WHO’S MUNDEN?

By Ron Munden – January 26, 2020

For the Navy Department Library website:

Letter of Transmittal

Hon. L. Mendel Rivers,
Chairman, Committee on Armed Services
House of Representatives Washington, D.C.

June 30, 1969

Dear Mr. Chairman: Attached is a report entitled “The Sinking of the U.S.S. Guitarro”, unanimously approved by the appointed members of the Armed Services Investigating Subcommittee conducting this review. A comprehensive study was initiated pursuant to your instructions and hearings were held at San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard, Mare Island, Vallejo, California, on May 26, 27, and 28, 1969.

Whenever the Navy makes a mistake or there is an accident, they want to understand why it happened.  That often involves holding a review. That certainly is the case when the Navy sinks a ship at dockside.

In the case of the Guitarro, many of the questions that were being asked were related to ship conditions immediately before and during the ship sinking.  Those questions often involved establishing the trim angle of the ship at key points during the flooding.  These questions came to the engineering group where I was working at the time.

Unfortunately, the questions were not routine in nature and the file cabinets full of forms used for routine daily calculations were of no value – there were no forms related to the sinking of a ship.  Answering those questions required knowledge of the basic principles of naval architecture. 

Even though I had been at the shipyard for a little less than two years and had only completed two quarters of classes at Berkeley my supervisor decided I was best qualified to do the required calculations.

There was a problem, however.  I was in my third quarter at Berkeley.  I was in class on Tuesdays and Thursdays and exams were approaching so I could not afford to miss class at this critical point. Those asking the questions appeared to be unaware of my class schedule, so questions arrived on an unpredictable schedule.

To satisfy all these requirements my supervisor decided that on days that I had class I would first come to the shipyard by 6 A.M. and if there were questions, I would document the steps required to complete the calculations.  Then before I left to drive to Berkeley at 8 A.M. I would give my notes to another engineer and they would do the calculations and get them to whoever was asking the question.  It seemed like a perfect solution.

It wasn’t.

One non-class day at about 9 A.M. I was sitting at my desk.  I was surprised to see the Chief Design Engineer walk into to my supervisor’s office.  I was more surprised when I heard him say, “WHO’S MUNDEN.”

Then my supervisor walked him back to my desk and said, ‘This is Ron Munden.”

The Chief Design Engineer did not appear to be happy to see me.  All he said was, “COME WITH ME.”

Without another word he started walking and I followed three steps behind.  He walked up the stairs to the second floor and down a long hall to the design conference room.  He opened the door and walked in and I followed.  We were standing in front of a large group of people.  The conference table was full and of most of the chairs that lined the wall were occupied.

The Chief Design Engineer looked at the group and said, “THIS IS MUNDEN.”  With that he turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.

I was a little confused to say the least. 

Someone at the table said, “Mr. Munden we would like you to go over some calculations with us – use the blackboard.”  A second unknown person walked over and handed me five or six pages of calculations.  I did not recognize the package but in large letters at the top of the first page were written the words, “Calculations done using the Munden method.”

Trying to buy time I did say that I had never seen the calculations and needed a few seconds to look them over. 

I slowly walked to the blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk and started through an explanation of the calculations.  All went well through the first two pages.  I was able to explain the calculations and I was gaining a little confidence.

Then I turned to page three.  Confidence quickly turned to panic.  I did not understand the calculations at which I was looking.  The longer I looked the more confused I got.  All I knew was these calculations did not follow the steps that were in the notes I had turned over to my co-worker the previous morning.

I don’t know how long I stood there saying nothing.  It was probably a few seconds.  It seemed like three days.

Finally, in a weak voice I said, “I’m sorry Sir.  I don’t understand these calculations and I can’t explain them.”

The silence was broken when the man who had handed me the papers spoke up and said, “I didn’t understand them either.”

With that the person who had asked me to explain the calculations said, “Thank you Mr. Munden.  You’re excused.”

I quickly opened the door and walked into the hall. 

As I walked back to my office I thought, “I don’t think the Chief Design Engineer and I have a good working relationship.”

On the bright side, while I don’t consider this event the highlight of my career, this event was good training.  A year later I was finishing up my master’s degree.  One of my final classes was ‘theoretical ship hydrodynamics’.  For the final exam the professor had a one-on-one meeting with each student.  He would ask the student questions. The student had to do the required calculations or produce the required diagrams on his white board.  I got an ‘A’ in the class.  Clearly, my presentation skills had improved over the previous year.

Footnote:

The Guitarro review was held in late May 1969.  I left the shipyard to attend Berkeley full time that October and did not return to the end of June 1970.  Shortly after my return the Chief Design Engineer featured in this story retired.  A new Chief Design Engineer was selected.

Within 18 months of his selection, I was working on a special project for him.  A couple of years later he moved me to Head of Technical Support for the Design Division.  The position reported directly to the Chief Design Engineer and was responsible for contract management, fund administration, and project management for the 1200-person Design Division.  He became my mentor. I worked for him for another 5 years before I moved on to another job on the shipyard.  He taught be a lot during those years and I will always be indebted to him. I credit him for jump-starting my career in DoD.

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