|MYRON GEORGE HERBERT LIGDA||Born: 1920-01-10||Died: 1967-10-22|
|Father: PAUL VICTOROVITCH LIGDA||Mother: EDITH F. LIGDA|
|Children: VALORIE JEAN LIGDA, RICHARD WORTHINGTON LIGDA|
|Siblings: THEODORE PAUL LIGDA, MARY BARBARA LIGDA, VICTOR WORTHINGTON LIGDA|
Herb was the last of Paul (then 47) and Edith (then 36) Ligda’s four children. At his birth, his brothers, Vic and Ted, were 12 and 8; his sister, Barbara, was 10. The family was living at 467 Fairmount Avenue in Oakland. His mother was hoping for another daughter, but expressed no disappointment with her third son:
“Little Herbert is a dear. I love him most to pieces. He is ugly, but not so much as some of the others were, so I guess he’ll turn out presentable. He is not fat, but very large, with big hands and feet especially, not very much hair and I guess he’ll be about the same complexion as Victor, medium light.”
Herb’s brothers and sister were fond of him. Barbara liked to play Mother and feed him. Ted liked playing with him. As a preschooler, he liked to wander, so his mother pinned a note to his back with his name and address in the event he escaped her view. He attended Kindergarten at Peralta School, later attending Claremont and Chabot Grade Schools in Oakland. In 1928, his mother took him for a visit to her Family in Worthington, Ohio. They visited her brother’s farm. Herb wrote how much he enjoyed helping stack hay and riding on a hay wagon. He was also taken on a day trip to Cleveland and treated to a baseball game between the Yankees and the Indians in which Babe Ruth played.
He was very bright. At 7, his I.Q. measured 137 and he was taking French lessons from a neighborhood teacher. By 9, he was proficient on the typewriter. He was an accomplished swimmer and diver at 10.
Herb joined Boy Scout Troop SSS 103 of Oakland when he was 12 – a few months before his father’s untimely death. On his death bed, his father urged him to be a good Boy Scout and earn lots of merit badges like his brother, Victor. In the years following his father’s death when his mother’s depression prevented her from being too active in his life, Herb found direction and purpose in scouting. He became absorbed by all the program offered. He became a Sea Scout and, despite once sinking a scout boat in the Oakland estuary, developed a life long love for boating. Herb went on to become an Eagle Scout 1 in 1936 and earned his bronze palm in 1938..
He attended University High School 2 in Oakland. He played the school orchestra where he met Evelyn Dalke, his wife to be. Both played the French horn. As a student, he built a “hot rod” car with parts he salvaged from abandoned cars and scrap yards. The car served him well until June of 1938 when he reported it, “ . . . out of commission . . . I’m going to tear it apart and it will probably take quite a while for me to save enough money to fix it . . . I can buy another engine for four dollars and fix that up.”
After his graduation in 1936, Herb enlisted in the Marines. 3 He was assigned to a camp at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California where he was in the band, a job he described as, “ . . . the best job yet. We sit in the barracks in the afternoon when the sun is hot and watch the infantry drill and dig trenches. Or else I go for a swim.” His Marine career did not last. He was eventually rejected for sea duty as his eyesight was not up to standards. His failure to qualify remained a disappointment throughout his life.
After leaving the Marines, Herb returned to Oakland to a variety of jobs and projects. In the summer of 1937, he was a camp counselor. That same year he was granted an amateur radio license by the Federal Communications Commission. He made a diving helmet with a communication system which allowed conversation between diver and the tenders. He and some friends used the helmet in salvage work from sunken ships in the Bay and to do underwater boat repairs. He also worked for a period with his brother, Ted, in a Linotype shop.
In 1938, at Evelyn’s urging, 4 Herb applied for admission to the University of California. He spent the summer taking required subjects he had neglected in high school and was admitted in the fall. He enjoyed the academic environment: “I really like [college life]. The variety, way you can study, schedules, etc., etc., all fit my ideas of enjoyment.” He did not pass his physicals in time to qualify for crew, but he was a diver on the swimming team, once mentioning that he tried a two-and-a-half off the ten foot board that turned out to be a two-and-a-quarter and put him in the infirmary. He also played French horn in the Marching Band. He worked when he could to help pay for his education 5 and that probably preventing his achieving top grades. 6 He graduated in 1942 with an B.S., having majored in astronomy and minoring in physics.
In December, 1941, prior to his graduation, Herb took a job with the U. S. Weather Bureau as an Assistant Observer at the Oakland Airport Station at a salary of $1,620/year. After his graduation, he was selected for special radiosonde training with the Bureau at National Airport in Washington with a salary of $240 a month. He was given a draft deferment to complete this training. Herb marveled that the Government would spend over $1,000 to teach him. In June, he flew to Washington and rented what he described as a, “hole in the wall,” at 431 East Nelson Street in Alexandria. He threw himself into the training. In his spare time, he explored the capitol with its many sights and monuments. He visited Mt. Vernon. He managed weekend trips to Boston, New York, and Baltimore. One day, when leaving the Smithsonian Museum, he witnessed a Presidential Motorcade with President Roosevelt in an open convertible. Despite the fullness of his days, he missed Evelyn and felt it would be so much more fulfilling if she were with him. On June 26, Herb wrote: “How’s about dropping everything and coming back here and getting married?”
Evelyn initially accepted, but then declined. She discussed her feelings with her mother and Herb’s mother. Both assured her they would support the marriage if she decided to go. Yet she worried that their future was so uncertain. She knew Herb would be drafted when his training was over. There was no assurance that training would keep him out of a war zone where he might be killed or wounded. Even if he wasn’t sent near a battle, there was no assurance she could join him at any other station. She felt they should wait. On July 7, she wrote to explain: “My heart and mind fought a bloody battle . . . I hope that my decision will bring us happiness in time to come but it really isn’t making me happy now.” Herb phoned in an attempt to persuade her to change her decision. She declined. Herb was terribly disappointed. On July 27, he wrote that he could see no reasons for her refusal except: “ . . . you apparently felt that you owed the hospital too much to leave and that my salary wouldn’t cover expenses.” He added that he didn’t see: “ . . . how you expect me to dodge my duty to my country and be available for the duration,” and that he meant it when: “ . . . I said I wouldn’t ask you again until after the war is over and it will be up to you to talk me into it if you want to get married before then.”
On completing his training, Herb returned to Oakland and confronted Evelyn. She later recalled that they were at the Leamington Hotel one evening. He grabbed her and said: “I’m not asking you anymore. I’m telling you. You’ve got to marry me.” Evelyn 7 set aside her misgivings and accepted. They were married in Reno on August 22, 1942. They honeymooned at Lake Tahoe which Herb recalled as: “ . . . an idle week getting acquainted – both learning things about living that we never knew before – long hours lying on the beach – tennis – bicycling – a hike up the river, a boat ride, and long hours of dreamy bliss in the quilt of our little room we liked so well.”
Herb was inducted into the Army in Oakland on August 30, 1942 and sent to the Presidio in Monterey where, after a short orientation, he was assigned to Keesler Field near Biloxi, Mississippi for basic training. Herb scored very high on his classification examinations. He was classified as a weather observer specialist. He was encouraged to apply for Officer Candidate School. On completing his basic training, Herb was promoted to corporal and assigned as a Student Forecaster to the 4th Weather Squadron at Craig Field near Selma, Alabama. Evelyn joined him there in November. She rented a room in Selma and, as she was unlicensed as a nurse in Alabama, took work as a waitress at the Officer’s Club.
Within weeks of Evelyn’s arrival in Alabama, Herb accepted an assignment for special advanced weather training at New York University which, if completed, would result in a commission. By year’s end, he was in New York to begin the course. During the initial part of that training, Herb was required to stay in quarters at the University. When Evelyn followed a few weeks later, she stayed with friends and took work as a nurse. She found the pay inadequate and the night hours unpleasant. She did not want to pay $10 to take the examination for a New York nursing license. She resigned and took work as a sales lady in a department store.
When Herb completed his initial training, he was allowed to leave the University quarters. He and Evelyn rented what Herb described as a: “seventh heaven walkup — cold in the winter and hot in the summer, but hers and mine,” at 35 West 177th Street on Manhattan. They enjoyed their time together exploring New York’s many attractions. Herb completed the Program in September. He was discharged as an enlisted man “for the convenience of the service,” and sworn in as an officer the next day.
Herb’s initial assignment as an officer was to a base at Thermal near Indio, California. He and Evelyn joined another couple for the cross country drive. They visited family in the Bay Area before reporting for duty in October, 1943. Evelyn found a house in Indio which they shared with another army couple. Within a month, Herb was told he was one of a few officers selected for special training at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey. When he left for his new post, Evelyn returned to Berkeley to stay with her parents.
While training at Ft. Monmouth, Herb was selected as one of a very few candidates for study: “ . . . on equipment of a nature that I can’t disclose.” Those who completed the training were to be stationed to Army weather zones around the world. Herb was one of those who completed that training. After a short leave, allowing him a brief visit with Evelyn in California, Herb was assigned to the Army’s Sixth Weather Squadron in Panama. He left Miami for that post on February 8, 1944 and reported the next day after an overnight stay in Jamaica.
Herb’s assignment required the installation of radar equipment for use in detecting storms. Herb loved his work and the responsibility it involved in coordinating jobs with his subordinates and with others. The number of men under his command grew from single enlisted man on his arrival to 14 enlisted men by the end of his first year. On August 8, 1944, he was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. His work also provided opportunity to see much of the region. In 1944, he flew to Florida for training with stops in Curacao, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Antigua, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. In 1945, he went on an inspection tour which took him to Peru, Equador, and Colombia. Later that year, he went on another tour which took him to Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. 8 He was to receive commendations for his work from his Commanding Officer and from Headquarters.
Herb liked the tropics. He described his environment as a: “ . . . clean, beautiful post, a great job with all the comforts of home except that which makes it one – a wife.” He once wrote that he felt: “ . . . slightly guilty at times when I know there are plenty of guys going through hell while I have it easy.” He dearly missed Evelyn. It was seven months before he could arrange a short trip to visit her in California after which he returned to Panama for eleven more months of duty before she was allowed to join him in August of 1945. They shared a small home Herb was assigned near Balboa. They took classes in the evening. Both took Spanish and Herb took shorthand while Evelyn took typing.
While in Panama, Herb applied for membership in the Masons. He described the experience as: “getting religion,” and told Evelyn he felt his membership would make him: “ a better man, father, and husband.” He commented that: “ . . . the thing about it that catches my imagination most is its worldwide organization. The thought of visiting a Chinese, Hindu, English, Russian, or some other country’s Masonic Lodge, giving the symbols and being accepted as a brother really thrills me – it seems so manly, sensible – the way people ought to live with each other!”
At the War’s end, Herb and Evelyn remained in Panama awaiting his discharge. His superiors urged him to reenlist and remain with the Army’s weather program. He considered continuing a military career, but he was offered a position with the Meteorology Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working on a “Weather Radar” project which he felt offered more opportunity. He accepted that offer and asked that his discharge be processed. On December 7, 1945, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. 9 In May of 1946, he was transferred to New York were he and Evelyn rented a room for $60 a month while awaiting his discharge which finally came on October 14, 1946.
Herb’s work at M. I. T. paid a salary of $250 a month. That was reduced when he was accepted into the Masters Program. He and Evelyn rented a three room apartment in a home owned by one of his coworkers at 26 Florence Avenue in Arlington Heights, Massachusetts. They were living there on January 22, 1947 when their first child, Richard Worthington, was born.
Herb loved his work. In 1947, with savings from his years in the Army, he joined a group of his fellow workers in the purchase of a few acres of land in Middlesex County between Lexington and Concord. They subdivided the land into one acre lots where they worked together to build their own homes – three five room houses in all. Herb’s house had two bedrooms and one bath. He reveled in the experience. The work, he said, went, “slowly, but pretty well . . . the stump pulling and ditch digging has put me in fine shape . . . Our wives and children come out on Sundays and it’s like a picnic.” He completed work on the exterior before the cold weather; the family moved in with the idea that the interior work could be completed over the winter. That work lagged. In 1949, Herb commented: “The house continues along. I am working on interior finish work which is pleasant, but keeps me broke . . . I am making better than $5,000 per year now [and] almost all of it goes into finishing the house, insurance, and food, so I don’t see much cash anymore.” In 1950, he wrote: “The house is fairly near the stage of completion and something in the vicinity of $1,000 should do the job (floors, wallpaper, some sort of garage, trim, etc.).” In 1952, Evelyn wrote: “We are still decorating the inside of the house. Two weeks ago Herb papered the bedroom and hall. This weekend he hopes to do some odds and ends and then the following weekend we hope he can put down an asphalt tile floor in the bedroom. That will complete all the major work in the house. It’s hard to believe that small amounts of work over the years can add up to a house.”
In 1948, Herb earned his Masters Degree in Meteorology and continued his work with the Meteorology Department at M. I. T. He was asked to deliver a paper at a meeting in Berkeley and used the opportunity to take the family to California and show off Richard. During his visit, Barbara and Harold invited all the Ligdas to a reunion at their home in Campbell. On the return trip, Herb stopped in Worthington to visit his Mother’s Family as he had done twenty years earlier. Herb and Evelyn had their second child, Carol Louise, on September 10, 1949.
In 1950, He started teaching and working on his Sci.D., majoring in meteorology at M.I.T. and minoring in astronomy at Harvard. In 1952, Evelyn took the children to California to visit her parents and in-laws leaving Herb at home to complete his thesis. 10 Herb completed his oral examination in November of that year and was awarded his Sci.D. in February of 1953.
In June of 1953, he was retained as a consultant by the Air Force Geophysical Directorate to go to Korea to establish a storm reporting network for the combat zone. His assignment involved work in Tokyo and Seoul. Herb was very impressed with Japan and wrote Evelyn that he hoped one day they could visit the country together. He described Seoul as: “a mess . . . it will be many years before the last scars of war are gone.” His work took him to within 20 miles of the front, to a ceremony with South Korean President Sigmund Rhee, and a dinner with General Clark. Herb noted an advantage to having his doctorate was that others seemed to take his advice seriously. His daughter, Carol, recalls the thrill of watching her parents open the exotic smelling excelsior-filled wooden crates her father shipped from the Orient during this tour of duty. They contained a hand painted set of china for twelve, silk scarves and kimonos, fans and toys.
In 1954, Herb accepted a teaching position with the Department of Oceanography at Texas A & M. They sold their house in Lincoln and moved to rented quarters at 707 Cross Street in College Station while they had a new home built at 1212 Orr Street which they occupied in 1955. Herb described it as: “ . . . more expensive than originally planned . . . but a very comfortable place in which to live.” Their third child, Valorie Jean, was born on March 18, 1956.
Herb’s contract with the University allowed him to continue the development of radar systems to detect storms. On April 5, 1956, the systems under Herb’s immediate control detected a tornado moving toward Byron, Texas in enough time to allow him to broadcast a public warning credited with, “ . . . probably saving at least several lives . . .” Carol recalls the greenish, yellowish brown of the cloud-covered sky and the high winds. The family stayed in Richard’s bedroom until the storm was over. Several buildings were totally destroyed, “ . . .but there was no loss of life and no serious injury to persons.” Herb, however, returned home with a gash in his forehead sustained from his comings and goings to the rooftop laboratory while documenting the storm. The success of the warning was reported in Life Magazine of April 12, 1956.
Herb advanced to become head of the Meteorology Department. He was developing an international reputation for his work. In December, 1954, he said: “Perhaps the thing which has given me the most personal satisfaction in connection with all this is that I am getting inquiries from people who have heard about my work and want to come and work for me.” He was frequently asked to speak at professional gatherings. Those occasions took him to all parts of the country and, in 1956, to an international weather convention in Ciudad Trujillo in the Dominican Republic where he spoke. While he traveled, he frequently visited radar stations which were part of the national storm detection system.
Despite his satisfaction with the work, Herb disliked living in Texas: “The heat, insects, lack of availability of metropolitan life, and rather narrow circle of acquaintances all bother me somewhat.” He was also disturbed by the practice of racial segregation in the South. In 1958 Herb accepted an offer to manage the aerophysics laboratory at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park. The family moved to Los Altos, California where they bought a home at 23744 Arbor Avenue (later renumbered 1450 Arbor Avenue) in Los Altos near his brother, Ted. Over the next few years, the two families joined for many trips to the beach, sailing, fishing, and dinners at each other’s houses.
Herb threw himself into his new work. He called himself an “Applied Scientist.” He was published extensively in technical and scientific journals and contributed to a number of textbooks. 11 He continued in considerable demand as a lecturer. He enjoyed traveling to give technical addresses. Interestingly, his mother was critical of his public speaking. She attended one of his addresses and was shocked that he read his material without regard for audience reaction. His daughter, Carol, disagreed:
“My grandmother probably forgot that it is common for speakers on technical subjects in developing areas to read their papers. I remember being so proud when my father came to my 5th grade class one day to be a guest speaker about the weather. Mom said it was one of the most difficult speeches he ever had to prepare.”
Those he worked with considered him an excellent leader – able to bring out their best. His son, Richard, said he led by setting examples:
“He would be the first to get out and push the boat out of the mud. He’d be the first one up in the morning to chop wood, or to “get the show on the road,” when leaving a motel. If he thought labor prices were too high, he would fix the house or car himself. Instead of being a “born leader,” he was more like a leader from the time of his birth.”
Dr. Ligda, as he was known professionally, was one of the developers of the first operational weather observation system to use a laser beam. With the device he could view the weather 35 miles above the earth’s surface. He called it “Lidar.”
Herb had many other interests. He was an avid reader and book collector. He had coin and stamp collections to which he added during his foreign travels. He was an enthusiastic musician. He organized a musical quintet of fellow workers at S.R.I. 12 He and his brother, Ted, were members of the “Family Club,” where each played the French horn. From time to time, he also played in local symphony orchestras. He owned one of the first Chevrolet Corvettes which he sometimes drove a little too fast on the local roads. 13 He was a member of the Palo Alto Yacht Club where he berthed his teakwood sailboat – a beautiful boat into which he poured many loving hours of upkeep. He enjoyed sailing on the Bay at night when the sky was clear and it was quiet. Both of his daughters enjoyed sailing with him. He collected wines. He enjoyed gourmet cooking and hosting dinner parties. In 1956, on his 36th birthday, a friend gave him a cook book with the inscription:
“Stuffed with oysters, wild rice, quail,
Steaks and lobsters by the pail,
Drenched with Scotch and rare old wine,
With smooth Drambuie by the stein,
All mixed well, but don’t disturb,
Don’t you see? This is old Herb.”
His daughter, Carol, recalls:
“He often brought home live lobsters from his business trips to New England. Oysters Rockefeller was a favorite dish that he liked to prepare for company, and he liked to barbecue steaks. He let me help him make cheese cakes and fruit cakes and pulverize fresh mint leaves from our yard to make sauce for roast leg of lamb.”
In 1967, Herb felt he was losing energy. He initially attached no particular significance to the feeling, but when it lingered, he sought medical advice and was diagnosed with cancer of the colon already beyond control. He fought the disease bravely. His daughter, Carol, commented:
“My father chose to be optimistic in his heroic battle against cancer, purchasing a new Jaguar to replace his Corvette within days of his death. My mom was outraged that he refused to help her by getting his life in order. Altho as a healthy person he disliked and distrusted doctors, I believe he was basically cooperative with their efforts to prolong his life. Dad even consented to be the model for a medical lecture on cancer. The strong drugs that were administered to my dad for his cancer altered his personality. He had no strength and was frequently disoriented. He often seemed unable to focus on the outside world or even his family as he struggled to save his life. I last saw him about 16 hours before he died. He recognized me, but our last conversation had none of the meaning or significance that I longed for.”
His son, Richard, said: “He made considerable effort to stay alive for me. This was while I flew in from Kansas hours before he died. He still greeted me that night, and impressed me as having suffered in my behalf.”
Herb Ligda died on October 22, 1967. He was cremated and his remains buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California (Sec. 2, Grave 5102). 14 He left his financial affairs in good order. Richard commented that the family was able to, “live well for decades after his death.” Evelyn never remarried and continued living in the family home at 1450 Arbor Avenue in Los Altos until her death on July 6, 1998. She also was interred in Golden Gate National Cemetery. The estate was divided among the children.
- Among his effects at his death were certificates that he had earned merit badges in Machinery, Camping, Bugling, Civics, and Pathfinding. ↩
- University High School was on 58th and Grove (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way) Streets near the Berkeley border. It opened in 1923 as a teaching laboratory for the University of California with high academic standards. The high school was closed in 1946 because of low enrollment. The buildings later served as Merritt College (birthplace of the Black Panther Movement). The College moved in 1970 when the buildings were declared seismically unsafe. It was restored and partially reopened in 1998 as the North Oakland Multipurpose Senior Center. ↩
- He was probably influenced by his brother, Ted, who was in the Marines at that time. ↩
- In a letter of July 27, 1938, Herb wrote Evelyn: “ . . . you’re the real reason I’m going to go to college. Few (if any) other girls could ever inspire me with the ambitions and hopes that you have, darling.” ↩
- Herb is listed in the 1939 city directory as a life guard with the Oakland Recreation Department. For two months in the summer of 1941, he and two of his friends signed on as mess boys on the SS President Madison carrying Chinese passengers and what Herb believed was war material to the Far East. The ship called at Honolulu, Manila, Hong Kong, Singapore and Penang before returning. He brought me a model Chinese junk from that trip which I kept for years before losing it to the wear and tear of childish handling. ↩
- Herb’s college transcript shows completion of 110.5 graded units with 160.5 points for a 1.45 g.p.a. on a 3 point scale. ↩
- Evelyn was born April 8, 1920 in American Falls, Idaho. Letters which survived her death reflect that she and Herb were corresponding as early as 1936. Her 1938 diary indicates she was then dating Herb and another boy named Paul, but by May 21, Herb was clearly her favorite: “He loves me. I know,” and on May 28: “It looks very much like I love him.” Evelyn was a 1941 graduate of the Merritt Hospital School of Nursing. She did not pursue her career after her children were born. ↩
- In addition to the weather photographs he captured on these trips, Herb returned with hardwood furniture and Peruvian blankets made from llama and alpaca wool, treasures which remained in his family for decades after his death. ↩
- After the War, Herb remained in the Reserves and eventually attained the rank of Lt. Colonel. In 1953, he was Commanding Officer of the 101st Weather Group in the National Guard. ↩
- Between August 6-16, 1952, a high school friend and I visited Uncle Herb at his home in Lincoln. Despite the pressure of completing his thesis, Herb was a very gracious host. When we left, Herb observed: “They seemed to be having a very good time, yet they took a bit too much for granted which sometimes irked me a bit.” ↩
- Among the texts were Chapter Three, “Nature of Space,” in “Astronautics for Science Teachers,” edited by John G. Meitner of Stanford Research Institute and published by John Wiley & Sons, New York (1965), Library of Congress No. 65-16419; and “Investigating the Earth,” published by Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston (1967). ↩
- His daughter, Carol, said: “I loved listening to their music, but it was loud and kept me awake.” ↩
- Uncle Herb once called me when I was employed as a deputy district attorney (1963-5) for advice on how to fight a speeding ticket he had been given on Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. ↩
- Evelyn’s cremated remains were buried with him in 1998. ↩