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CHIPS Articles: A Night of Honor and Grace …

A Night of Honor and Grace …
A Tribute to Rear Adm. Grace M. Hopper
By Jennifer Ralston - April-June 2013
On March 1, 2013, the first day of National Women’s History Month, the Hopper Information Services Center, Office of Naval intelligence, celebrated the life and legacy of Rear Adm. Grace Hopper. Hopper’s life embodied this year’s theme: “Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination.” The tribute was held where the Navy honors its heritage’s best — the National Museum of the United States Navy located on the Washington Navy Yard.

The event was called "Night at the Museum" and brought together more than 200 Hopper Information Services Center employees, their families, and members of the Navy Historical Foundation. Senior Information Dominance Corps leaders attended and included Vice Adm. Kendall Card, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance (OPNAV N2/N6) and Rear Adm. Sam Cox, Director of the National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office and Commander of ONI. It was a special night on many levels.

Key features of the official event included guest speaker and historian retired captain Dr. Dave Rosenberg, who provided colorful highlights from Hopper's life, a journey that spanned seven decades and produced long-lasting advances for the Navy and the nation.

Dr. Rosenberg described Grace Hopper as the "Charles Lindbergh" of the computer age. Hopper earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics (with honors) from Vassar College in 1928 and earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University in 1934, the first woman to do so.

She was a member of the Vassar faculty from 1931 to 1943, when she joined the Naval Reserve. Commissioned a lieutenant (junior grade) in 1944, she was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance and immediately became involved in the development of the then-embryonic electronic computer. Over more than four decades to follow, she was in the forefront of computer and programming language progress working in both academia and industry. She retained her Naval Reserve affiliation, attaining the rank of commander before retiring at the end of 1966. Hopper was recalled to active duty in August 1967 and retired involuntarily at the age of 80 in 1986 as a rear admiral.

Hopper was a driving force behind the development of COBOL, or Common-Business-Oriented Language, an innovative computer language that enabled computers to respond to words rather than just numbers. She served as a Navy spokesperson on computer technology traveling around the nation and ultimately earned a staggering 37 honorary doctorate degrees from around the country. In addition to the Hopper Information Services Center, the Navy commissioned a destroyer, USS Hopper (DDG 70), in her honor.

Dr. Rosenberg described how Rear Adm. Hopper brought the Navy into the digital age through sheer intellect, grit and strength of personality. Her unique ability to make computers understandable to Sailors, admirals and service secretaries alike ensured the Navy was on the forefront of developing combat systems and command and control capabilities that gave the U.S. Navy a technological edge over the Soviets during the Cold War.

One of Grace Hopper’s most famous teaching techniques involved handing out salvaged Bell telephone cables cut into 11.8-inch lengths that represented the distance light travels in one nanosecond. The demonstration was meant to show that one should not waste time, not even one nanosecond. Hopper was an exemplary mathematician, but an even more persuasive visionary, communicator and teacher. Despite her frail physical stature, she was a giant in her achievements, famous for speaking truthfully and guiding the Navy forward to meet its future.

The clips culminated with a CBS "60 Minutes" special featuring Hopper. At the show's conclusion, clad in a Navy bridge coat, Hopper said, "I've received many honors and I’m grateful for them; but I’ve already received the highest award I’ll ever receive, and that has been the privilege and honor of serving very proudly in the United States Navy."

History came alive in other ways during the event. Tables displaying Grace Hopper memorabilia, probably one of the largest collections in the world, were featured. Many of the items, such as commemorative plaques, gifts, certificates, a graduation hood, and a gold coin were on loan from NCTS San Diego. Also on display were rare photographs. Grace Hopper’s alma mater recently gave the center almost all Hopper’s student holdings, including her handwritten university grade sheets and a class of 1928 yearbook. It was a treasure trove of artifacts, most of which had never been seen together in one place before. We thank the Vassar staff, the commanding officer of NCTS San Diego and the Navy Historical Foundation for making the unveiling possible.

Commanding Officer of the Hopper Information Services Center Capt. Mike Studeman, and host for the evening, summed up Hopper's life in this way, "She inspired generations of computer scientists and information systems technicians, not just in the Navy, but across the nation. She has been called 'Grandma COBOL,' 'The Grand Lady of Software,' 'Admiral of the Cyber Sea,' or simply 'Amazing Grace.' She was a very special naval officer, a great American, and a woman for the ages."

The evening affair was a fitting tribute to Grace Hopper and re-inspired a new generation of information technology professionals to follow in her footsteps. Her legacy will live long into the Navy’s information dominance future.

Hopper Information Services Center provides mission-related information technology and services to the Office of Naval Intelligence, its Echelon III commands and the fleet. Web link: www.oni.navy.mil/commands/Hopper.html.

Jennifer Ralston is the Hopper Information Services Center history and heritage leader.

"Night at the Museum" poster to honor the life and achievements of Rear Adm. Grace M. Hopper in celebration of National Women's History Month.
"Night at the Museum" poster to honor the life and achievements of Rear Adm. Grace M. Hopper in celebration of National Women's History Month.

Sailors from the Hopper Information Services Center, Office of Naval Intelligence, celebrated the life and legacy of Rear Adm. Grace Hopper at a special event for National Women’s History Month March 1, 2013 at the National Museum of the United States Navy located on the Washington Navy Yard.
Sailors from the Hopper Information Services Center, Office of Naval Intelligence, celebrated the life and legacy of Rear Adm. Grace Hopper at a special event for National Women’s History Month March 1, 2013 at the National Museum of the United States Navy located on the Washington Navy Yard.
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