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The Adventurous and Connected Life of David Tressel Griggs: Part VI of the Holiday Serial

If you research Agnew Hunter Bahnson, long enough, you’re likely to come across an interesting reference to his connection to the Harvard Society of Fellows and David Tressel Griggs. Griggs is unique in that he doesn’t actually participate in our story, but sits at the periphery of several parts of it.  Griggs was a student of geophysics at Harvard in the 1930′s.  Agnew Hunter Bahnson Jr. was studying there at the same time.  In the summer of 1936, Griggs and Bahnson set out on a trip to hike the Caucasus Mountains, a mountain chain connecting the Black and the Caspian Seas.  The two never made it to their hiking destination though.  Heading towards Bucharest Agnew suddenly swerved to miss a bicyclist and struck a tree.  He was thrown from the car and sustained a concussion.  Griggs was trapped in the car; the dashboard had crushed his legs.  They convalesced in Budapest and then Vienna.  Griggs narrowly missed having his legs amputated. Although he regained full use of his legs, his injuries still led to being declared physically unfit to serve during World War II in the United States armed forces.

Agnew’s dad, Agnew Hunter Bahnson, Sr.,  had taken out a travel insurance policy on Agnew and David’s trip.  Using the proceeds from the insurance payment, Griggs purchased a Luscombe airplane and became a pilot.  He flew the plane in the first tests of radar at the MIT Radiation Laboratories.  After helping to prove out the system on the East Coast, Griggs traveled to Europe as a consultant for the military.  In order to better understand the conditions the radar systems were used in, Griggs flew on missions that used the technology.  In one instance, a squadron had taken particularly heavy enemy fire when cresting a nearby mountain range.  Griggs flew along with them and surmised that the enemy was actually listening to their radar signal.  Griggs instructed the squadron to wait until they had cleared the mountain range to turn on their radar.  On their next bombing run they took the enemy completely by surprise.  In another incident, Griggs kicked open a jammed bomb bay door and almost careened out of the plane along with the bombs.  He held on by one hand until he was pulled back in.  After that, the general in charge of the operation had him grounded saying that Griggs was far more valuable as a scientist than as a bomb.

Griggs involvement with the United States millitary didn’t stop with the end of World War II.  He was instrumental in starting Lawrence Livermore Laboratory as a nuclear bomb lab.  He was also instrumental in convincing Edwin Teller to run it, the same Edwin Teller who would later hire Bryce DeWitt.  Between 1951 and 1952 Griggs served as the chief scientist for the Air Force.  In 1947 Griggs helped setup the RAND corporation and was the first head of its physics department.

Griggs’ association with Bahnson didn’t end after the war either.  Soon after reading Bryce DeWitt’s prize winning essay, (Part V), Bahnson sent DeWitt a proposal to setup an institute to study gravity.  Griggs is mentioned in relation to Bahnson’s ideas as to how they might proceed, (see below).

Griggs maintained his work as a geophysicist throughout his life and studied some of the moon rocks returned from the Apollo missions late in his career.

 

 

One Response to “The Adventurous and Connected Life of David Tressel Griggs: Part VI of the Holiday Serial”

  1. Linda Brown Says:

    Hamilton…

    Have you ever run across the name of Floyd B. Odlum in your studies. I believe that you might be interested to know that he was working closely with my Dad and your letter from Agnew here mentions Convair ( which was in Odlums control I believe)

    Amongst other things Odlums holding company ATLAS financed our first space missiles ( aptly called ATLAS)… he had strong ties with aviators….( his wife was the famous Jackie Cochran) and his connections ran very deep. I would be VERY surprised if your man Griggs here didn’t have a working relationship with Floyd. It might be worth investigating. As you notice from Agnews letter he mentions points that were also central to my Dads life…..
    Glen Martin, William Lear, Convair… and his own interest in advanced flight…..Add Floyd B. Odlum and see what happens.

    With great respect for your work…. Linda Brown

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