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Now You Know, June & July 2023

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Coming of Age in Dahlgren, 1960-61—A Snapshot

By John Fass Morton



The story begins in mid-March 1960, when my father, CAPT Tom Morton, assumed command of Dahlgren. Originally named the Naval Proving Ground, in 1959 it was renamed the Naval Weapons Laboratory (NWL). The command was a fitting capstone to his pre-flag officer career, for he proudly identified himself as an exclusive brand of officer of the line—ordnance engineer. It was to be a three-year tour, but it was cut short when Dad was deep-selected for rear admiral in August 1961 to start his next tour at the Pentagon.


I came to Dahlgren from a long line of naval officers from Annapolis and the Naval Academy. My relatively short 17 months at Dahlgren truthfully yields little but a snapshot of teenage base life in the era of transition from the Silent Generation’s fifties to the counter-cultural sixties. Within the month we arrived, I turned 13. For me, becoming a teenager was a big deal. I remember writing from Dahlgren in birthday cards to all my Annapolis friends when they subsequently turned 13, “No more 25¢ movies!” Translation: “You’re not a kid anymore.”


I was eager to play the teenage role as I finished 7th grade at Dahlgren School, where as 7th graders we understudied the 8th graders who led the school and would graduate in June to advance as rising freshmen at King George High School. We 7th and 8th graders were at the heart of the youth scene on the base. Given we were three months into a new decade, we embraced our trendsetting, more given to the influence of the teen movie and music culture than were our more conventional older predecessors, who’d been inclined to balance the impact of teen media against the stronger influence of our parents, who had been profoundly shaped by the Second World War. Situated in the otherwise rural, sleepy, and arguably backward-looking Northern Neck of Virginia, Dahlgren was an island where cosmopolitan and highly gifted adults applied science to national defense at the height of the Cold War. This isolated setting provided a lot of creative tension for those of us coming of age.


My immediate discovery upon arriving in that March of ‘60 greatly appealed to the dedicated

moviegoer in me. Dahlgren’s movie theater charged everyone the same for a ticket—a very modest 10¢, a price a 13-year-old’s budget could

easily afford. Although at the time my ambition was to go to the Naval Academy and be a naval officer like my dad, I now see my interest in movies and music presaged my future career, which was broadly in media. Hence, the Dahlgren memories that have come to mind as I have prepared this memoir confirm that truth to me…but I don’t think I’m alone here.


Movies were a big deal for Dahlgren schoolers, if not everyone on the base. It was the only game in town for regular cultural fare. Every Thursday, Dahlgren’s bi-weekly newsletter, The Laboratory Log, would publish the movie schedule, from which the more precocious among us would construct their dating plans for the weekend.


While boys discovering girls and vice versa were definitely a significant part of 7th and 8th grade Dahlgren culture for some, I don’t want to overstate. The base experience was much more, obviously. Living in a protected space, we were privileged to have great independence. During the Dahlgren School year, lunch was an hour when all children could walk or ride their bikes home—with one exception. Those whose mothers had gone shopping in Fredericksburg or Washington were required to bring their lunches to school that day and eat with the teacher who had drawn lunchtime invigilation duty.


Dahlgren School practiced the Navy philosophy that entrusting a person with responsibility makes that person responsible. Our beloved principal, Healy Settle, would

task 8th graders to rotate into weekly duty as rush-hour crossing guards, replete with badges and white canvas Sam Browne belts, actually a very demanding responsibility. For each rotation, Mr. Settle would assign two students as the badged captain and lieutenant who would manage the duty roster, biking around the base to see that each crossing station was manned. Particularly challenging was assignment to the busy crossing on Dahlgren Road used by the children whose families lived in the World-War-II era Boomtown, behind the playing fields to

the left of Main Gate. Dahlgren Road was the main thoroughfare for the morning rush-hour commuters coming on base. When a 13-year-old stepped onto that crosswalk with a large, hand-held metal stop sign, it was always a question whether or not the line of impatient drivers would actually stop.


In addition to Mr. Settle, Dahlgren School blessed us with wonderful mentors to guide us into our coming of age, notably our home-room teachers, Ruth Smith, 7th grade, and Elizabeth M. Lancaster, 8th grade. To both grades, Mrs. Smith taught English and history and Mrs. Lancaster, math and science. Both were beautifully caring educators who inspired a thirst for learning — and performance — in all of us. Thanks to them, I applied myself better than I did anywhere else, so much so that my 9th grade year was basically a repeat of the very things I learned at Dahlgren School.


Over several days in 8th grade English, Mrs. Smith introduced us to Shakespeare. After casting us all as characters in the play, she had us read out loud from our seats Julius Caesar. I think she cast me as Cassius, one of the conspirators — you know, as in “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” Somehow, it fit.


Beyond the syllabus, Mrs. Lancaster helped us prepare for the teen challenges that lay ahead like learning to drive, often citing the example of her college-age daughter, Martha, then a Mary Washington student. A superb educator who clearly was devoted to her chicks, she would often say, “I want each of you to promise me that, when you grow up, you will come back and see me and tell me what you are doing.” Alas, I regret that I never did. I must say though that at the end of 8th grade, l went to her while she was alone at her desk and asked, trusting her completely, “How can I learn about life?” Visibly taken aback by the question, she peered over her glasses and replied, “Read War and Peace.”


The allusion to war in Tolstoy’s title was apt. As a high-level defense facility in the nuclear age, families took the Cold War personally and directly. It was not something remote that came to us only on the television. Dahlgren teens were uncharacteristically aware. They related events like the Berlin Crisis of August ’61 to their own lives via their fathers’ work. The Dahlgren workforce was of course top-drawer, working on interrelated science and technologies across weapons, ballistics, and space. That fact influenced the quality of interests, imaginings, and conversations shared while we teens were “hacking around,” a term that incensed my father, who presumed it connoted a wasteful use of time.



The impact of Sputnik, for example, on the U.S. space program captured our imaginations. The subsequent U.S. rocket launches and satellite passings were closely monitored events. At the time, Project Echo was frontpage for us once NASA launched the Echo 1 communications satellite in August 1960. Echo 1 was a

huge 100’-diameter balloon-like satellite that was visible at night from Earth. Later in the year, Mrs. Lancaster would announce in science class from time to time the Echo 1 passings, which would impel us to go to the golf course after dinner to see the satellite glide overhead.


Other space events witnessed on the golf course would be the nightly meteorite streakings through the upper atmosphere and the very occasional falling stars. Also to be seen was the pinkish aurora borealis, a phenomenon I remember studying in science class in anticipation of one memorable night of occurrence.


More “out there” in our youthful imaginings were the big questions, sometimes posed to us by our scientifically-minded fathers. I remember pondering with my buddies two particular conundrums. What happens when an unstoppable object collides with an immovable object? What is the other side of the end of space? A favored book purchase from a Dahlgren School book sale was a 1960 Ace Paperback by broadcaster Frank Edwards titled Stranger Than Science. This collection of stories about “weird and uncanny human powers, happenings and discoveries that science could not explain” generated months of discussion in our circle.


Dahlgren School encouraged us to engage with current events. In 1960 we held a mock election. The Kennedy-Nixon contest was historic, as everybody recognized at the time. I remember my parents hosting a cocktail party at the CO’s quarters for probably the second debate, a one-hour event, held on Friday, October 7, at 7:30. They brought the TV downstairs and into the large living room where they entertained. Guests huddled around the set, transfixed.


For the school’s mock election, the chief scientist’s son, John Lyddane, played Nixon. I was Thruston B. Morton, his campaign manager, and fellow classmate Carl Sparks was Eisenhower. I can’t remember who played Lodge. It might have been classmate Pete Olnick. The Democrats were run by our great friend, fellow prankster and classmate Paul Glancy, now of Paul’s Bakery fame in Fredericksburg. We all somehow managed to acquire campaign buttons, handouts, and posters. Paul outdid all of us Republicans. He got two huge 3x5-foot posters of JFK and Johnson and hung them facing each other in the hall outside Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Lancaster’s classrooms. I was so impressed that I bought them for maybe 25¢ after the election. I still have them in storage somewhere. Anyway, we campaigned throughout the school, whistle-stopping from classroom to classroom, speechifying and making promises to all grades, bottom to top. Somehow, we pulled off a narrow victory for the Nixon-Lodge ticket, notwithstanding Paul’s visual showmanship. Many years later, however, Johnny confessed to me that he had his youngest brother, Charlie, a first-grader at the time, go around after us to hand out M&Ms and other candies to the kids for their votes. Count that as an early, real-life political lesson learned.


John was my best friend, the eldest son of NWL’s technical director, Dr. Russell Lyddane. A

brilliant intellect who had been at Dahlgren since the War, Russ had worked his way up to be the facility’s senior civilian. John’s mother, Lucy, was an Ashton, a huge family that populated almost all the area adjacent to the base. Known as Mathias Point, it comprised the upstream Virginia shoreline along the great bend in the Potomac River.


When not focused on the serious national-security business at hand, Russ had a twinkle in his eye, best evidenced by one corner of his musical tastes—the songs of the Harvard satirist

and mathematician Tom Lehrer. Johnny introduced me to Lehrer via his first record released way back in 1953. He and his brothers had memorized most of the tracks. One afternoon, John, his older sister Elizabeth, and I secreted ourselves in his father’s den, whereupon John played his fave track, the Boy Scouts’ marching song “Be Prepared.” Giggling, he sang along, until, raising his voice and glancing toward Elizabeth, he fortissimo’d, “Don’t solicit for your sister, that’s not nice, unless you get a good percentage of her price.”


Russ Lyddane led NWL science at a time when Dahlgren was the

Navy’s testing facility for all its weapons and ordnance. An inspired manager, he ruled from his second-floor office in the admin building where my father also worked, adjacent to the water tower off the intersection of Welsh and Sampson. One afternoon, John and I decided to go see our dads at work. Going into Russ Lyddane’s office, I remember three walls of wall-to-wall blackboard and a fourth all windows overlooking the golf course. Each blackboard was filled with highly complex mathematical equations. The great scientist always identified himself as a “ballistician.”


Russ and my father ran NWL at a time of immense change, particularly with regard to computing. Since the mid-fifties, Dahlgren had already been hosting rapidly advancing

computer capabilities, housed in the “Restricted Area’s” legendary K Lab. The Computation and Ballistics Department in K Lab hosted the Naval Ordnance Research Calculator (NORC), then alleged to be the world’s most powerful and fastest computer — the first supercomputer. NORC was an original mainframe powered by a voluminous number of vacuum tubes. By the time my father arrived in Dahlgren, supercomputing was providing, for example, spotting doctrines for naval gun fire and optimizing air points for the Polaris A-1 missile, the Navy’s first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Polaris initially deployed in 1960 as a mainstay of our strategic nuclear deterrent force. K Lab later added two IBM 7090 computers as an upgrade to NORC. After my father arrived, the Navy began negotiations for the delivery of an IBM 7030, the so-called STRETCH computer, IBM's first transistorized supercomputer. When the 7030 came online in 1961, it was the fastest computer in the world until Control Data Corporation’s first 6600 became operational in 1964. I believe I am correct in saying that Dahlgren was then the only federal facility that had an IBM mainframe supercomputer other than Los Alamos.


Every year on Armed Forces Day, the third Saturday in May, dependents had access to the Restricted Area, K Lab and NORC with its IBM upgrades. Computer demonstrations included personalized printouts welcoming each of us to NORC, birthday cards and NORC music-making. Other Restricted-Area excitements were getting locked for several minutes with a score of others in the freezing chamber (for testing the effect of extreme temperature on munitions) — Don’t touch the walls! — and going to the firing line to witness the massively loud 16” guns shoot projectiles through the towers that supported the timing devices for determining their velocities before lofting downrange to conclude with a splash in the Potomac somewhere off St. Clements Island.


A year or so before Dad took command, Dahlgren had stood up its first tenant activity, NAVSPASUR, the Naval Space Surveillance Facility for tracking satellites, then thought to number some 28 known, as well as the undetermined number of unknown satellites. The vital importance of this system was to serve as a counter to Soviet satellites that could observe and track our fleet movements, provide communications intercepts and relay capabilities, conduct electromagnetic jamming, and furnish early warning against our fleet attacks. If Soviet reconnaissance satellites linked with weapon systems could react fast enough to compromise our fleet mobility, then NAVSPASUR was there to detect and determine satellite orbits and predict their future positions. NAVSPASUR officially opened a month after my father arrived.



To return to my friend Johnny Lyddane. I was fortunate to have him

two doors down the road on Upper Sampson Road, sometimes called

Captains’ Row. He was an amiable, smart, and thoroughly knowledgeable prankster who knew his way around and was prepared to share it with me. Johnny’s pranks were very much influenced by the character of his scientific father.


My best example of this truth is a prank he shared with me during a snowstorm sometime in the winter of ’61. I have to say it likely occurred when we were on our way home from one of Chaplain Benjamin F. Hughes’ Sunday night confirmation classes, held in the Chapel Annex buildings across Sampson from the chapel. We detoured to a cluster of cedar trees opposite the parade ground in front of the CPO club beside the PX on Jenkins Road. John took me to a spot where we could see cars pass between one set of trees to our left and then between another set to our right drive away toward Welsh Road. This latter view had two parallel high wires, separated by about three feet, running through the cedars from the CPO club to the

street. John handed me a tightly packed snowball and told me to throw it between the wires when he whispered, “Now!” Next to me, he waited until he saw a vehicle pass between the two trees through which he was sighting. I stood ready to throw. “Now!” I threw the snowball perfectly between the wires just above and in front of me. As it arced down in its latter trajectory, a gray guard truck appeared behind the tree to the left of the wires. The snowball landed perfectly with a “Bam!” in the bed of the truck. The red brake lights slammed on and an angry guard jumped from the cab looking all around for the source of the attack. Stifling our snickers, we of course remained camouflaged amidst the cedars. It was a truly masterful prank that had required a lot of R&D to execute—most worthy of the son of a world-class ballistician.


Another one of Johnny’s pranks was a stunt he’d lead every time his Aunt Marybelle Ashton, his mother’s sister-in-law, came to substitute-teach our class. Each time she’d turn away from us to write on the blackboard, John would get the class to inch their desks forward. After several of these moments, Aunt Marybelle would turn around to face the class, only to realize—yet again—that all the desks were so closely pressed around her she could not move.


Johnny, who went on to become a hugely successful Manhattan medical malpractice attorney, savored a good prank. In summers, his signature mischief came from the 3-meter diving board. Over time, he had mastered three dives on both the one-meter and three-meter boards: the cannonball, can opener, and watermelon. John enjoyed making a big splash. His best performance was always the watermelon, a dive where he would enter the water headfirst and roll forward onto his back, tucking his legs to his backside. It produced a massively broad and directed splash. Perfecting his watermelon from the three-meter board, John could target the right side of the pool—the sunny side—that was the favored spot for the sunbathers seeking the absence of shade. There, the high-school girls and our junior-high contemporaries would lie on their towels, gossip, and listen to their transistor radios. Johnny would dive out and direct his watermelon their way so that a single splash could drench all the sunbathers. Suddenly soaked, they would leap from their towels screaming, “Darn you, Johnny Lyddane!” He loved it.


The swimming pool was the summer focus of teenage social life. Of course, Dahlgren offered a host of other activities: tennis, golf, fishing, scouting, and Hampton-class sailing dinghies at the waterfront. But above all, the Dahlgren School’s 7th and 8th graders dominated the scene at the pool. There, our mentors were two high-school lifeguards: Doug Gray and Skip Leith. Doug was every boy’s big brother and bothered to take a personal interest and advise one on how to proceed in life. No surprise, he went to West Point and became a special forces officer. Alas, Doug lost his life in Vietnam in 1969. Skip was also an example to us as a quiet and confident presence. He was an excellent diver who trained us to do back flips, one-and-a-halfs, and half-gainers. Every July 4th, we had the opportunity to show off our skills in diving competitions and swimming races. The pool also offered annual development of practical skills with its Red Cross junior life saving classes, led by Doug and Skip.


We’d spend all day at the pool. In its snack bar, we could lunch on the usual summer fare. The hot fudge sundaes were very popular. With several counter persons—all high schoolers—we worked out deals where we bought Dixie cups of hot fudge, without the ice cream, for a discounted price of 10¢ per.


In the summer of ’60, I spent so much time in the pool playing Marco Polo, tag, and keep away that when Mrs. Smith saw me on the first day of school, she said, “Why, Johnny Morton, have you been bleaching your hair?” Not only did I have the best tan I ever had—before or since—my hair was bleached white from all the sun and chlorine.


In the spring and autumn, our athletic focus shifted to golf. Other pick-up activities were baseball’s three fliesup and football’s keep away that we played everywhere, anytime. During the school year, Mr. Settle oversaw boys phys ed, which in the winter took us to the base gym for basketball. In the autumn of ’60, he drew upon our keep-away expertise to arrange and officiate a two-hand touch football game with a nearby junior high that we played on the parade ground. Our uniforms were street clothes. Our shoes, sneakers. We were captained by classmate Alan Hughes, who quarterbacked a great victory for us.


Further teenage imaginings were stimulated by television shows like The Twilight Zone and The Untouchables, which was popular among us boys for being unusually violent for its time. On Sunday nights, my parents invited me to watch with them the prestigious series on Winston Churchill and the War, The Valiant Years. Churchill represented for my war-bride mother and career-Navy father their bond and purpose. They had been in London together during the War until Dad went out to serve in the Pacific in 1944 as gunnery officer aboard the fast battleship North Carolina. Yeah, after The Valiant Years, I vowed to grow up to be like Churchill, but….


For a few of us, the most inspirational TV program broadcast grainy highlights of the Southeast’s stockcar races. Regular footage from Darlington, South Carolina, home of the Darlington 500, comes to mind. Stockcars captured another part of our imaginings. We boys used to bike out Main Gate to a toy and hobby store several hundred yards down on the right that carried AMT model car kits which we customized with flame and number decals, plastic lake pipes, drag slicks, turbochargers, Moon hubcaps and such. Long before “glue huffing” became known as a pre-teen problem, we used to remark innocently to each other how oddly pleasant it was to smell the Testor’s model glue and paint, as we worked on our 1:25 scale creations.


Stockcars also inspired Dahlgren’s very advanced bicycle culture among us boys. Too young for

learner’s permits, boys replicated the car culture of their futures with a bike culture that fitted the geographically small, bounded, and protected space that was Dahlgren. Some of us customized our bikes with sirens or streamers. Some would mount their handlebars backwards. I had a metallic-red Huffy with Sturmey-Archer three-speed gears, bought at the PX when I first arrived. Steve Hunt, who lived on Caffee Circle, had the most high-end bike of us all. Ahead of its time, his was a drop-handle European racing bike, presumably ten-speed, the kind that really didn’t appear in America until the end of the sixties.


Often we would attach balloons or clothes-clip playing cards to the forks, which would be

beaten by the spokes to produce a loud stockcar sound. We’d show off our riding skills with tricks like “cutting a bootleg,” the jamming of the back brake with both feet on the pedals and a nonchalant lean to the side that resulted in a controlled skid and full turnaround. In the summers, excitement would mount before the regular passings of the DDT truck. Gangs of us would chase the smoke as close as we could to ride in the DDT cloud as far as we could. Stupid, yes, but boys will be boys.


Inspired by the stockcar races, we had our own competitions on the tennis courts where we would map out a figure-of-eight racecourse that converged between the net posts. These races were a cross with a game of chicken. The results were predictable. On one occasion, I had an Annapolis friend down to stay for a week. My father rented a bike for him from some base service. We had a rally on the Sampson Road courts. Not having our experience, my buddy crashed between the nets with another rider and bent the back wheel hideously out of shape. When we returned to quarters, Dad was furious, asking us how we could have been so d----d stupid. In defense of my friend, I replied that we weren’t being stupid at all and that I was going to be a stockcar driver when I grew up—not exactly a well-considered Churchillian response to the base commander.


Back to the movies. A boy didn’t really arrive until he had his first date and picked up his girl on his bike and rode with her sitting side-saddle on the cross bar. That maneuver required a girl’s great faith in the rider. In my case, my first date was with Johnny’s older sister, Elizabeth. She was an 8th grader—an older woman, no less. My pride was overweening as I peddled us up Sampson Road, past the CO’s quarters (my house) and around to Welsh Road and the movie theater, where folks were gathering to buy their tickets for the evening feature.


Our teen culture was sustained by the music and the parties. The summer of ’60 was of course the summer that the Twist dance craze swept the country. At the pool, we soundtracked that summer and the next on our transistors. For my 14th birthday in ‘61, my dad bought me a beautiful, very sturdy Motorola transistor radio with a gray leather cover. I strapped it onto my

Huffy so I could ride around the base listening to the AM station from Washington, WPGC, 1580 on the dial. Standing for “We’re Prince George’s County,” WPGC broadcast daytime at 10,000 watts. WPGC was the only game in town for Top 40 radio, tailor-made for the sunbathers at the pool. Rock ‘n’ roll blared between the Coppertone commercials, “Tan don’t burn, get a Coppertone tan.” Every 20 minutes or so, the afternoon DJ, Dean Griffith, would put on that classic PA jingle, “Time to turn so you won’t burn.”



At night, WPGC dramatically reduced its signal, but fortunately another station in Buffalo, NY, happened to boast its nighttime signal to an astounding 50,000 watts. The station was WKBW,

1520 AM, just down the dial from WPGC. Originally a religious broadcast station, WKBW stood for: "Well Known Bible Witness." By 1960, it had converted to a more secular witness with a Top 40 format whose great nighttime rock ‘n’ roll proselytizer was the colorful Dick Biondi. I remember picking up its signal loud and clear while on my ’60 and ’61 summer vacations in the Smoky Mountains. Thanks to the WKBW signal that latter summer in the Smokies, I was able to memorize the lyrics to British pop star and “Skiffle King” Lonnie Donegan’s "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?"



Back in Dahlgren, classmate Paula Butler, who lived opposite Steve Hunt on Caffee Circle, was our frequent hostess for teen parties that she held in her basement. The deal was that

everyone had to bring their 45s for the entertainment. The PX stocked all the latest 45s, which I think sold for a do-able 50¢ a record, so we were up-to-date. The girls were into Del Shannon and “Runaway.” I preferred instrumentals like those by Johnny and the Hurricanes and the Ventures. To me, they were more manly. Of course, “Theme from A Summer Place,” the longest-running number-one instrumental in Hot 100 history, was the great slow dance number for those of us who were ready to take a romantic plunge and get close to a girl.


By way of pop music context, I came to Dahlgren the month that Elvis released his first hit after leaving the Army — “Stuck on You.” That was a big deal. It went to Number 1 and remained there for four weeks. It was followed that year by two more Number 1 hits — “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” Which brings me to “Slam Books.”


A key feature of Dahlgren junior teen culture was the Slam Book, always made from the classic marble composition school notebook. The creator of the book (most often a girl) put a question on each page and then passed it around our circle for teens to write their brief answers. Underneath each answer was a line with a number under it that a teen had chosen. In the back of the book, a list of numbers revealed the teen identities. So, a question in all Slam Books was “Who’s your favorite singer?” Answer: Elvis. Counterintuitively, I always put down Connie Francis. Why? Because I heard she was 5’2”, meaning she was shorter than I. In my callow logic, I could conceivably slow-dance with Connie Francis at Paula’s parties without being embarrassed by her height.


While Slam Books are remembered as a negative because of their potential for abuse and bullying (akin to the social media of today), I absolutely don’t recall any such thing among our set. For me, they were more educative. To wit, I remember another question that was in almost every Slam Book: “Who’s your favorite actor?” The answer was frequently this guy, despite my continual movie-going, who was completely unknown to me—Paul Newman. Well, his kind of movies were not my kind of movies. My kind were predictably different. I remember taking a date, Kit Hayes, to a particular fave: Sink the Bismarck. Not exactly a film to inspire any holding of hands. Need I add, that night was the one and only date I had with Kit. Given she was undoubtably one who would have answered Paul Newman, she must have been bored stiff—with the movie and with me.


On that note, I leave you with a tribute to Russ and Lucy Lyddane

and my parents, Tom and Sue Morton, who became instant and lifelong friends, as did I with John and his sister Elizabeth. (John is godfather to my second daughter Emily.) One tradition that developed between the senior Lyddanes and Mortons was their Saturday cocktails (Elizabeth guesses they were probably martinis, her dad’s favorite drink.) On summer evenings, Russ and Lucy would walk up Captains’ Row to the CO’s quarters with their dog, Pepi, a sparky little brown poodle. There, they would repair to the brick patio at the back of the quarters, where they would gaze across the expansive lawn to the mouth of the Machodoc where it meets the Potomac. (Before them, Pepi would playfully romp with his buddy Jan, the Morton family cat, a 15-pound mackerel tabby who, though raised as if he were a dog, was always having to defend himself against Dahlgren’s dive-bombing blue jays, much to my father’s amusement.) Raising their glasses, these hardworking national-security authority figures and their talented wives would kick back, smile, and toast, “It’s Sa’urday!”


After my mother died in 1996, Lucy took my two

then grade-school daughters aside and said, “Since you don’t have your grandmother anymore, you can always call me ‘Grandma Lucy.’” When Dad left for the Pentagon in ’66, she made for him three ceramic Dahlgren mementos—two ashtrays and a coffee mug. Among her many talents, Lucy was a featured artist among those in Dahlgren’s kiln set. I still have and use every Christmas her brown ceramic creche figurines that she gifted our family.


Dahlgren presented my father with other mementos that keep alive my fond memories of

those 17 months when I came of age over 60 years ago: a miniature Dahlgren gun that sits on our hearth and a ship’s clock that adorns our family room mantle. One of the base workshops made for us four large nesting storage trunks for our move to Arlington that are still in use for housing memorabilia. But stuck away in the void under our house extension is another item fabricated by a Dahlgren workshop and presented to Dad at his change of command: a four-foot Styrofoam trophy, spray-painted gold, awarded to my father for being a champion trophy awarder. Evidently, he was known to complain about how so much of his otherwise vitally important workweek was interrupted by having to present—as the base commander—trophies at Dahlgren’s interminable award ceremonies. Now that I have finished this memoir, it occurs to me that Russ Lyddane may have been behind that ever-so-fitting prank. And you know, I like to think he was.


About the Author


John Morton is the son of Captain Thomas H. Morton, USN, who was Commander of the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory in Dahlgren, Virginia, from March 1960 to August 1961.

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