Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INTERVIEW WITH ELLIOTT KATZ
INT: Could you tell me how, coming out of the Second World War, you were able to go to university on the GI bill, and what the experience was like.
ELLIOTT KATZ: Well I had been a freshman at P...... before the war; I enlisted on Armistice Day '41, and when we came back we were married, and Leone had been at both the university of Illinois and at North Western, while I was overseas. We came back to P...... in February of '46, with a lot of other people. It was the largest class they'd ever had entering P....... - most of it returning veterans. I felt somewhat sorry for those who were not returning veterans, because we were a very intense crew. when we returned we had seen a little bit of the war, we were, we had matured more quickly than one normally would, and so classes had a smattering of non-veterans, with a large number of veterans. And it was a highly competitive time - and that was true during all of the undergraduate period that I was there. It was less so during graduate, because the competition was mostly in yourself, rather than with other students; but undergraduate, it was mostly with the other students. Classes generally had about forty people - the interesting thing was very little cheating, very little looking side to side, because a veteran will say, I know this better than somebody else, so no-one has to tell me; so it's a highly competitive thing within that sense. one particular class I do remember because the professor kept his grade book for years and years afterwards - it was a course in advanced thermodynamics, and he had forty students in the class; did not grade it on a curve - it was A, B and C, more like. He had forty students - he had, as I recall, something like 32 As, one C, the rest Bs. Most astonishing, because it was a class that stood out in his memory, or veterans - mine as well. That was, as I say, all that, all the way through undergraduate, pretty much like that. Now, I went through on a GI bill, for which I am obviously very grateful, and Leone, because we had jobs and we had our, we were getting our 90 dollars a month, well she was able to go to school as well; and she managed to get a few scholarships, because she's quite a good student. And during that period we paid 30 dollars a month for rent - we lived in an attic, we were the insulation for the rest of the house. It was a humbling experience, to say the least. And because we were the insulation ....... on the summer, why, we basically, in ........ Indiana, which is where P....... is, very very warm summers, and were constantly going to school, 'cos we wanted to hurry up and get through - you know, studying naked on Turkish towels, with wrist bands and wash towels to keep the sweat, the sweaty arms from sticking to the papers - stands out in my memory. We were relatively - let's see, we were married in '43, so we were at this time just really a few years married, and we lived, actually we had one single bed that we slept on; it was not the best of living conditions, but we managed to complete our undergraduate career there, and when we went into graduate school, why we were fortunate enough to get an apartment much closer to campus. And life became much simpler, much easier - we both taught, no longer needed the GI bill, we both had, Leone still had scholarships, we both taught, and why we were almost rich.
INT: Where did you want America to be in the world at that point? Was there a drive behind where everybody your age was going?
ELLIOTT: I'm not, not sure that we thought about where we wanted America to go. It was a period of great self-center attitudes. You had come out of the war, you had fought for the country, the country has now given you the GI bill to get an education, and now it was pretty much internally focused: what did I want to do, what did we want to do, in order to make our way in the rest of our life? So people pretty much felt that way. I think it really was not a country feeling so much, until we got into Korean conflict, and most of us who came out of the World War were horrified by the potential of going back into another one, even though it was much removed from our country. and then I think we began to think more and more about the country itself, but we were still pretty much focused on what we were going to do - at least that's how I remember graduate school. I was hauled back in for Korea, and thanks to graduate work, and letters from the President of P....... university, Admiral in charge of the program, so I was working on I did not go into service for Korea, but completed by education. And Leone worked most of the time, and she went on for her Masters as well, in Economics. But it was a, I think an interesting period, I think, and ....... with Korean so soon after World War Two, it just wasn't a pleasant, you know - that's what, we submerged ourselves pretty much into academics, teaching, friends, the mid-country, you know, the middle Western attitude toward things were isolated. That was pretty much it.
INT: You went into the defense industry: could you tell me very briefly about your time in San Diego, then to Denver.
ELLIOTT: Well thanks to my major professor, who had, sort of one of the pioneers of jet propulsion and rocketry, I managed to get a job in what I think is THE place to live - San Diego - with Convair, working on what was to become the Atlas Missile - it wasn't called that then, it was highly secret; in fact the first report I wrote, I remember, was classified secret, and I couldn't read it because I'd not had yet my, my clearance hadn't come through. But it was four years in San Diego - truly a gorgeous place to live; the work was intense - we worked ten hours a day, by the way, and six days a week, to get this activity up and running; and it was a good life. While there, I'd written a report on how to enhance the capability of the Atlas Missile, not realizing that it was the forerunner of what was to be the Titan Missile, which was a substantial improvement over the Atlas; and I was offered a job in Denver, with the Martin company. Then we moved to Denver, built a house, we were there for, as my wife says, two one hundred-inch periods - one hundred inches of snow. It started rain, snowing in September, and stopped in May. We had a sloping driveway, and she said, California's better. So we had a good time for two years; during that period of time I was involved with some government committees, so I was on the road quite a bit. We had our second child there, and I think we were there just two full years, when I had an opportunity to move back to California, in Newport Beach. And I took advantage of that, into somewhat more scientific things than I was involved with in Denver. So we moved to Newport Beach, and we rented a house in a little town called Tustan. Now Tustan is a hotbed of conservatism: there we were, Kennedy fans, putting bumper stickers with Kennedy on our car, which was leased from Ford - that was the outfit I worked for, Ford in Newport Beach; and we ripped off each night - it was a very conservative community, not too good a fit for us. But we managed to survive, and I was director of engineering at Ford, aeronautic Division - mostly on classified programs, dominantly related to how one penetrates enemy defenses in the ballistic missile area. And then - we were there for two years, quite satisfying actually - and I was offered a position by the mad man entrepreneur from Pasadena, by the name of Yves Sarrell, who had creative ideas; and he offered me a job, if we moved up to this area, and we did, and we have been here ever since, at - this was called Electro-Optical Systems, dealing dominantly in classified things, a few instruments that were of interest to the general populous; but I suppose we've been there close to five years, and we were going to go public, and instead Xerox made an offer to buy us, and they bought us out, which was wonderful for many of us; but because of the buy-out, the character of the company, as it often does, changes, and I left to join the Aerospace Corporation, in San Bernardino. So we stayed in the same place physically, we're living, we drove sixty miles one way every day to San Bernardino, and there I worked almost exclusively on classified things - again related to penetration of Russian defenses. that was in 1966, when I moved into Aerospace. Attitudes were interesting at that time, because the defense industry and its budgets seemed to be based on the fact that the Russians were ten feet tall, and absolutely couldn't overcome any of their strengths, whether it was scientific, manpower, whatever it might be. They were the ruling group. So when you would read - and in the defense industry in order to defend the budget or things related to a particular program, you establish what are called threats, threat documents; these are blessed from on high - they come down to you and you review the threat, which is awesome indeed, and on those awesome threats you establish system requirements. And during that period I think most of us were very haw
INT: Did you find it a period of endless possibility and great excitements?
INT: Did you find it a period of endless possibility and great excitements?
ELLIOTT: Oh certainly. I mean every day was, going to work was an exciting thing. Something new was always happening - we read voraciously scientific journals. Look what's happened to communications, in just about fifteen to twenty years. The same is true with cameras, optics, infrared surveillance, which of course has wended its way into civilian use as well. all the transistors, computer chips, much of what we take for granted now, were developed out of the intensity of that time. It was, it's horrible, you know, to say that you worked in the defense industry and it was fun - but it was. I mean it was exciting - and you were dealing with exuberant, exuberant people, exciting people; we had a, you know, I had the wonderful opportunity of having interchange with Wheeler of Princeton, with Teller when he was at Livermore, Critchfield, George Gamov, and Rigo Fermey, Mon Carmen - I mean these are august men of their fields, and to know them on a relatively, like, like you and I are talking, on a very simple basis, was wonderful. it opened your eyes, and makes you feel like you're doing something useful and good.
INT: Was there a sense in which the whole industry was flush with government money? Was it a period of huge expansion?
ELLIOTT: Oh yes, it was ridiculous - you could, money just flowed in, and because it, again it was this threat thing. the threat opened the door to money vault, it was, and the - well it's like Star Wars, absolutely idiotic program, nonsense, maybe not in concept, but so far from reality and being able to attain what was to be attained under space defense initiative; but the door opened, and money poured, because the United States, all of us, were fearful; where in reality, you cannot completely prevent the United States from being attacked - you just cannot. There there's no shield, there's no magic to this at all. So, you know, money was available, and it wasn't for many years that it was decreased. during that time, I would say we became used to the largesse of the defense industry's budget - always competition, always fight, always other ideas, new concepts coming up - but it wasn't for lack of money.
INT: And you were always fighting the idea of America being vulnerable.
ELLIOTT: Yes, well that's, you're almost taught that by the threat itself. there are people who in the, in the government, whether it's the CIA or whether it's the defense industry, or whether it's the Department of Defense, there are people who are Colonels who want to be Generals, Majors who want to be Colonels. So there are, everyone wants a program, everyone is worried about whether or not they will have something. Again, it's very egocentric. So having a program was a very important thing - so people would devise concepts. In fact I will confess that one of my jobs at the Aerospace Corporation was, I was in charge of concepts and plans. And our whole being dealt with not requirements - because this was strictly concepts - so that concepts, as they related to the existing threat, and the advancing threat, which we created. So this helps self-sustaining, as it were; but it made it for fun - concepts. If you like, if you like that thought process, then it's a wonderful environment in which to be - unreal though it may have been; but we felt very vulnerable - that's from a defense point of view.
INT: Tell me how you worked, and after the Second World War, what that experience meant.
ELLIOTT: Well I was married, married when I got my wings, and a lot of people were, and the whole reason to go back to school was not because you got the GI bill - it was because there had to be a future for you, there had to be something well worth working very hard for. So school was fine - very intense, as I described earlier; the same was true with work, because now you're all, you're almost predestined what you're going to be involved with. I was involved in my graduate work with a classified program, dealing with rocketry and the like, and this was like something I was going to continue; and we worked, I think I mentioned, about ten, at San Diego, ten hours a day, and we worked six days a week - and it was a continuum; and there were whole new areas opening up - advanced metallurgy, electronics, new types of materials related to missiles and the like; and the veterans, 'specially those who had come through roughly the same period as I, were motivated, truly driven, by the fact that they were married, they were bringing up a family, we had seen our families work very hard - I grew up with a hard-working group - I'm an only child, but my Dad worked very hard; and it's not you work hard, you work long hours, with a level of intensity that was perfectly in keeping with your mental set - it was perfectly fine to work that way, no-one complained, it was, it was the thing, as it were, and it was fun, almost horrible to say that, but it truly was a very exciting period; and I think working with things I never dreamed of, like nuclear weapons or atomic weapons - that was new and advanced. You didn't think so much of the horrors related to it, as you did the technology and science that was related to its development. It was a very exciting thing.