Published in The Coast Star on May 22, 2003
“If you only knew what is going on in our secret radar facility,” Senator Joseph McCarthy attempted to interrupt the chairman in the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings.
The hearings were watched by over 20 million television viewers. Very few knew the secret radar facility was Fort Monmouth’s Camp Evans in Wall.
They were amazed at what they saw and how the elected officials behaved. Collier’s described it as “a carnival, a sprawling, brawling travesty.”
There was lots going on at Camp Evans in the early 1950s. Lots of pure research and applied engineering in areas of science key to Army communications and to our national defense.
But Sen. McCarthy was worried there was more than research going on behind the security fence at Camp Evans.
America was in the grip of a Communist scare and McCarthy was leading the effort to rid the Army of Communists. The Soviet Union had just detonated its first hydrogen-bomb in 1953. This was just four years after shocking America with its first atomic bomb test – a bomb built using information supplied by spies.
An Army radar inspector from Fort Monmouth was executed for giving radar and proximity fuse information to the Soviets. The United States and the Soviet Union were pouring money into developing military technology to gain the edge in the Cold War. Both sides would use any method to get data on the other’s technological advances.
Information from a defector caused McCarthy and his chief aide, attorney Roy Cohn, to focus on Camp Evans. Sen. McCarthy would question the Commanding General of Fort Monmouth in a closed 1953 Congressional hearing,
“Did you not get the reports from the Air Force intelligence in Europe, a detailed report that material from Evans Laboratory was very freely available to the Communists,” Sen. McCarthy asked.
Forty-two people from Fort Monmouth, most from Camp Evans, were suspended based upon hearsay.
Inside the Camp Evans’ security fence, the latest radar was being improved and new capabilities developed. There were secrets to protect. Many of America’s most talented radar experts were at work in Wall. Some of the radar researchers were German and European radar and communication scientists relocated to America to keep their talent from the Soviets. These excellent scientists would contribute much to American science.
One example is Dr. Kurt Lehovec whose pure research at Camp Evans with Dr. Carl Accardo would lead to the development of the light emitting diode by Bell Labs. After leaving Camp Evans, Dr. Lehovec would become a co-inventor of the integrated circuit.
Radar was being coupled with early computers to coordinate counterattacks against Soviet bombers. Radar teams were sent to work with Dr. Werher Von Braun to develop rocket tracking systems.
The new electronic wonder, the transistor, was being integrated into military systems to miniaturize radios and radar sets. New advances in meteorology and weather data collection were being made.
A special, very long range radar project was attempting to see into the Soviet Union from the Project Diana site.
The most closely guarded and top secret projects were the electronic counter-measures, nuclear weapons effects teams and the Soviet nuclear test detection center.
The Army’s radiation dosimetry laboratory was located in Camp Evans. There was a radioactive isotope holding tank that held a sample so powerful the light it gave off would allow a person to read a newspaper even though the sample was under 20 feet of water.
The nuclear engineers were developing specialized equipment to determine the effects of nuclear blasts. They even developed remote controlled vehicles to collect radioactive samples from the bomb craters minutes after a nuclear blast. There are photos of the remote controlled weasels, being tested where the North Wall Little League fields are today.
Many Camp Evans teams were present at every nuclear test in Nevada and the Pacific.
The Soviet nuclear test detection center was the project that caused the problems on October 20, 1953 when McCarthy visited.
This project was housed in a simple rectangular concrete block building. The building was connected to specially designed pipes that could pick up the sound waves sent through the earth by nuclear blasts. The pipes were buried in secret locations around the Soviet Union. Analysts in the building could estimate the size of the blast and would report directly to the Pentagon. In the Cold War it was important to be sure America had the most powerful nuclear weapons.
Years later this facility would detect the first Chinese nuclear test.
When Sen. McCarthy approached this building with his staff, Camp Evans security stopped the group from going any further. Only elected officials or persons with top secret clearance were allowed into the building. Sen. McCarthy did not feel this project should be classified top secret and ordered security to allow his staff in. A heated argument followed in which security reminded the senator they had authority to shoot persons attempting to enter this building without proper clearance. This excluded the furious Roy Cohn and he vowed before witnesses that he would get the Army for this affront.
This behavior was beyond what the Army or Congress could stand.
Further hearings were organized in 1954. This time McCarthy was discredited for his reckless accusations and poor investigative tactics. Television audiences heard Special Council Joseph Welch rebuke McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency?”
He had ruined careers and lives with no real evidence. The Congress would later enact reforms to prevent the excesses of the McCarthy investigations. At Camp Evans all those sus-pended would be reinstated. Those assigned to the “leper colony” could again do work inside the fence.
But it would never be the same, the quiet pride of the accomplishments during WWII and Project Diana were overshadowed by the McCarthy taint for years.
[Fred Carl is the director of the Infoage Science-History Center at Camp Evans.]
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