TAPE 1, SIDE 1
DR. DEVORKIN: Mr. Webb, I know you were born in Granville County, North Carolina, in 1906, but I know little more about you from the early years. As we start this interview process with you, it would be very helpful to know about your family background, who your father and mother were, what your father did and what your early home life was like in North Carolina.
MR. WEBB: Well, first of all, the little town where I was born had about three houses in it. It was named Tallyho because it had been a stage stop when the capital of the state of North Carolina was Hillsborough. The stage from Norfolk across to the state capital passed through Tallyho, and in fact they had a change of horses there.
That farm at Tallyho remained in the family until some time in the thirties. I had a uncle, Hazel P. Webb, who ran the farm, and I used to go there in the summertime to work on the farm. He was very interested in anything new. He got the first early well-bred peach trees and had a peach orchard. My grandmother lived there with him, so I saw them in the summertime. I also went out on many Sundays with my father and other members of our family from Oxford, ten miles away, to visit my grandmother and my father's brother.
DEVORKIN: What were your father's full name and your mother's maiden name?
WEBB: My father was John Frederick Webb, Sr. My mother was Sarah Edwin Gorham from near Rocky Mount, Battleboro, North Carolina. She was a very hard worker. She kept the family together when financial conditions were difficult. My father was the county superintendent of schools in Granville County; he had been elected every two years for 26 years. But he advocated the consolidation of about 150 one room schools into about seven consolidated schools that were qualified to give a good education. He supported busing the children in from around so they would be at the consolidated schools.
He was an advocate of this and he did it. He was one of the first people in the United States to develop this pattern, and the point is that he was defeated in the election after he had succeeded in doing this. So he found himself at age 62 without a job, and began to write insurance. I used to help him a little bit. He established a community credit union there.
DEVORKIN: How old were you when he lost the election?
WEBB: I guess about 35, or maybe 36. I think it happened after I'd moved up to New York with the Sperry Company, which I did in 1936.
DEVORKIN: Staying in the early period, what was your family home life like? Your father was an educator. Were reading and intellectual pursuits part of your early home life?
WEBB: Yes, we all did that, but it wasn't so much a group kind of activity. Each member of the family did the things that they were interested in doing. My father was a great student of Emerson, and he liked to generate ideas. He carried these little 3 x 5 cards around in his pocket downtown, when he visited various places around town -- went to the post office -- he'd hand them out. There'd be a sort of quotation from some Greek or Roman administrator, or Emerson. He was a great man to work with ideas, and since in his office as superintendent of school he had to have duplicating equipment, he would do these himself. He was also a scholar. He could read and write both Latin and Greek, as well as English. He had gone to the Webb School in Tennessee run by old Sawney Webb. After having run the school for a good many years, he came to the Senate; the Tennessee people sent him.
DEVORKIN: Was there a relation?
WEBB: A distant relation. But he had a famous school, still famous today, because he was a great disciplinarian. I mean, he was good athlete and if the boys didn't learn their lesson, they got a whipping. If they tried to run away he could chase them down and whip them in the fields. In other words, he was a strong disciplinarian. My father went to that school and taught there and then went to the eastern part of North Carolina and established his own private school, which was not a success. When that failed financially he came back home to Tallyho, where his brother had the old home place. His mother, my grandmother, was there, and I was born there. Shortly thereafter he did move over to Oxford, the county seat, and became the superintendent of schools for that county.
DEVORKIN: Were you educated in the schools that he was the superintendent in?
WEBB: No, he was superintendent of the county schools. The city of Oxford was a small city but nevertheless it was a separate organization, and I did go through the public schools in Oxford, North Carolina, and then on to the University of North Carolina, where I got my AB degree in education.
DEVORKIN: He had a university degree himself, did he?
WEBB: Yes, from the University of North Carolina. So did my two brothers and so did my two sisters. One of them is dead. But our whole family is a University of North Carolina family.
DEVORKIN: So then there was not much question that you wouldn't go to the University of North Carolina.
WEBB: The question was money. I went one year and borrowed a good deal of money, then stopped out a year to work to pay back that money. This was in the midst of the Depression in the 1920s, late twenties.
DEVORKIN: Let's back up just a little bit and talk about how your personal interests developed. Were these interests that you developed independent of the interests of your family? Did you find that you were developing specific ideas of what you wanted to do in life, or was your father very much a part of your decision?
WEBB: No, the truth is that we would take any job we could get, whether it was on a bicycle delivering papers, or selling magazines, like the LITERARY DIGEST. In Oxford there was a school, the Horner Military School, which was gone by the time I grew up. They had the Oxford Orphanage there, which was a Masonic orphanage, and they had a colored orphanage, which was one of the finest in the state. The general flavor and atmosphere of the town was that of some cultural background, although it's an agricultural center.
Most of us developed our interests by where we could get a job. I worked in the five and ten cent store, as a cashier, and as a clerk, selling groceries, tea, cans of salmon.
DEVORKIN: As you were going to high school, what kinds of subjects intrigued you most? Were you fascinated by any particular subject, history, economics?
WEBB: No. I just took the curriculum and did the best I could with it, and worked to try to get enough money to pay some bills. I worked Saturdays, Sundays, and after school, and did that all the way through the university. When I went back to the university, after stopping out a year, I had learned typewriting and shorthand, and I paid my way through school with those two skills, for the three years that I was there.
DEVORKIN: So your father did not support you at this point.
WEBB: That's right. He would have been glad to if he could. But they didn't pay the school people very much, something like $100 a month or $120 a month, in those days.
DEVORKIN: Were you the oldest child?
WEBB: No. I had a sister who was three years older. She's still alive. My younger sister is dead.
DEVORKIN: Did they all go through high school and North Carolina as you mentioned?
DEVORKIN: Did they all have to work?
WEBB: The point is, you worked if you could get a job to do, but in those twenties and early thirties, it was pretty difficult to get any kind of work to do, and the pay was not very much.
DEVORKIN: Now, you chose an education major.
WEBB: While I was at Chapel Hill, I ran into Nathaniel W. Walker, the Dean of the School of Education. He had gone to school with my father. He found out that I had studied typewriting and shorthand, so he offered me a part time job after university hours, working for the Bureau of Educational Research in the university. So I worked there during the time I was an undergraduate and for about a year and a half or two after I finished.
DEVORKIN: Did you take these courses in typing and shorthand specifically to make yourself more desirable to be hired?
WEBB: No, I took them because there was a man named Robert G. Lassiter in Oxford who was a contractor who did work from North Carolina south to Florida, and he offered me a job driving him. He wanted me to learn shorthand and typewriting because if we were driving all day, he wanted to write his letters that night. I learned it because I had a specific job where I could use it.
DEVORKIN: How did you go about getting these jobs?
WEBB: Well, as soon as he told me he wanted me to take this job, I went to his office in Raleigh, North Carolina and worked there and went to the school for shorthand and typewriting, which I think was the Gregg System. I've forgotten the name of the school. I lived in the YMCA there, which was sort of austere surroundings.
DEVORKIN: When you went to look for work in the five and dime or to work for this man who wanted you to learn how to typewrite, how did you present yourself, your credentials? What arguments do you recall using?
WEBB: Well I can't remember now. I was a pretty good driver of cars. He liked to go and go fast. He wanted a safe driver. He just knew I was a home town boy that he could trust.
DR. TATAREWICZ: And this is the year out of your undergraduate education?
WEBB: That's right.
TATAREWICZ: You did this to get money so that you could continue on?
WEBB: That's right I owed about $500, $600 for the first year's expenses, and I wanted to pay that back. The first job I took was with Mr. Lassiter's company as a truck driver, hauling sand out of a swamp down here in North Carolina that they were using for cement to make roads. This was a hard job, working all day.
TATAREWICZ: Had you met N.W. Walker, the dean, before you took the year off or after?
WEBB: I think, after, but I'm not sure.
TATAREWICZ: Could you expand a little bit about what his effect was on you?
WEBB: Well, he was an educator; a careful, thoughtful man. He believed in education. He wanted to do all he could to improve the schools of North Carolina. He was operating the State University School of Education at Chapel Hill, and he was always anxious to get people to come into education, whether it was a professor from another college that he wanted to hire as a faculty member, or a student, or graduate student. He was always anxious to get the best that he could get. I can't remember how we got together, Maybe my father told me I ought to go by and see him. I just don't know.
DEVORKIN: Were you looking to follow in your father's footsteps?
DEVORKIN: So what were your career goals by taking education?
WEBB: I didn't have any particular career goal. The university had this Bureau of Educational Research. They were one of the first states to give a comprehensive test to all high school graduates. The data base was used by the university in selecting the students for admission. I think he was always interested in that kind of thing, and he brought Dr. M.R. Trabue down to head the Bureau of Educational Research. He was a well-known man, I think, from Indiana. I think he'd developed some tests on his own, along with the more famous test originators, and he and the Bureau sent these tests out to be administered in all the high schools in North Carolina, and got the test results back and ran the data.
DEVORKIN: Was this work that you did while you were a student?
WEBB: Sure, after school hours. Then when I graduated, I stayed there as a full time employee for about a year.
DEVORKIN: As a research person?
WEBB: No, as secretary of the bureau. I ran the business side of the bureau. We had to have these tests printed, shipped out to the schools that required them, had to collect the money from the schools for them, and then had to use systems analysis to determine the level at which the scores were indicative of a person who could take a college education.
DEVORKIN: Where did you learn these methods of analysis? Was it on the job training?
WEBB: I just learned them on the job.
Well, I wrote the first check for a thousand dollars that I ever saw while I was secretary of the Bureau. We had enough business so that one account amounted to a thousand dollars. I got a big kick out of signing that, just like when I went to Sperry Company and became treasurer, I signed the first check for a million dollars. Of course when I got to Washington, the Bureau of the Budget, we were dealing with much larger sums.
DEVORKIN: Now this is a very important part of your life, and you have, as we're going to be talking in some detail for this oral history, a very specific philosophy of management in government. I'd be very, very interested to know where you think, if there was a period in the progression that you've just identified -- from the Bureau to Sperry to the government -- some of these styles and outlooks developed? The last time we asked you that question two years ago, you went back into Truman years. But now, could you go back farther and develop some of it?
WEBB: I cannot say that I was a person who thought of long range goals, but I did want to finish each job. At NASA, I wanted to finish Apollo, and I wasn't going to sacrifice Apollo in order to do long range planning that Congress was not ready for. I've always been a very pragmatic person who was given a job to do and I always said, "If you hand me the hammer when the iron is red, and put it on the anvil, I can hit it."
But I learned a great deal about administration working for Sperry. I used to go down to Princeton to the summer courses that Dean Douglas Brown (Business School) started there. He was the business school Dean.
TATAREWICZ: How did you get from educational testing to Sperry?
WEBB: I went back to Oxford, my home town, to read law with the law firm that was handling Mr. Lassiter's business. We always kept in touch with each other, and he offered me a job to go into this law firm and see that the affairs of the firm were handled in a business-like way. His brother was one of the members of the firm. They were not terribly systematic in those southern law offices. In return for this, I was given the opportunity to read law at night with one of the members of the firm, Benjamin W. Parham, who was a Harvard lawyer.
DEVORKIN: So you read law as personal tutorial with this man.
WEBB: That's right. I'd go to his house a couple of nights a week, and I worked in his office.
TATAREWICZ: Then you had on your own developed business management skills such that you could go into this law firm with these skills?
WEBB: Well, a lot of people were not terribly systematic about their business relationships, especially in these more rural areas. All I did was to try to make some sense out of it. I could use a typewriter proficiently, I'd learned to write shorthand, and I took whatever job was there. In addition to reading law, working with Parham and Lassiter I went out and built seven or eight or nine miles of paved road for a man who grew up in Granville County. His name was Gregory. The land which he owned had never passed by deed. His title sprung from the Lord proprietors' original grant to his forebearers. He had gone to Canada to introduce the curing of tobacco and bought a lot of stock in Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck so he came back, and he built this little building about as big as this room at a place called Sassafras Fork. He called it the Sassafras Fork Super Mammoth Departmental Emporium. And he never sold anything; he gave everything away.
He wanted a good road, so Mr. Lassiter contracted to build it for him. The foreman was a man named Jack Tola, an Italian, and I was the manager, and we built this road all the time I was working in the law firm. One of the things law firms did in those days was collect money. People who had uncollectible debts would send them to the local law firm, and you'd get a percentage if you could collect them. So I took over that part of the law firm's business.
So I was doing whatever presented itself as an opportunity. I didn't have any specific plan.
DEVORKIN: I know you got your Bachelor of Arts in Education from the University of North Carolina in 1928.
DEVORKIN: So the times we're talking about here are between about '28 and?
WEBB: '29. I was at the University full time with the Bureau of Educational Research. Probably the summer of that year, I went back with Parham and Lassiter to read law. Some time later on, about early 1930, the Marine Corps decided to build up a reserve, and to have some reserve aviators in it. They didn't have any reserve. So I was working late one Saturday night, and Ben Parham, who was my instructor, asked me to go to the drugstore and get him a New York Times. You see, the railroad ran through Henderson 12 miles away and they always brought a few copies of the New York Times. He was a well-educated man, as I said, a Harvard lawyer. He said, "And buy one for yourself."
So I brought the two papers, and the next morning I read in my copy of the New York Times that the Marine Corps was going to select 18 young men who were college graduates from the United States and start the first Marine reserve in flying and teach them to fly.
So I applied. I was the only one with a Phi Beta Kappa key who did apply in the Marine Corps, I think. They decided "We ought to look at this strange guy."
DEVORKIN: Why did you apply, can you recall?
WEBB: Because things were very tough in that part of the country in 1930. Very hard to make any money. I couldn't see anything other than eking out an existence, and I felt that if I didn't make it in the Marine Corps, which I wasn't at all sure that I could, I at least would wind up in New York and I probably could get a job up there.
DEVORKIN: So this was a New York based program?
WEBB: Valley Stream, Long Island.
DEVORKIN: Where were you in world events? Certainly they affected you in the Depression. But the papers that you read at all, what papers were generally available to you? Was this one of the first times you read the New York Times? Was it unusual?
WEBB: It was unusual, although I'd seen it many times in Chapel Hill and so forth. Remember, the News and Observer in Raleigh was Josephus Daniels' paper, and Josephus Daniels had been up here as Secretary of the Navy. And Granville County had a number of well-educated leaders who were aware of what was going on, and interested in politics.
DEVORKIN: Were you interested at all in the natural world at that time, say the discovery of Pluto or developments in physics?
WEBB: I was interested in making a living and getting ahead.
DEVORKIN: That, of course, happened right in those years as well.
WEBB: I don't remember anything about that.
DEVORKIN: So you were accepted in the Marine program?
WEBB: Yes, for a month's elimination training. I went up to Valley Stream, just passed the course, and was sent to Pensacola, Florida, for a year, regular Navy school, where the Marines were going to take their flying.
DEVORKIN: Were you still in the process of elimination at Pensacola, or you'd made the program?
WEBB: Oh no, you were subject to elimination at any point along the way. When you finished Pensacola you were commissioned as a second lieutenant. All this time you're learning to fly, you're paid $30 a month, $21 as a private and 50 percent extra for flight pay. Paid $31 a month as a PFC. and $9 flight pay -- $40 per month.
DEVORKIN: What did you do with that money? What was your life like?
WEBB: I lived in a big barracks room, where I guess about 50 men lived, bunk by bunk. We had all common facilities, showers and so forth. Went over to the mess to eat. Just flew every day if you could.
DEVORKIN: What were you flying?
WEBB: Well, the first planes were the old NY seaplanes, which would land on the water. The Navy wanted you to learn to work with the water.
DEVORKIN: The Marines were part of the Navy, of course.
WEBB: Yes. They got the same airplanes as the Navy in those days. We'd go to town on Saturday night for dancing and dates. Drank a little. Most aviators are not very abstemious. My instructor was called "5 Kegs Young" because he always kept 5 kegs of whiskey under his bed -- you know, the country was dry and they'd be there long enough to mature. He'd roll one out and put a new one in, so the length of time the whiskey aged remained constant.
DEVORKIN: Were there any specialities in the training you experienced at Pensacola? Was everyone a flier or were there specialties within that, like a navigator or anything of that sort?
WEBB: Well, basically, the group I was in was learning to fly. There were people who serviced the airplanes. There were people who maintained military discipline, there were doctors, hospitals, people to give you flight tests and so forth.
The basic drive of everybody there was to pass the course and learn to fly. I was among the poorest when I got there; I was in the lower part of the class. By the time I left, I was never number 1, but I was second a couple of times.
DEVORKIN: In ability to fly?
WEBB: Yes. In the markings of the course, of your performance as a student, naval aviator.
DEVORKIN: In addition to actual flight training, were there courses in aerodynamics, things like that?
WEBB: Sure, navigation, aerodynamics, engine maintenance.
DEVORKIN: How did you respond to those? Did you find them of particular interest?
WEBB: Yes, I did. I wasn't just yearning to spend another hour there every day. I just did the work that was expected of me and passed the courses. That was the first place, I think, that I realized that I could compete with the wealthy fellows from Harvard and Princeton and so forth. Most of those 18 were very able athletes. The military tends to choose for aviation duty, or did in those days, outstanding young men who have been very prominent and successful in athletics. So in a sense, a leader of a group of Marines needs those kinds of qualities.
DEVORKIN: What about your identification of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and other schools -- where did most of those students come from? Did they come from schools like North Carolina, Chapel Hill?
WEBB: Oh no, they came mostly from the Ivy League schools.
DEVORKIN: What was your relationship with them, was it cordial?
WEBB: Sure. We were all just learning to fly and living together in a great big room and getting up early in the morning to take our exercises, studying our courses.
DEVORKIN: You said you found you could compete with them. Was that a major revelation in your life?
WEBB: That's right.
DEVORKIN: How was that?
WEBB: Well, I started at the very bottom, just getting by.
DEVORKIN: That very bottom means flying and scores and courses?
WEBB: The courses didn't count for much. I mean, they expected you to do those. It was whether you could fly or not.
DEVORKIN: In starting at the very bottom, though, was this a stigma of economic status as well?
WEBB: No, it just happened to be what the flight instructors thought of your performance and handling.
DEVORKIN: Do you think they were biased at all because the others came from the Ivy League?
DEVORKIN: So it was just that you started low.
WEBB: Yes. People were anxious to have the best people they could get in the Marine Corps and the Navy, and they were looking at you as a potential colleague in the Navy and Marine Corps.
TATAREWICZ: During this period, did you keep up any interest in law? At what stage had your reading in law been left when you entered this?
WEBB: I had done enough down there to be able, under the oldsystem, to offer two years of training at George Washington University Law School at night, with I think two years at North Carolina, which qualified me to take the exam. I was admitted here by examination. Now you have to have a degree. I did not have to have a degree, and didn't have one.
DEVORKIN: That was after you came to Washington?
WEBB: That's right. I spent a year at Quantico, Virginia, which is just 35 miles south of Washington, as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps expeditionary forces. General Smedley Butler was the commanding officer, and he was a great disciplinarian, tough guy. Being down there, I would come up to Washington and see people from North Carolina whom I'd known in the past, especially one man who had worked with Mr. Lassiter, who was up here with Congressman Pou. Congressman Pou was a senior member of the House. He had been chairman of the Rules Committee back when Woodrow Wilson was President. He survived all the Republican years as a Democrat, then when the Democrats organized the House in 1930, he was eligible to be Speaker, but he was a frail man. His health wasn't good. So he said, "I'll go back and again be chairman of the Rules Committee."
So I learned a lot from talking to his secretary and getting to see the people who worked for him. Then two buses ran together in Washington, trying to run a red light. Eleven people were killed and one of them was Mr. Pou's secretary. Pou was frail and wanted someone who'd carry the load for him, even write his checks. He hired me. I had been up with my predecessor around the offices enough to have a little feeling for it.
TATAREWICZ: So you were an acquaintance of his former secretary, the person who was killed.
WEBB: That's right. He and I had worked for R.G. Lassiter and Co. at the time I worked for them back in North Carolina.
TATAREWICZ: I see. You were stationed at Quantico at this time that you were traveling to Washington to see him.
WEBB: That's right.
TATAREWICZ: Did you leave the service at that time?
WEBB: Well, they kicked you out after you'd had one year of learning to fly and one year of active duty. They said, "We've got to bring another fellow in. You go find yourself a job but we want you to continue to fly on the weekends."
DEVORKIN: So you remained on reserve at that point.
WEBB: That's right. There was no Marine Reserve unit here that I could attach myself to, and Lloyd Berkner, who became very important in a future part of my life, was the commanding officer of the Navy Reserve unit. They let me come in and fly with them as a Marine. So through Lloyd I got to know a great many people who were concerned with scientific matters.
DEVORKIN: Did that happen around 1932, '33?
WEBB: '32 and '33.
TATAREWICZ: And this was all at the same time that you were secretary to Congressman Pou?
WEBB: That's right. I was flying on weekends.
TATAREWICZ: You mentioned writing checks. What else did you do for Mr Pou?
WEBB: I ran his office.
DEVORKIN: What was the nature of the office?
WEBB: He was a member of Congress, from the 4th North Carolina District, and chairman of the House Rules Committee.
He and Speaker Garner and the whip, McDuffy, met every morning at 10 o'clock. They decided what the House would do that day. The House met at 12 and did it and adjourned. Very different from the present.
DEVORKIN: Was that Robert McCormick, did you say?
WEBB: No, McDuffy, Pou, and Garner. Garner later became Vice President.
DEVORKIN: Now, as secretary you ran an office. How large was the office, and what were your duties?
WEBB: The office was on the SE corner of the Capitol Building, 3rd floor. There were two employees besides me in Washington, and one or two in the district in North Carolina. We had a lot of correspondence with the district. It was my job to sit in the Rules Committee during the sessions and make sure I understood what was being done and could report to Mr. Pou. The Rules Committee would act every day. This was in the famous Hundred Days of President Roosevelt, after his inauguration. I joined the committee in May of 1932. I went through the campaign, which Roosevelt won, then up through the period of the Inauguration. I saw Roosevelt inaugurated, and then I saw all these things done in that famous first Hundred Days of Roosevelt.
DEVORKIN: Was there any bewilderment on your part? You'd just been plunged from North Carolina into an obviously very competitive training program in the Marines, where it was very structured. Then all of a sudden you ended up in Washington, in just a matter of a very few years, during a very, very controversial period, the 100 Days, as I understand.
WEBB: Well, I just went about every day doing the things that had to be done that day.
DEVORKIN: Was it fun?
DEVORKIN: You didn't think about the future at that point?
DEVORKIN: How did this position develop? Did your responsibilities change? Did you find different responsibilities?
WEBB: Well, there were lots of facets of this. I got to know the people from North Carolina in the Congress, several of them well-known members like Lindsay Warren who later became Comptroller General. He was very fond of Mr. Pou. They'd been together a long time. He had a great appreciation for my trying to straighten the old man's affairs out. The previous secretary had let a number of things slip. We had a room full of farm bulletins that had never been sent out. I sent them all out. I mean, things like that.
DEVORKIN: Taking care of business.
WEBB: That's right.
DEVORKIN: What about flying? Since you were flying on the weekends, did you meet any of the early flying greats, or were you involved with the people who were advocating an Air Force?
WEBB: Yes. As soon as the people connected with aviation found out that there was a young man in the Rules Committee who knew how to fly and knew something about aviation, they began to come to see me. I got to know most of the top people, like Ruben Fleet who ran Fleet Aircraft, Consolidated Vultee. He made the old NY airplanes. He made the flying boats for the Navy in Buffalo, New York, and then moved the business to California. It was developed into what now is General Dynamics. The Marine Corps was very interested in the fact that I was up there. They used to talk to me about the budget and other problems they had. I lived as a bachelor at the old Racket Club, which is now the University Club, mainly because Mr. Pou loved to play poker. He was frail and he couldn't do a lot of things of a physical nature. But at 4 o'clock every afternoon he'd go up and join the poker game, which was going 24 hours a day up there. He wanted me to live there so I could do my business with him at the end of the day without interrupting the poker game.
Joe Martin lived there, who later became Speaker, and Ham Andrews from New York, and Piatt Andrews from Massachusetts. There were I guess about a dozen or so Congressmen who lived there at the club, so I used to see them.
DEVORKIN: You still weren't 30 years old yet. This is really quite a center of activity, a tremendously fast crowd, and you find people asking you to be in everything.
DEVORKIN: Did you find that playing that role was something that came naturally?
WEBB: Well, I've always been interested in people, and I did my best to help people get in touch with those that they wanted to tell their story to.
DEVORKIN: Do you recall any specific instances where that helped to shape modern aviation? Maybe I'm talking too deep at this point.
WEBB: Yes, too deep. I was just doing the job that I was hired to do.
Josephus Daniels, who was Secretary of the Navy back when Franklin D. Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary back under Wilson, was appointed ambassador to Mexico by Roosevelt. And I remember very well -- he ran a very large newspaper in North Carolina -- when he was coming up here to get briefed and to get himself together and go to Mexico City as ambassador. So Mr. Pou asked me to take care of him, and give all the help I could to help Mr. Daniels get squared away, and I did that.
When he left I went down to the railroad station and put him on the train. I did a lot of things like that. When O. (for Oliver) Max Gardner finished his term as governor of North Carolina -- he was a member of the Democratic National Committee-- he came to Washington to practice law. He resigned his Democratic Committee membership, and Roosevelt held him up as a paragon of virtue because he had done that. You know, a lot of people didn't do that. So I used to be pretty close to Governor Gardner. When Mr. Pou asked me to help him make his arrangements, I met Gardner, helped him find places to live, to stay, get an office. He represented John Franklin and Kermit Roosevelt and Vincent Astor who owned the United States Lines. Every time they put a liner together and wanted to have a maiden voyage, Governor Gardner would invite a number of people and usually invited me, too. So I'd be there under the conditions of a shakedown voyage of a big ship like The United States, have a chance to meet all these people. So I got to know a lot of people.
DEVORKIN: How long did you remain in Washington as secretary to Pou?
WEBB: Well, I moved uptown, because Max Gardner said, "Look, you're working so hard down there at the Capitol, you're never going to get your law behind you. Come and join me in my firm and I will make it possible for you to get through law school and make some money." He had a lot of textile mills in North Carolina. He was a wealthy man.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
DEVORKIN: By moving "uptown" what do you mean?
WEBB: I went to 15th and H, the Woodward Building, in which Governor Gardner had his office.
DEVORKIN: This was to give you more time to finish your law studies so you could pass the bar?
WEBB: And to help Governor Gardner run his office properly so he could be a success here in Washington. He had a number of important clients.
DEVORKIN: Did Pou let you go easily?
WEBB: Not easily. He said that if I could find another man for my old job, which I did, it would be fine. I remember very well, I had to clear this with Mr. Pou's son who kept in close touch with how his father's affairs were running. He was down in Florida, so I was able to borrow the fighter plane that belonged to the chief of Marine Corps Aviation. I was told that I couldn't go from here to Miami in one day, but I was determined that I could. So I got up and took off at daylight. It was cold; I had to have a leather mask across my face because it was an open cockpit plane.
I took my lunch with me, and stopped a couple of times for gas on the way, ate my sandwich, my lunch, and made it down there by about 4:30 in the afternoon. I did my business with Mr. Pou's son and flew back the next day.
I had to get flying time in, you see, and this was part of my training.
DEVORKIN: Was this the same kind of plane you trained in, the NY sea plane?
WEBB: Oh no. This was a Boeing fighter. Long tailed fighter. I had graduated from the NY seaplanes, on up to land planes then the Corsair, which was made by United Aircraft, and then up to fighters. We had part of the old World War I vintage fighters, with liquid-cooled engines in them; fine airplanes. Then they began to make more modern planes with radial engines. That's what the Boeing was.
DEVORKIN: Did you keep close touch with these developments? Were you a real aficionado of airplanes? Did you follow the development of technology and help support this development when you were in Congressman Pou's office?
WEBB: I helped the people who believed that aviation was going somewhere and would amount to something, and that it needed support. I helped them get that support.
DEVORKIN: Did you see aviation as important in all aspects of society, or specifically for certain reasons?
WEBB: Well, it was early then. Lindbergh had only flown in 1927. Wiley Post had flown around the world with a Sperry automatic pilot under his seat and with a wrench in his hand tied by a string to his little finger as he didn't trust the clock to wake him up. He trained himself so his hand would relax, the wrench would fall out every twenty minutes, jerk his finger and wake him up. He would re-set the gyros on his pilot and go back to sleep. I mean, people were doing all kinds of pressure suits. You can see those down in the museum. So basically these people were strong, fervent believers that aviation would make a big difference. It was the days of Billy Mitchell, you remember.
TATAREWICZ: Did you know these people personally?
WEBB: Sure. There would be one or two of them and then they'd bring the rest of them.
It was in the course of this kind of thing that Jim Farley, Postmaster General, cancelled all the airmail contracts. He felt that they had been conceived in fraud, and then given out the Republication administration. Senator Black, who later became Justice, conducted an investigation of aviation and marine funds. When Farley cancelled the airmail contracts some of these people came to me and said, "What can you do to help us?"
Tom Doe, who was a Vice President of Sperry from Asheville, North Carolina, was the head of Eastern Airlines. Sperry owned Eastern Airlines at that time, and they owned a large amount of Curtiss Wright stock, and the Sperry Gyroscope and Ford Instrument Company stock. Tom Morgan, who was the head of Sperry, was born and raised just ten miles from me in Granville County, North Carolina, though he was in Vance County, just over the line. He was the president of Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce, and Doe was the president of Eastern Airlines. And so as soon as these airmail contracts were cancelled, the government called on the Air Force to fly the mail. They had old open cockpit planes and didn't have good blind flying instruments; one or two pilots were killed about every night.
DEVORKIN: Every night?
WEBB: Just about. There was tremendous pressure on the government and on the industry to get something done, so these people came to me and said, "We've got 17 of the senior aviation principals of the country out at the Shoreham Hotel, and they want to meet you."So I went out there.
DEVORKIN: What did they want?
WEBB: Well, they wanted me to get Governor Gardner interested in getting those contracts back.
DEVORKIN: Right, and you were the contact?
WEBB: That's right, partly through the North Carolina connection. Gardner was a former governor of North Carolina, Pou was chairman of the Rules Committee, from North Carolina. And this is 1934, you remember, in the winter time.
I went out and met these people. They said, "We'd like Governor Gardner to represent us. We've put together a nice sum of money to pay the expenses. This country is killing people every night, and we're losing a lot of money."
So I went back and saw Governor Gardner and said, "These guys are able to hire you as their lawyer and they want to pay you well." He said, "How much money have they got?" I said, "They've got maybe a hundred thousand dollars or something less than that maybe 75, for expenses and for salaries." He said, "Well, I'll go talk to President Roosevelt," and he did. He called up and went over there. Roosevelt said, "Max, if you can straighten this out you'll be doing a great service for the government. Go see Homer Cummings."
Homer Cummings was the Attorney General. So Gardner went to see Cummings, and they went to work. He was appointed counsel of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America, which include dall the aviation and engine manufacturers, I guess airlines, too, at that time.
We did succeed in about two weeks time in getting the contracts renewed under a temporary new law which satisfied Roosevelt and Jim Farley.
DEVORKIN: What was your role personally? Facilitating contracts? Writing legislation? Fact finding?
WEBB: All of those, and more. In other words, you have a huddle of one or two top people like say Morgan who was head of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce, and probably Gardner and maybe a Senator or Congressman, maybe somebody from the Post Office Department, discussing how can we do what President Roosevelt has told us to do, to straighten this matter out.
DEVORKIN: Who were your biggest allies? Best friends in this?
WEBB: I can't remember all that. As a result of passing this new law and giving the contracts back to the airlines, the old managements were thrown out and C.R. Smith was put in as head of American Airlines. Phil Johnson, P.G. Johnson, was a famous man. He had put United Airlines together and United Aircraft. He was put on the blacklist and he couldn't hold a job in American aviation, so he went to Canada and opened up Trans-Canadian Airlines.
DEVORKIN: The blacklist resulted from the reinstatement of the contracts?
WEBB: That's right.
DEVORKIN: Completely new management?
WEBB: That's right.
DEVORKIN: What was the trouble with the old management?
WEBB: They had been in collusion with the Republicans in granting the pattern for airmail contracts throughout the country, and that's why the contracts were cancelled.
DEVORKIN: And Farley was correct in cancelling, in your opinion?
WEBB: Well, I'm not going to express an opinion about that. He did cancel them, and I went to work to help get the airlines back on the job and stop these Army Air Force pilots from being killed every night.
DEVORKIN: And also to stop the collusion. In other words, you didn't want to recreate the old system.
WEBB: No. Oh no. P.G. Johnson had to go to Canada; that was typical of what went on.
DEVORKIN: That's an incredible story.
WEBB: Dick Robbins, who was the head of TWA, was forced out. They just put the prominent people who were accused of collusion on the blacklist, in the law.
DEVORKIN: This is while you were working with Max Gardner?
WEBB: That's right.
DEVORKIN: How long did this take, from Farley's cancellation of contracts to the new contracts?
WEBB: I would guess a month for the temporary restoration. But the important part of it is that through it I got to know Tom Morgan very well, who was the president of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce, and represented all of the engine manufacturers, all of the airlines and all of the manufacturers.
He felt that I was a competent person, and in the end he said, "I want you to come to New York and work for Sperry." I said, "Well, I'm going to law school. I will as soon as I finish law school." I took the examination for the bar -- I wouldn't leave before that -- passed the bar, and I went to New York and took the job with the Sperry Company for Tom Morgan.
TATAREWICZ: So that was at the end of your two years of law at GW?
WEBB: That's right. Governor Gardner was very generous to me. He said, "You've got to learn how business is done in New York sometime, you might as well go now."
DEVORKIN: Okay, so you went to Sperry. When was this?
DEVORKIN: 1936. You were 30 years old. What was your personal life doing at this time? Had you met your wife?
WEBB: No. Oh, I had met her, but it took me five years to persuade her that she ought to be my wife. See, that was in that period.
DEVORKIN: Is she from North Carolina?
WEBB: No, she's from Washington. Her father and mother were from South Carolina. But I lived in the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn, which was the biggest hotel I guess in the world at that time, just a short walk from the Sperry Plant, on Manhattan Bridge Plaza. My life went between sleeping at the hotel and working at Sperry, and I spent a lot of time at work, and flying. They had a Marine unit up in New York and I was operations officer and flew with them.
DEVORKIN: Was that out at Brooklyn Field?
WEBB: Floyd Bennett Field. Of course this brought me in close touch with a lot of the traditions of aviation. The Sperry people had made the automatic pilot and the equipment for navigation of ships. I went through the Marine Compass School at Sperry and learned something about how you can have a gyroscopic compass effective in a ship that's rocking and rolling, moving
DEVORKIN: Air transportation was building up in the late thirties. It was sort of a long haul, to make it an acceptable way to go.
DEVORKIN: In Washington, were you involved in any of the efforts to make it a more acceptable product?
DEVORKIN: What about at Sperry?
WEBB: Yes, I was, there.
I became the president of the Greater New York Chapter of the National Aeronautical Association, and did some work with the scientific apparatus manufacturers, all of this for Sperry. I came down here about once a week. I was on the State Department committee which has got the longest name of any committee I ever heard of -- the Advisory Committee to the American Section of the International Technical Committee of the Aerial Legal Experts. It helped limit the verdict for crash damages in foreign countries so the insurance risk would be held down.
DEVORKIN: You'd passed the bar after GW. Was there such a thing as a developing air law?
WEBB: Yes, but I was not particularly part of it. I read behind the people who were working on it. There was one man, John Cooper, who was particularly good at it, who lived in Philadelphia. But that was not my interest. My interest was how do you get real forward motion in the development of this new capability, represented by man's ability to travel around in the sky.
DEVORKIN: How did you set about that?
WEBB: Well, I just told you. I worked with these promoters in the National Aeronautical Association. They were official recordkeepers, who certified each new world record of height, distance, speed and races. They used to have the Cleveland Air Races in those days. Everybody would go up to Cleveland for about three days, and everybody in the industry was up there, people like Roscoe Turner.
DEVORKIN: What was your professional role at Sperry.
WEBB: I was assistant to the president, and personnel director. You see, I went in as a professional man who had at least the license to practice law, and they were concerned with expanding the company. The company went from 800 people to 33,000 in five years. I was personnel director. We were running 46 plants in New York at the time I left them to go back in the war.
There was labor in New York and not labor elsewhere. So we just took over these buildings down on the Brooklyn Terminal, the Bush buildings, and it was a fast moving scene. I moved from assistant to the president and personnel director to being treasurer, then secretary and treasurer, then vice president. That's a fair jump.
DEVORKIN: As the company was building and you had a role in its expansion, what were your hiring policies, that sort of thing? Did you work with planners on what the company was to be?
WEBB: Well, war is a hurly burly kind of thing. I tried to learn all I could. I went to Princeton, to Horace Brown's Seminars and to places like that, to study what I could about what was known about personnel management, but we had to move. I mean, we were hiring lots of people every day, training new people, getting rid of people who couldn't make the grade. Worrying about the security problems, finding espionage agents sent over by Germany in our plant. We had to get rid of them. Just a million things to be done, and you did them more out of what made sense than you did trying to be completely professional, at least I did.
DEVORKIN: By making sense, did you feel that you had someknowledgeable control over the whole operation? Was there a reporting structure that you created?
WEBB: Actually, I was more a part of a sort of an informal structure, that stemmed from Tom Morgan, the chairman of the board, right on down through Redge Gillmor, who was the president, and to the vice presidents. I worked very closely with a fellow named Malkovsky, who was the plant superintendent. He was a damned good Italian mechanic and very sharp, but not educated. I gave him a lot of help in organizing the factories, as he was the factory manager, and I always hired as many people as I could that were good people. I hired David Riesman. I gave him his first job in American industry.
When I was treasurer of Sperry there were always a number of plant-wide jobs waiting for staffing, so I'd hire any good man that came along, as I knew we were expanding. Within six months somebody would say, "Gee that's a good fellow, I'd like to have him, can you send him over?" I'd send him over and go hire another one. That was the kind of thing we were doing.
DEVORKIN: In Sperry there must have been people who were going out getting contracts, or deciding what kind of technology to develop, what kinds of things to put into production. Were you in that part of it?
WEBB: No. I knew what they were doing. I knew what their hopes and aspirations were. After I became treasurer of the company, I had to approve those contracts. I approved the contracts for the computing gunsights that permitted us to fly in daylight over Germany, also the Mark 14 gunsights for the Navy, which permitted us to shoot down the kamikazes without having air cover.
See these were very large contracts. If we had failed by something like a half of 1 percent to keep the inventory tied to the government contracts, and the war ended, we'd have been out of business. We had a very small capitalization and were doing a very large business. That was part of my job as treasurer.
TATAREWICZ: You just acquired the skills to be able to manage this along the way?
WEBB: I just fitted in with the people that were there and helped them do the things that I knew how to do and they did not, or figured out what made sense.
DEVORKIN: You mentioned Tom Morgan. Who else was there in your circle that you identified as a relatively informal circle of good people whom you fitted in with?
WEBB: You see, it's very hard for me to distinguish between those at Sperry and others -- I was talking to people on the telephone, meeting people over the weekend, having dinners and lunches with people who came to New York.
DEVORKIN: This is part of your coming to Washington once a week? You identified that group, too, as this large group. You obviously saw the war, in other words, as a combined effort.
WEBB: That's right, but I was asked by the government to do a lot of things. I was on the first advisory board under the Walsh-Healey Act to set wages for contractors throughout the country. Later I served on the Strategic and Critical Stockpile Committee for President Eisenhower. I've always been asked to do more than I could do. I always undertook to do more than I should.
DEVORKIN: Did you have a hard time saying 'no'?
WEBB: Yes. I was interested in getting things done, and helping other people. You can see that in the NASA phase.
DEVORKIN: This is really quite remarkable and bewildering to us. We want to know which direction to take you, especially in your Sperry years. You've identified that you weren't too involved with the technical developments and production.
DEVORKIN: But you were very much involved with the structure of the company and the kinds of people who came in.
WEBB: That's right, and hiring and training the best people. I found I could understand how engineers saw the difference between an airplane that had an automatic pilot with a direct coupling with the wing control surfaces. Then if you hit a bump and the wing went down, the force was applied to bring it right back up but frequently overshot the mark and you had this constant hunting and it was very hard on the structures. You'd lose a wing every once in a while.
In Sperry we went to the technique of putting a control gyro in the loop so that the amount of force used to return the wing was proportional to the distance you still had to go. I could understand that principle.
DEVORKIN: In the context of one of the documents we were looking at, questions came up like what should a manager know? What should be the technical competence of a good manager in an organization in order to get a job done? Is this a good example of your level of technical knowledge, in terms of being able to appropriately carry out your responsibilities as director of personnel or treasurer in Sperry?
WEBB: What I could do was listen to a man in, say, production control who told me of the problems he was having getting his work done. He couldn't place the orders the moment they were coming in and feed it out to the factories because of certain difficulties, like lack of cooperation of some one person who wanted to have all the power in his area, or something. I was able to listen to him and understand and figure out a way to get around the obstacle.
Just like, in the first interview you had with me, we were talking about Seamans and George Mueller, and I said, even if I wanted to I couldn't fire George Mueller beause he was Manager of our successful fast moving Apollo project and one of the ablest men in the world. He could get in and out of computers without problems better than anybody I knew. He knew better than anyone I have ever known how to put a very complex problem into the computer in such a way as to get an answer we could use and to work with large technical organizations to conceptualize new engineering solutions to very difficult, complex systems engineering problems.
DEVORKIN: I see. I didn't realize that.
WEBB: So the last thing I wanted to do was to lose him, but I also had another desire, which was not to let his way of working make too many difficulties.
DEVORKIN: Was he the first one you had that kind of problem with?
WEBB: Oh no. I had it all the time, but to differing degrees with different people.
DEVORKIN: And your technique was to seek cooperation, offer help and then if necessary surround them somehow and keep them in control?
WEBB: Well, in Sperry that situation was entirely different than in NASA. In NASA, I was the head of the organization. I could do a lot of things. In Sperry, I had to help find answers to the problem where I couldn't give an order. I was not in the line of command over the factory but I was responsible for the company-wide administration of the system, a staff position. Production control reported to the factory. I was the treasurer handling the money. But still they listened to me, because I did offer help on complex matters and did have a good deal of power and was willing to use it.
DEVORKIN: Did you have that power because of the control of the purse strings that you wielded, or was it more subtle?
WEBB: Much more subtle than that. That didn't hurt, but at the same time, if you run into a fellow with a problem and you help him solve it, you get to know the kind of problem. Two weeks later he comes right back to you. As government director I could offer needed help in the assignment and hiring of good people.
DEVORKIN: So you're saying you had to look for a more global solution for a person who had problems.
WEBB: You had to be available to put a level of intellectual effort on a problem that an ordinary production cotrol manager doesn't have.
DEVORKIN: Okay. At this point you were working up the ladder at Sperry. Had you developed aspirations at that point that you could identify for your own future? Of course during the war it must have been a hectic environment.
WEBB: That's right. That's right.
DEVORKIN: Did you have any contact with the War Development Board, the OSRD, the NDRC, the people running it?
WEBB: I knew of those people one way or another through the various committee assignments that I took on for the government. I told you I was down here about every week. I would take the night train down, do a day's work, take the night train back. I kept in touch with Berkner all through this period.
DEVORKIN: Did you have any contact with people who were developing very, very new technology, such as torpedo bomber sights and sophisticated optical systems for aviation, optical work that was done at the Franklin Arsenal, in other words, things like this?
WEBB: I was in meetings where they were present but I stayed out of that. It wasn't my forte. My forte was putting things together and getting a team that can play the ball game.
DEVORKIN: But were there people within Sperry who were talking to you about the economics of production?
DEVORKIN: Were they out in the OSRD labs looking for things that weren't going into high scale production?
WEBB: Well, the Sperry people were very pragmatic people. They were in close touch with the military services and were trying to develop and manufacture the kinds of things the military services said they needed. They weren't out looking for products in private industry.
DEVORKIN: Well, they were looking with the military certainly in this case.
WEBB: Oh, you'd go with the military where the military wanted you to go, but you went because the military man took you, not because you went to the other company.
DEVORKIN: Granted. In your activity as personnel director during this period of time, did you have any interest in bringing in scientists to look at the state of the art of gyroscopic technique or of fire control, all of the other things?
WEBB: No. I knew a lot that was going on and I knew the people doing it, but I was not a part of that kind of decision making.
DEVORKIN: There were people working for you in personnel who were doing that sort of thing?
WEBB: Well, we cleared out the paper work. If the chief engineer Preston Basset wanted to hire a man that he thought was an excellent technical man, we'd get it done relly fast for him, very efficiently. But we wouldnn't try to substsitute our judgment for Bassett's as to his technical capability of serving the company.
DEVORKIN: As the war continued on, were you involved in postwar planning for Sperry itself? Did Sperry concern itself with that onerous possibility of having too large an inventory when the war ended?
WEBB: Oh yes.
DEVORKIN: How did you plan?
WEBB: Part of my job was to make sure that the inventory was tied to the contracts so that if the contracts got cancelled, the inventory would be the property of the government and not Sperry because we didn't have enough money to pay for it.
DEVORKIN: How did that work out?
WEBB: Oh, it worked out all right. Sperry ended the war in pretty good shape. Riesman was involved in this particular phase for me.
DEVORKIN: What did Sperry decide was the best way to go in the postwar era?
WEBB: That's just too long a story to get into here.
Let me say this, after World War I, they tried a lot of things, like power sheers to cut metal, and all kinds of things that were not in their field. A lot of them turned very sour and they turned back around to improving the products that they had developed and made during the war and were a great success.
DEVORKIN: That's what they did after World War II?
WEBB: That's right, they followed that World War I lesson after World War II.
DEVORKIN: Were you involved in any of the arguments that led to that decision?
WEBB: No. See, I had left Sperry and gone in the Marine Corps. I spent the last year and a half as commanding officer of First Marine Air Warning Group, training controllers and night fighters. I had re-employment rights at Sperry, but I chose not to go back to Sperry in New York, because I didn't want to tear down what I had helped build up.
DEVORKIN: Why did you choose to leave? Was it a patriotic duty at that point?
DEVORKIN: Did you think you could be of more value?
WEBB: The company had passed its peak, and was laying off 5000 people, and I just felt as a Reserve officer of long standing, that I didn't want to stay out. I applied for active duty, and the Marine Corps said, "We wouldn't call you up, but since you've applied we'll give you an assignment."
DEVORKIN: So the fact was Sperry was already gearing down, seeing the end of the war, but the military wasn't. Was there tension between the military and Sperry because of that?
TATAREWICZ: I had a question about the control of quantities of production and so forth at Sperry. Did you find that you had all the management tools and systems that you needed to be able to track production?
WEBB: No, we did not
TATAREWICZ: Did you have to invent them?
WEBB: We put computers in and made a major computerized control system for large scale production of these specialty items.
TATAREWICZ: Could you go into a little more detail on that?
WEBB: I can't remember all the details. I was given an appropriation of I think 30 million dollars to bring this about. I got some experts from outside, from Booze-Allen-Hamilton, and hired some very good people inside the company. I brought in Walter Titus, who'd been with IBM, and he became factory manager. He just did the sensible things about bringing in that element of control.
DEVORKIN: Were these the first computers to exist within Sperry, before Sperry developed its own line?
WEBB: Yes. I think. See, they got the product line of computers later through the merging with Remington and Univac.
DEVORKIN: That was later.
WEBB: Sperry was not manufacturing computers at that time, except specialized ones for anti-aircraft guns and things of this type.
DEVORKIN: So you went back into the active Marines for about a year?
WEBB: A year and a half, year and three-quarters.
DEVORKIN: What were your duties there, as commander?
WEBB: Well, the first thing I was given was an opportunity to spend about a month at St. Simons Island Radar School. I moved from there to Cherry Point, North Carolina, where I became commanding officer of the First Marine Air Warning Group 9th Air Wing. There were 2000 people training to get ashore with radar at first light on these islands in the Pacific, because they couldn't control night fighters from the carrier because the radio would give their presence away and the Japanese would bomb them out. So they'd bomb you off the island unless you could use the fighters from the carrier, and you couldn't control from the carrier. So we had the job of training both pilots and ground controllers, and working with the equipment, to get ashore the first day and be able to control our night fighters the first night.
TATAREWICZ: In the previous interview you told us about how these particular radars broke down into several packages that could be carried ashore on people's backs?
WEBB: Yes. The equipment that we had when I first went there was very heavy height-finding equipment -- very well made radars that would fill up a whole big van that you see on the highways today -- and it was damn hard to get those things in through the surf the first day. So we constantly looked for a smaller radar, and we found that the mathematics of ANTPS-1B was such that if you put one set on the ground and one set on the tower 11 feet above the ground, and used both of them at the same time, you could get an adequate coverage for control purposes. And then the problem was how to get a remote reading scope from which the controller could work, because the scope on the ANTPS-1B was just an early warning scope, not really accurate enough for control. So we did the technology to modify those radars and fix it so that several men carrying parts on their backs could get through the surf and set up those radars the first day.
TATAREWICZ: Were you able to do all of this in-house? That is, I assume you must have had the expertise in the service to be able to do this? I assume you were working with contractors who built the equipment?
WEBB: We did most of the work with Marine Corps people.
DEVORKIN: There was no connection with NRL at that time, in radar?
WEBB: No. I mean, the Marine Corps had connections of all kinds. When I came up here the contractors said it would take us six, maybe eight months to do it. We wanted them yesterday. And it made a lot of difference whether those landings on those islands would succeed or not. So I was given the job to change the policy from going in with this heavy equipment, to going in with light equipment carried on the backs of men, and to develop a remote reading scope from which a controller could work.
DEVORKIN: So the policy had to be changed, and there was a change of technology as well.
WEBB: That's right, but the change of technology is what made it possible. Before that, nobody had thought that if you put the radar 11 feet above the ground and another one on the ground, that that pattern would then complete itself.
DEVORKIN: Who was your chief technical man on that? Did you accomplish all the technical material yourself?
WEBB: Oh no, I'm not a technical man. The radar support squadron had a very competent man. His name was De Hahn.
DEVORKIN: Again, there was no developmental contact with the MIT Radiation Lab, anything like that?
WEBB: No. This radar was made by Western Electric, who was as competent as anybody, and we worked with them whenever we needed that. But basically the problem was how to get the stuff together from all around the country, to modify it, fix it so it would work, and get it out to the Pacific. That was when they gave me control for a certain period of time of all the Marine transport airplanes in the country. We just flew that stuff in and fixed it and sent it out again.
Of course, this was not large volume equipment. There are not too many islands that you've got to capture.
DEVORKIN: But you still had responsibility over what had to be done?
WEBB: We had to certify that we believed our controllers could use these two radars, one on a tower, one on the ground, better than they could use the old heavy ones. And they had a much better chance of getting them ashore and setting them up.
DEVORKIN: Who did you have to convince in that certification, and was that difficult?
WEBB: The Marine Corps Headquarters was very close to this whole operation. There were several very competent officers up here in Washington. They were always moving around, visiting, looking, you could call them on the telephone. There wasn't any "not invented here" feeling in the Marine Corps. They were just anxious to get the work done and anything that reduced the risk was welcome.
DEVORKIN: We're about at the end of this tape, so we'd better stop. Thank you so much for this first session.
WEBB: All right.