BY SUSANNE CERVENKA, APP STAFF WRITER – Walter S. McAfee dreamed of getting his doctorate, but his physics department chairman suggested he take industrial arts instead.
After all, that would be more beneficial considering it was likely McAfee would teach in a black college in the South, McAfee told the Asbury Park Press in a 1982 interview, recalling the conversation he had had when he was pursuing his master’s degree at Ohio State University in the 1930s.
McAfee did teach, but never let go of his dreams. He earned his Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University in 1949 — three years after his mathematical calculations helped a team of scientists at Camp Evans in Wall bounce the first radio signals off the moon’s surface.
That effort, known as Project Diana, marked the start of the Space Age and was a precursor to space exploration, satellite communications and missile guidance systems.
His perseverance and successes over a four-decade long career as a U.S. Army astrophysicist and mathematician were lauded once again as the U.S. Postal Office at 1300 Main St. in Belmar was renamed in his honor: Dr. Walter S. McAfee Post Office Building.
The latest accolades for the renowned scientist and educator comes just days before what would have been his 105th birthday on Labor Day. McAfee, who lived in Lake Como, then named South Belmar, died in 1995.
McAfee’s youngest daughter, Marsha McAfee Bera-Morris, said it was a special honor to have her father’s name on the post office, a central public location, in the community where he raised his family and practiced the science that advanced space exploration.
“This moment provides a singular pride and satisfaction for so many of his family and friends and colleagues,” she said in her speech at the renaming ceremony.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., pushed for the federal legislation to honor McAfee, which Congress approved in August 2017.
Smith said sought the honor after several meetings with the staff at InfoAge Science History Learning Center and Museum, the nonprofit organization that promotes Camp Evans’ legacy.
Impressed by the technological advances achieved at the Army installation and the people who made it happen, Smith said he sought for recommendations from InfoAge staff about which former Camp Evans employees they thought deserved to be the honored.
They immediately suggested McAfee.
“He made an enormous contribution that continues to this day,” Smith said.
This article originally ran in the Sept. 2, 2019 edition of the Asbury Park Press and can be read online at: