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The Air Force Years
y March 1968, I had a joint appointment at the Massachusetts
BInstitute of Technology (MIT) in the Sloan School of Management
and the engineering school. The family continued living in Washington, and I commuted to Cambridge to give seminars and so on. In May we bought a house in Cambridge, and in the summer we came north to live in our house at Beverly Farms while the new house was renovated.
By fall I had a more formal appointment at MIT, as Hunsaker Visiting Professor for the academic year 1968-1969. The only requirement of the Hunsaker professorship is that one deliver what is known as the Minta Martin lecture. The recipient is also invited to participate on thesis committees, to give seminars, and so on, which I did and enjoyed. We lived in the third-floor apartment of the house while massive reconstruction went on in the basement and on the first and second floors. As a result of all the old plaster in the air, an asthmatic condition that had bothered Gene in Washington intensified. Over Christmas she had to be hospitalized for a short time. She wasn't allowed to go back into the house until all the work was completed, so we moved temporarily into an apartment hotel. After the extensive renovations, our house was comfortable, sunny, and spacious without being too big. Gene even had a little greenhouse. The house's location was very convenient, and it answered our needs perfectly. We were a bit sad when we finally gave the key as a donation to MIT on April 1, 1992. The proceeds from the institute's sale of the house provided nearly 50 percent of the funds required to fund MIT's newly created Apollo Chair in Astronautics.
We found a buyer for our Washington house in December 1968,
just when we realized we might be moving back. I was at MIT the week before Christmas, when my secretary told me that newly appointed Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird was on the line. He introduced himself and asked if I would be in Washington soon. I was planning to be there the following day, en route to Cape Kennedy, where I was going to watch the launching of Apollo 8, the first circumlunar flight.
Laird said, "I'd like very much to have lunch with you at the Carlton." We had lunch in his private suite at a table for two. One whole wall was covered with a detailed organization chart of the Pentagon. As we began eating, he asked me questions about technical people. I figured he only wanted information, but by the time we got to the raspberry sherbet, he shifted and said, "Dave Packard [co-founder of Hewlett-Packard] is going to come and join with me as my deputy. I want to have three service secretaries with different backgrounds. I'm hoping Stan Resor, secretary of the Army, will stay on from the Johnson administration. Goldwater thinks a lot of John Chafee from Rhode Island [who had recently lost his reelection bid for governor]. I want to get him down here for secretary of the Navy." Then he said, "And you're going to come down here as secretary of the Air Force."
"You've got to be kidding! I just got out of the government and moved back to New England. I've just begun a new job at MIT, and my wife is sick." Laird absolutely would not take no for an answer. In fact, he upped his offer, saying that Dave Packard could not stay more than two years and that after Dave left, he wanted me to step in as deputy because, like Dave, I had a technical background.
"Why don't we get together again on Monday?,” he said.
I didn't have the courage to call Gene until I had reached the Cape. When I finally did call, her initial reaction was: "We can't do that!"
"Don't worry," I assured her, "I'm not going to accept."
I saw Laird again on Monday, and we had a further conversation, but I still didn't agree to take the job. "Mel," I said, "if you don't mind, I'd really like to take until the day after Christmas. I'll call you on the twenty-sixth of December."
I went to see MIT president Howard Johnson during Christmas week. "Well," he said, "when the President knocks on your door, it's pretty hard to turn him away."
"They'd like me to start on the twentieth of January. How do you feel about the Minta Martin lecture?"
"It's the custom to deliver that lecture." I was still on the hook, but fortunately I already had done some work on the lecture.
Waiting until after Christmas to give Laird an answer gave me a chance to talk to our four older children separately. I asked them what they thought I ought to do. They said they didn't think much of the Department of Defense because of the ongoing Vietnam War but that if anyone had to help run it, they would just as soon it were me. On December 26, after a final consultation with Gene, I called Laird and accepted.'
We passed papers on our Washington house on the very same day. We could have stopped the sale, paying some kind of penalty, but by then the thought of moving back into that house didn't have much appeal. It would have meant moving back all the furniture that we had recently lugged north to Cambridge. Also, by then parts of Georgetown had changed, with mobs of people and drugs galore. Instead, Gene suggested renting a furnished house, which we did. We stayed in a rented house for two years. When it became apparent that we were going to stay in Washington longer, we bought another house and moved our furniture from Cambridge back down to Washington.
On January 8, 1969, the three new service secretaries-Stanley Resor (Army), John Chafee (Navy), and Seamans (Air Force)—were trotted out for public view. I wasn't sworn in until February 15, having received an extension from Laird in order to finish the Minta Martin lecture for MIT-though I did meet with Harold Brown, outgoing secretary of the Air Force, several times before then. The swearing-in occurred on a Saturday morning at the Pentagon.
' I never did become Laird's deputy. Mel named me for the post after Packard's twoyear hitch, then nominated Curtis Tarr, head of the Selective Service System, to move into my office at the Air Force. Word came back from the White House that they didn't like this change. It was finally decided to make Ken Rush, our ambassador to Germany, Mel's deputy, and I remained secretary of the Air Force.
Forming the Team
By February 15th I was well along in my selections for the Air Force secretariat, but none of the key jobs had yet been filled. The presidential appointees reporting to the secretary were the under secretary and four assistant secretaries (Research and Development, Installations and Logistics, Financial Management, and Manpower and Reserves). I was most grateful to Harold Brown for staying in his position until February 15th and assisting in the transition. The morning I was sworn in, Harold departed to take over the presidency of the California Institute of Technology.
On one of my Washington visits in January, I met Glen P. Lipsomb who was a Republican congressman from California and a great friend of Mel Laird. He had a long list of individuals who had been suggested for presidential consideration. The list had been screened by him and the White House. I recognized some real dogs and wanted to be certain I didn't have to take time to interview them. But one person on the list was Grant Hansen. Grant had served as project director of the Centaur launch vehicle, the first hydrogen-fueled second stage, designed to mate with the Atlas booster. When he took over, the project was in disarray and NASA was about to cancel General Dynamics' contract. He saved the project, and the Centaur is still in use today. I found he was about to leave California to take an advanced management course at Harvard. I convinced him to come to Washington instead.
Harold Brown had a generalist named Tim Hoopes as his under secretary, which placed a heavy load on Al Flax, his research and development (R&D) assistant secretary. Al was responsible for all R&D, including the C-5 and the F-111 aircraft, and in addition was responsible for the highly classified National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO), which operated the nation's observation satellites jointly with the CIA. I elected to transfer the NRO to the under secretary and hence was looking for a second technically oriented individual. Harold Brown had given me a list of fifteen names he felt were qualified for the R&D function. One of them was Dr. John McLucas, president of MITRE, a nonprofit corporation located near Hanscom Air Force Base outside of Boston.
Back in Massachusetts, I went to see James R. Killian, Jr., chairman