Scoop Deck spent an awesome morning with retired Capt. (Dr.) Don Walsh, pilot of the bathyscaphe Trieste, which recorded the deepest dive any man has made. He and Jacques Piccard on Jan. 23, 1960 dove 35,797 feet (6.8 miles) into the deepest known part of any ocean, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. (Navy Times has some special coverage regarding that dive in the upcoming edition.)
Walsh, a submariner by trade, shared another interesting story: how he got his doctorate. The Naval Academy grad didn’t finish on the top rungs of his class. In his words, he was “officially stupid.” After his XO tour, the Navy had a problem.
Personnel officials were confident Adm. Rickover (who personally approved all sub commanders) would blow them out of the water if they submitted an officer who didn’t graduate at the top. But they couldn’t put Walsh out to pasture. He was renowned for his dive, well respected in the research & development community and one of only a handful of servicemen personally recognized by President Eisenhower.
Walsh then came across what was a rare opportunity for an officer in his day: The chance to go to graduate school while on active duty. Personnel officials jumped on the easy solution.
Texas A&M made the deal even sweeter. Recognizing Walsh’s experience and promise, the university gave him a full scholarship. There, he worked with NASA in developing remote sensing oceanography technology. And when it was time to graduate, Walsh already had much of the course work done for his doctorate. He wanted to stay complete his studies, and the Navy still had no place to put him without embarrassing itself.
“I hadn’t yet accepted my Master’s Degree, so I pointed out that I was still ‘officially stupid,’ ” Walsh said. “I told them I needed more time at the school. The personnel folks, not wanting to face Rickover, were happy to oblige and let me stay. Well, oops, I showed back up with both degrees. And that’s how Adm. Rickover got me my Ph.D.”
Apparently Rickover no longer considered him “officially stupid,” because Walsh was soon selected to command a submarine.