Walter Samuel McAfee was born September 2, 1914, in Ore City, Texas. He was born to Luther and Susie McAfee. His father was a mechanic and his mother was an educator. His parents’ lines of work both influenced his career later on in life.
After high school, McAfee enrolled in courses at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. He majored in Mathematics and earned his B.A. degree in 1934. In 1937, he earned his M.S. from Ohio State University.
Once he graduated from college, McAfee began teaching math and biological sciences at a junior high school in Columbus, Ohio. He met a fellow teacher at the same middle school named Viola Winston. They got married in the early 1940s.
In 1942, McAfee joined the United States Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories at Fort Monmouth in Belmar, New Jersey. His knowledge about math afforded him the opportunity to work on the Project Diana team.
Project Diana was a collaboration of engineers and physicists who studied Earth’s relationship to the moon. Using radar signal echoing, McAfee determined the theoretical calculations of the moon. Those calculations included radar cross-sections, coverage pattern, and distance of the moon.
The team received echoing signals between the Earth and the moon in January of 1946. Thanks to McAfee’s contribution, Project Diana was a success. However, he was not recognized for his work until several months later.
After the success of Project Diana, McAfee received the Rosenwald Fellowship. He then entered a doctoral program at Cornell University. He earned his Ph.D. in Physics in 1949. His primary focus was on nuclear collisions. While in school, he worked under the advisement of Hans Bethe who was known for his work with nuclear physics.
Return to the Army
After earning his Ph.D., McAfee returned to the Army. He made significant contributions to the study of nuclear weapon systems. He also assisted with satellite technology. McAfee continued working as a scientist at Fort Monmouth laboratory for the remainder of his career. He worked for the laboratory for 42 years.
Over the span of his career, McAfee received awards and fellowships in honor of his work. Wiley College inducted him into the Science Hall of Fame. Dr. Walter McAfee died February 18, 1995. He was posthumously honored when the U.S. government established the McAfee Center at Fort Monmouth, a facility which contains the Information and Intelligence Warfare Electronic Directorate.
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