Published in the Asbury Park Press on February 19, 1995


White House ceremony: Dr. Walter S. Mc Afee (right) is shown with Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 shortly after the president presented the Fort Monmouth physicist with one of the first of the Secretary of the Army’s research fellowships, which provided for post-doctoral study at Harvard University and at laboratories in Europe and Australia.

SOUTH BELMAR – Dr. Walter 
S. Mc Afee, 80, a physicist who 
helped pioneer space exploration, 
died Saturday at his home here.

     In 1946, Dr. McAfee made 
the mathematical calculations that en-
abled a Fort Monmouth team of sci-
entists to bounce the first radio sig-
nals off the moon’s surface from the 
Evans Signal Laboratory in Wall 
Township. The work, dubbed Proj-
ect Diana, helped usher in the era of 
space exploration and the develop-
ment of satellite communications 
and missile guidance systems.

     His calculations earned him na-
tionwide recognition and numerous 
awards, including the first U.S. 
Army Research and Development 
Achievement Award in 1961.

     Dr. McAfee, the second of nine 
children of a carpenter, was born in 
One City, Texas, and first began tin-
kering with physics at high school in 
Texas.

     “I was hearing of Einstein’s work. 
I started hoping in a vague sort of
way that I could get to a place where
I could make a contribution,” he said 
in a 1985 interview.

     He earned a bachelor of science 
degree in mathematics, magna cum 
laude, from Wiley College in Mar-
shall, Texas, and a master’s degree
in physics from Ohio State Univer-
sity, and a doctoral degree in nuclear 
physics from Cornell University in 
1949.

     To finance his higher education,
he tried to obtain training in 
electronics, but found the field
closed to black persons. One electri-
cal institute in Chicago told him the
institute didn’t have adequate facili-
ties for “colored people,” he said in
a 1982 interview.

He had his own way of handling 
the prejudice he encountered over 
the years. “I tried to deal with each 
person as an individual,” he said.

     Dr. Mc Afee taught high school 
mathematics and science in Colum-
bus, Ohio, and then in 1942 was 
hired as a mathematical physicist for 
the Fort Monmouth’s Signal Corps.

     During his 42 years at Fort Mon-
mouth, he held a number of supervi-
sory positions, retiring as scientific
advisor to the U.S. Army Electronics 
Research and Development Com-
mand. While at Fort Monmouth, he 
also served as director of a scientific 
study on surveillance and target ac-

quisition for NATO. He also lectured 
in atomic and nuclear physics and 
solid state electronics at Monmouth 
College, West Long Branch.

     His citations and awards include 
the Rosenwald Fellowship in Nu-
clear Physics, which he received in 
1949 and which enabled him to com-
plete his doctorate; and a Secretary 
of the Army research fellowship in 
1956. In 1987 he was inducted into 
the Science Hall of Fame at Wiley 
College, and a scholarship was set 
up in his name to be given to an out-
standing student in physics. In the 
Shore area, scholarships in math-
ematics, science or engineering are 
given in his name to high-achiev-

ing high school students by the Zeta
Epsilon Lambda Chapter of Alpha 
Phi Alpha Fraternity in conjunction
with the Fort Monmouth Chapter of 
the Armed Forces Communications 
and Electronics Associating.

     Dr. McAfee was listed in Ameri-
can Men and Women of Science, 
Who’s Who in the East, and Who’s 
Who Among Black Americans. He 
received citations for his scientific 
and technical achievements from 
the New Jersey Council of Mayors in 
1971, the Delta Sigma Theta Soror-
ity in 1970, and the Negro Business 
and Professional Women in 1971. 
He was a member of a number of 
honorary scientific fraternities. He 
was a member of the Board of Trus-
tees of Brookdale Community Col-
lege, Lincroft, Middletown Town-
ship, the Monmouth County 
Museum, and the Monmouth 
County Chapter of the Alcoholism 
Council.

     He also was awarded an honorary 
doctorate in science at Monmouth 
College in 1985 and received the 
Steven’s Award at Steven’s Institute 
of Technology in 1985.

     Surviving are his wife, Viola Win-
ston Mc Afee; two daughters, Diane
Mercedes Mc Afee, San Jose, Calif., 
and Marsha Ann Bera-Morris, Wash-
ington D.C.; three brothers, Leo 
Cecil Mc Afee, Maud, Texas, 
Charles Franklin Mc Afee, West Al-
lenhurst, Ocean Township and Mil-
ton Winfred Mc Afee, Long View, 
Texas; and three sisters, Amelia 
Robinson, New Brunswick, Sedalia 
Sims, Marshall, Texas, and Velma 
Williams, Houston. James H. Hunt 
Funeral Home, Asbury Park, is in 
charge of arrangements.

Page created July 4, 2002