past and brought them to a place where they could be put to work specifically in a specific technology area, LIGHT. I didn't know anything about it. The laser was invented in 1960 by [Theodore Harold “Ted”] Maiman, we know. Here I was in 1964 standing at the door of Ted Maiman's laser company, Korad Corporation, asking how I can play a part to help you. I was a contract worker. They said to me, “right now we're interested in people who can handle high voltage discharge systems.” There weren't very many guys that had that experience, but I had it from BMEWS.

Vardalas:

Again, it’s fortuitous that your Tennessee fellows didn't like you.

Walker:

Yes. They asked me questions about handling voltages up in the multi-kilovolt areas. They understood the BMEWS technology was very high-powered. They just wanted to get a feel for my knowledge base around that. I was impressed to tell them a lot of things that I had learned about high voltage. The most important thing that they wanted to know was did I understand the safety of dealing with high-voltage systems. How you handle the safety aspects of handling high voltage was a big part of my interview. For example, if you have something that is highly charged with some 30,000 volts, how do you handle that, and how do you get rid of that voltage? There's all sorts of mechanisms for crobaring and things like this. I understood that from working with the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, high-powered radar systems. As soon as they were comfortable that I wouldn't kill myself or hurt anybody, they said look, let's take a shot at this. They offered me a job assembling large high-powered lasers, so that's where it started. That’s where I first learned about what a laser was. I had never heard of a laser. This was my entrance into lasers. When you're working at a company where the inventor is working right beside you, you learn a lot of stuff real fast.

Vardalas:

Was switching an issue, how you used switches at such high voltages?

Walker:

We used spark gaps. Most of our isolation between systems, meaning the transfer mechanism was spark gaps we used at that time. Later on thyratrons and those types of switching devices came along, but initially it was those large spark gaps.

Vardalas:

I gather the work environment was fulfilling.

Walker:

It was; it was. We were early in the stages of developing the company's manufacturing area. With my background from Douglas and some of the other areas where I assist in that area, they gave me the job to pull that together for them. All of a sudden I found myself not as the manager doing the work of the, but building the team that would do that. I started recruiting technicians and other project engineers who would work with us to develop our capability to manufacture, test and deliver a solid state laser.

Vardalas:

That was a big step.

Walker:

It was; it was a big step. It was a big step.

Vardalas:

Did you feel nervous about it?

Walker:

Absolutely, absolutely. Because again, we had the job of also training individuals who were going to come into this that like myself, were pretty new to laser technology as such. But also maybe they didn't have enough experience where safety would be involved with high voltage systems. I had to kind of nurture these guys, but I felt like I could do that because I looked for people with similar backgrounds as myself. I was able to find three or four guys that filled that quite handily. Now an interesting thing about racial things came up. These three or four fellows I hired were black.

Vardalas:

Nobody came back - - that?

Walker:

Well they did. After about the third or fourth guy, the human relations or employment manager comes to me and says Hal, I think that's enough black guys now. I said yes, oh really? He says yes. I said, well, why? These guys, look at these guys. We're building lasers and delivering lasers. He said, I think we ought to start getting some other people, too, okay. I said, oh, are they accusing me of reverse discrimination? No, no. He said no, no. He said, but you know, we have to keep an environment here of a little more…

Vardalas:

Diverse?

Walker:

A little more diversity, yes. Oh, I said, well, okay, I recognize it. But I got it; I got it. I said, yes, so a broader perspective. For a lot of the folks that came in, I gave a preference to them if they were white guys.

Vardalas:

You don't think it was anything on your part subconsciously that you were recruiting black engineers?

Walker:

I don't think there was. I felt comfortable with them because again there was the need to be able to address subject matter or sort of a consciousness that I thought we would have with each other, yes.

Vardalas:

Like communicating?

Walker:

Yes, communicate, yes. Because again, we were at a threshold with working with this type of, especially with light. There was a danger of blindness. There was a danger of high voltage. There was a danger of handling very heavy devices. I think you're aware that these large discharge capacitors we were working with were hundreds of pounds of capacitors that was charged with 20, 30,000 volts in them. You had to be very careful with those units. If one of those things fell on you, you'd be seriously hurt. There were a number of what I would like to call concerns I had to have for everybody. But that communication, and I would call that commonality, did help us to get through that.

Vardalas:

How did you find yourself as a manager?

Walker:

I think my role there was quite appreciated. I was promoted as opportunities would come. I was promoted, but again, my promotion finally led to a discussion about my being an African American and going out into the field.

Vardalas:

You mentioned some of that yesterday. You're saying part of the discussion as to whether you should be rising up was how the world could handle an African American?

Walker:

That's right; that’s right. The image again is what I want to make sure is clear. We're in a white technological culture. There weren’t large groups of African Americans. There really wasn't a measure or maybe a model, is a better term for us, of how effective they could be as a group. I thought that we could be effective. We were showing that a group like this could be very effective at the level where their capabilities could be applied. I always made sure that we could do that with lasers. Now as a result of that, as the outcome, I found myself being asked to take a role managing our field operations because that was my formal background. I said yes, but again, the question came to the table. I would now be interfacing with physicists and researchers at some of our national laboratories, where there's been very little experience of interfacing with African Americans. How successful would that be?

Vardalas:

The question was not that you're not qualified, but how would the world react to you?

Walker:

Exactly, what would the reaction be? That question was on the minds of our management at Korad. They thought that it could affect our business.

Vardalas:

Putting aside race issues, were there divisions between professional engineers and non-engineers, between scientists and non-scientists, this feeling that you're not one of us.

Walker:

That’s right.

Vardalas:

Right. Due to the fact that you didn't pursue a formal degree in electrical engineering, did you ever run into this?

Walker:

Oh sure, oh sure. It was. I overcame it with this attitude about it. You guys are the first persons that do the design and development thinking. We have to work together to produce the product. Without us, we've got nothing, so we want to think of ourselves as a team. You're the quarterback over here and I'm the guy that catches the ball. Does that make sense? Yes, and I put that to rest.

I didn't try to argue the differential of what that meant. I just said it takes a team to do this work and we're all good at what we do. If we’re working together, we're a team. I found that to be the most effective way to deal with that. It didn't happen that many times, but when it did happen, I could use that as just a way to think about it. As we all got to know each other better, it kind of solved itself.

Vardalas:

The Korad thing, I'm interested in the high energy discharge. What were the technical challenges to pump this laser?

Walker:

You're right on that. That was where the trouble was. One of the keys to making the laser work, on the practical side, was uniform pumping of the laser medium, in our case, the ruby crystal. We were like most guys trying to do the research with it, using what we call straight flash lamps, side by side with a crystal in the middle, with a reflector device that presumably captures all of the light and refocus it to the crystal. That's a very inefficient way to do it. What you really wanted was a helical discharger, but helical flashlamps didn't exist yet.

It's a great story. I'll briefly describe how it happened for us. We had a photographer guy who worked for us. He did our public relations and catalogs and things like that photography for us. He was standing around one day while we were talking about the inefficiencies of these straight lamps and he said “well gee, you guys ever consider using a helical?” The look was, no. He said, “I know how to make them.” Really? Yes. He made us a demonstration lamp. Since he was a photographer, he had started working with different lights to give him different illumination technology, whatever the right word, illumination, brightness, uniform brightness. He said "I'll make you a demo.” He built us about a 10-inch lamp that he put into a coil of about say five or six coils, and it was about yay long. We stuck this on a laser, and wow, that's kind of how that got started

Vardalas:

You pump high voltage through it, ionize it?

Walker:

Yes. We charge up the capacitor banks and then through a spark gap, isolate the bank from the flash lamp until we want to trigger it. Now the idea is to discharge that energy through a pulse forming coil into the flashtube and have that radiation then pump the laser medium. But we have to have specific colors coming out of that pump to be able to access that. This sort of xenon gas is what we were using with those flashlamps to do that.

Vardalas:

Did you have to fine-tune the way the helix worked, the shape, the size, the diameter of the thing?

Walker:

Oh yes, because there was so much thermal heating too from the lamp. Because of thermal issues, the proximity of the lamp to the crystal, we wanted it to be as close as possible, but far enough away that we could control the temperature by flowing water through the volume. We still had to use the cover reflector, or the outer reflectors, to capture the light. The helical flashlamp was actually still embedded within the laser head.

Vardalas:

It didn't make sense to put half-mirrors in the back of these helixes?

Walker:

Each coil had its own individual radiant location on the crystal.

Vardalas:

Did the energy and light coming out of it have to be uniform in terms of how it hit the crystal?

Walker:

Yes. As I spoke yesterday, that was what was so important about keeping the mode control of the laser. Irregular pumping caused different modes of laser action to take place at varying wavelengths, so you had to be very careful with it.

Vardalas:

Now you had the power issue, supply, to put into this, right?

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Did these helixes require any special techniques using high power? Was it the same high-power you used in the previous method?

Walker:

We developed a common device, a common helical device, for a certain size crystal. As the crystals grew in diameter, we just expanded that inner diameter to compensate for it, so we'd maintain the relative pumping - - and reduction of heat into the crystal.

Vardalas:

Then the discharge portion of it was the same?

Walker:

The discharge portion was the same, yes.

Vardalas:

It's the same technology.

Walker:

The same technology, but just larger capacitor energy, larger diameter of helical flash tubes. When you talk about troubles one of the things we learned from these flashtubes is when we got to certain power levels of input these flash tubes’ mechanics got to be a problem as the lamp tended to grow in size. They had to have some flexibility.

Vardalas:

Really?

Walker:

If you put too much energy into the lamp, it could actually explode by pulling itself apart, so we developed a thing called a keep-alive voltage inside the lamp that we triggered from a separate power source to the lamp itself to keep it activated. We reduced the shock of when the initial--

Vardalas:

Oh, so you got to warm it up.

Walker:

Warmed it up, yes.

Vardalas:

Oh, so it wouldn't be torn apart.

Walker:

Torn apart, that's right.

Vardalas:

When I hear the dangers of it being exploded, blown up, Is that what happens?

Walker:

No, in that particular case it wasn't a flash damper. It was actually a pulse forming network coil. That in other words, to form the pulse to the flash lamp, we had an inductor that was in the series with the flashtube.

Vardalas:

Oh, I see. So it was…

Walker:

It was actually an electrical problem more than a flash damp problem.

Vardalas:

Then you started managing this group and you started in the field services, but you mentioned the difficulty you had going out in the field in Georgia. I think was the story.

Walker:

No, see, that situation was very interesting for us to consider how to operate in this civil rights era. I think we want to identify this was the civil rights era. It wasn't isolated to necessarily any particular point. It was across the board.

I thought that was awfully ambitious of us to take this relationship and myself to go into the field. Due to my background and knowledge from being born in the South and being raised there, I knew some of what we called the rules of the game. When I went to other places in the country, I still would bump into prejudice and other types of discriminatory acts, but they were much less than what I'd call high profile. They were more subtle, as you would imagine, so I could manage those types of things quite easily.

Vardalas:

They were less in your face.

Walker:

Yes. That’s a good way to put it. Yes, absolutely. They were there and I had to work around those and work through those things.

Vardalas:

It took a certain amount of discipline and patience not to get angry. I could not see myself having it.

Walker:

No, I was more concerned with people that were the non-technical community that saw me as an intruder.

Vardalas:

You said you knew how the game was played.

Walker:

Yes, yes, yes.

Vardalas:

But to say I don't want to play the game, did you ever get angry?

Walker:

Oh, I always like to use the word disappointed, because it became fruitful in my attitude, to be open and be a part of what we were doing. If there were people there with any personal issues about stuff like that, I tended to let them know hey, I'm here to help now, okay?

Vardalas:

Korad's customers in the South would be technical organizations, wouldn't they?

Walker:

I think the management of those companies were faced with the same struggles in the civil rights era to be recognized as organizations reaching out to be part of the solution rather than to be on the side of the problem. I'd rather say it that way maybe, yes.

Vardalas:

When did Korad’s business switch to military? Was it always military?

Walker:

We started out strictly commercial, strictly commercial. The first maybe five years or so, we were strictly commercial.

Vardalas:

What were the commercial uses at the time?

Walker:

Plasma fusion studies at Los Alamos had our lasers. We had our lasers on the Tokamak experiments.

Vardalas:

In the very beginning, it was not low-end lasers, but very high-end?

Walker:

These are high-end systems, yes. These were systems with a very high end of the known laser technology in the U.S.

Vardalas:

For the physics labs?

Walker:

No, no. We did that, but our primary customers which I'll call our mainstream customers, were people like Princeton with the tokamak and Los Alamos with the plasma fusion processes. I worked there for a number of months at that project. Those types of institutions, yes.

Vardalas:

The military came in because they had the money to give you?

Walker:

Well, again, of course. Let's even put it more in a technological aspect. The advent of applying lasers on the battlefield had become a reality. We had gotten power sufficiently enough, optical control systems, and so forth. The guidance systems existed now, optical devices. Now the question was asked “Who can now deliver us a product that can illuminate a target, and we can also deliver a weapon?” That kind of started that conversation. We got into it and built some of the first illuminators used in the Vietnam War.

Vardalas:

Right, and I'm sure you had security clearance already.

Walker:

Oh yes, we had security clearance. All of us had to have security clearance because of our work with the national laboratories, Sandia, Lawrence Livermore, and so forth and so on.

Vardalas:

You found it technically intriguing because these were very complex systems the military wanted.

Walker:

Yes, yes. For the first time we were doing things that very few folk, if any, had any what I call baseline experience with. We were learning how to take a laser, an optical system, a tracker, some type of delivery system, and put it together to work as a combination. Because again, if you were putting multiple spots on the ground or on a target area, and you had specific interest in A location versus B, you didn't want to have a weapon go to B that should have been going to A. We had to code these beams.

Vardalas:

The high-end stuff, the really high military weapon systems, lasers for weapons, in-space weapons or disrupt satellites, et cetera, et cetera.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Did they require pushing the boundaries of high voltage discharge technology?

Walker:

Yes it did; yes it did. We had to work at altitude many times. Much of this work is at, for example, we'd take laser systems to places like Los Alamos – (mile high) -, we were at, I forget the number now, but it was quite high. Those electrical systems, especially at high voltage, you have to be considerate operating at those levels were different than sea level or some other, oh yes, you want to be careful with that. I had some experiences happen at Los Alamos that were quite distressing because no one got hurt, but it was a very serious accident.

Vardalas:

Because of the rarified atmosphere?

Walker:

Because the rarified atmosphere, yes. We learned that by going to those locations and actually having those things happen, and then examining the results that then determined it was a problem associated with the rarified attitude, altitude, yes.

Vardalas:

You told the story very well yesterday about how you were chosen to head up your part of the program of your company's participation in the lunar experiment.

Walker:

Yes, this was the first ever experiment using a hand–placed extraterrestrial instrument in history.

Vardalas:

It was challenging, but thinking back, a lot has been made about it. Do you feel personally this is your biggest achievement, technical achievement? Do you feel you've done other things more challenging technically?

Walker:

Yes, yes. Certainly more challenging technically. That was a one-of-a-kind thing for us. It took a number of us working together as a team to pull that off. But we had taken on, as you heard me mention, our job was just to locate the device. We had been using a very high-powered K1500 laser system mostly for the study of military things and since then obviously plasma research and other scientific things. When we got done with that, we had no further intention of using that type of laser in anything to do with a moon shot or anything like that. We had designed a specific moon laser, the K2600 laser ranging system which was to be taken to McDonnell Observatory in Texas. This was operated by my colleague Jim Myers. It was even more powerful than the K1500 laser I had. It became at least the start of the moon research for McDonnell. Over the forty years of research many other different systems replaced it. But, the initial Apollo missions were done with the three types of Korad lasers. (K1500, K2600 and K2500).

Vardalas:

What I didn't understand yesterday was your explanation of the importance of having a uniform beam and what contributes to a non-uniform beam.

Walker:

Irregular pumping, for example, or a crystal that has inhomogeneity. Inhomogeneities cause a loss to happen with that section of the crystal, causing what we call loss of power. You'll then have holes in the spot of the beam, if we think of it that way.

Vardalas:

Right, and the reflector could be in one of those holes, and you have a problem.

LURE and Apollo 11

Walker:

Our initial LURE [Lunar Ranging Experiment] operations was to search and locate the Apollo 11 Laser Reflector. I mentioned we were running a 1.3 gigawatt laser beam consisting of 12 -13 joules of energy with a pulse duration of 10ns. And a beam divergence of 1.0 milliradian. The output can be expected to be a very high concentration. This output is a very bright beam.

We then put that in a large amplifier, and of could develops a brightness of 2-300 times the Sun. The1500 Laser is a multi-staged system consisting of two laser heads (1) Oscsilator and (2) Amplifer stage. That's a single pass amplifier, so what comes in is what you get out. The overall gain was about something like maybe ten to twelve times through the laser amplifer. What we didn't want to have happen is the inhomogeneities of the laser beam itself to create an ununiformed image in the far field. If it transcended to where the reflector was located, nothing possibly would come back from the retroreflector thereby causing sensing and tracking problems. The expected beam diameter on the moon was 4-6 miles.

Vardalas:

It'd be like a crack, a hole in the image.

Walker:

Exactly, a hole in the image, yes. We had to be very sensitive that we're running and keeping the laser continuously uniform. Shot to shot, that'll tend to vary just slightly. I could monitor that from the beam measurement devices we had.

Vardalas:

You explained the know-how needed to pump it uniformly.

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Is the way the discharge is run? What is the key?

Walker:

See, there's an optimal input for normal performance, what we do by testing the laser through a number of input power parameters, I can look at the beam divergence reaction to the changes, meaning that we're getting a wider beam, a narrower beam. Where is the beam quality we want to have?

When you start varying the input to the solid state-type of device, you can actually change that beam divergence pattern. The laser is getting saturated, rather than getting more normal transitional effects in the laser medium. It's saturated. You're just developing more heat and not more power.

Vardalas:

That was part of the expertise you brought to this project. You understood all these things about the laser and what it needed to do.

Walker:

Yes, exactly.

Vardalas:

The astronomers.

Walker:

That's right. In other words, I wanted to be sure we understood it. I'm happy that was clear enough. We all had to be together on that. When word came for us to add more power here or more power there, I had to challenge them about that on a number of occasions. We had a better chance of finding it if we took more time, but still stay –at nominal power if the laser starts to have optical trouble, meaning damaged spots in the medium itself or other things, we're going to create those holes.

Vardalas:

When did you leave Korad?

Walker:

1974. I worked there ten years.

Vardalas:

Ten years, right. What happened after you left Korad? Did you work for another firm? Did you start your own enterprise?

Hughes Aircraft Company

Walker:

I was recruited from Korad to come to Hughes Aircraft Company.

Vardalas:

Oh, so you went to another big contractor. I know they've got an aerospace…

Walker:

Aerospace firm, yes. As you know from the history of the laser, in 1960, Ted Maiman invented the first working laser while at the Hughes Research Laboratories [Hughes Aircraft Company]. While an employee at Hughes, Maiman invented the laser in the research lab working on the optical pumped maser. The lead researchers didn't quite have a use for the newly found laser. Maiman left Hughes and formed the Korad Corporation in Santa Monica, California in 1961.

We always thought of Hughes and Korad as the father/son kind of relationship.

In 1974, Carlton Salter of Hughes Laser Division came to me and said we're now going to take lasers into the military applications. This was pretty much the way he said it: we're fixing to take lasers on the battlefield, we need you. I said, okay, I'll try, so I went to Hughes. I started working and managing Hughes's field operations and I played a major part in developing military electro-optical fire control systems and IR sensors for use in tactical and strategic applications.

I was there fifteen years.

Vardalas:

You ended your career at Hughes?

Walker:

Yes.

Vardalas:

I get a lot of the work you did there was top secret.

Walker:

Yes, oh yes.

Vardalas:

What drives you now? What are you ambitions now?

Walker:

I want to share my enthusiasm and knowledge with young people who may be struggling to find their place in the technological future now here, call it the twenty-first century. We started thinking about this in the latter part of the twentieth century. What should kids be learning to become a player or a viable participant in the twenty-first century? One of the things they should be learning is how technology works, the disciplines of it. I am also interested in motivating them to seek those fields and careers.

Vardalas:

That’s the hard thing.

Walker:

Yes, that's right. That’s a hard thing.

Vardalas:

Right. What are the kind of things you've been involved in? I saw some of them, but I'd rather you just say them. What are the kind of undertakings you've tried or involved in?

Dr. Bettye and Hal Walker Found A-MAN

Walker:

In 1990, we formed an organization called the African American Male Achievers Network, Inc. (A-MAN, http://www.aman.org). I'll quickly give an explanation for that name because it's a diverse organization. It was named after the one hundred African American men that came to work with my wife and me to put this organization together.

They were volunteers. They became like role models and mentors for us to form the organization back in the early 1990s. We said just on their behalf because people sometimes don't get any personal recognition, but as a group, we said this organization is going to be named after you guys. They all said yes, that’s fine. Let's help the kids for the future.

Vardalas:

It's interesting the title has male in it.

Walker:

Yes. Is it time to leave?

Vardalas:

Yes, we got five minutes.

Dr. Walker:

Let me talk.

Vardalas:

Come over here [referring to Dr. Bettye Walker, Hal Walker’s wife]. All right, tell me now. This brought you to life.

Dr. Walker:

Yes, you touched my heart with that. When I realized how many children were not getting what they needed in the public school system I became an elementary principal.

I had been in a coup in West Africa. I had gone to help young ladies become educated and I was in a coup. I did not know I was coming out of that alive, but as God had it, I came out safe and sound. I said I must've been saved for a reason and that was to give back and help children.

When I became a principal, I realized that it did not make sense to have all the money going to the central office. It needed to be at the schools. In 1987, I was able to get a grant from UCLA in 1987, the first one ever to address the underachievement of our students in inner-city schools, especially our boys. Getting that going, we wrote our grant at UCLA. I said this is the only way we can implement it and it's relative to what our community is about. I took my leadership team, we got it funded, and we started our project. The idea was to give the youngsters every opportunity. From 7:00 to 8:00 in the morning, I had the buses go pick up the kids and bring them to school. I planned a healthy breakfast and from 7:00 to 7:30 a.m. they had breakfast. From 7:30 to 8:00 a.m., I divided them in groups of ten. Mayor Tom Bradley who came by to help was one of my first role models. By himself he helped recruit the other one hundred role models that helped with this project for two years. The role models spent time with the kids from 7:30 to 8:00 a.m. in the morning and from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon. They had two times that they could come. After two years, we followed those kids and their success.

The achievement went over the roof, and we were able to follow them all the way through high school. When Hal was elected to be in the Smithsonian Museum of American History for his lunar laser ranging experiment, I quit because I knew I needed to be there. I'm from and I grew up in Washington, D.C

My chemistry teacher always said to us that the museum, the Smithsonian Museum of American History, should have a permanent exhibit, Science and American Life. Why should you have to go to Air and Space for your science? That’s a part of everything. To think they finally decided in 1994 to start this permanent exhibit, Science and American Life, from 1867 through 1994, and Hal was going to be in it. I quit and said I've got to be there and have all the family, all the kids around, and be a part of that.

As a result of that, when I came back the kids said where are you going to be now? What are we going to do? I had the school open twelve months a year, seven days a week. Science was everything, because science is everything. It should be nothing you fear. It's a part of everything you do. I felt so bad. Maybe I have to go back.

Then I went to this community center, a big mall, and we met the owner. Hal and I met with him, and I said can you just give me 1,500 sq. ft. for ninety days in the summer so my youngsters can have their science program? He went yes, just like that, so quickly. We had our program start right there in Los Angeles. On the ninety-first day, I got the bill. He said you asked for three months, but I knew what you described had to go longer than three months. Twenty-five years later, he came to us and said that's why I knew you would go on.

Vardalas:

Really?

Dr. Walker:

I could tell that program was something special. Naming it after those one hundred men was very key because African American males are always known for sports. I wanted them to be known for doing something so special, which is science in life for children. That's why we decided to name it African American Male Achievers Network. I love acronyms. Our acronym is A-MAN. A-MAN stands for A Man and a Woman, yes

Vardalas:

All right. I gather that it's doing well now.

Dr. Walker:

Absolutely. We have graduated over 10,000 students. We have students who are all over the world now. We have a Ph.D. student in South Africa. We have a young lady geologist in South Africa. We have a young lady who's the CFO of the LA Ports, which is the largest port in North America. We have our student who received scholarships at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, and he's now teaching at Cal Tech.

Vardalas:

Oh, good.

Dr. Walker:

We have students who are in graphics in Hollywood, we have students who are doing computer science, and we have students traveling all over. When we were in Washington, D. C. for Hal to kick off the Apollo 11 celebration for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, one of our students was there. He was with us from the time he was seven, he graduated from Howard University, and he's working on all kinds of innovative and inventive things. He helped to develop the application for the latest Smithsonian African American Culture Museum.

Vardalas:

Wow. You should be proud of yourselves.

Dr. Walker:

Yes, absolutely. That got me excited.

Vardalas:

On that note, I think we'll end.

Walker:

That's a good place.

Vardalas:

Thank you so much.

Walkers:

Thank you so much. We hope this story will continue to inspire generations of IEEE members and peoples all around the World. God Bless.