Al Garblik, at home, in Placitas
Al Garblik—a pioneer in communications technology
—JO ANNE FREDRIKSON
The engaging twinkle in Al Garblik’s ninety-two-year-old eyes
reflects his “thirty-year-old mind.” He loves to meet
and greet people, and often can be found sampling wines at a Friday
night wine tasting at the Merc in Placitas. He outlived his wife,
who succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease late in life and lives
in Placitas with his daughter Judy. She keeps him involved with
activities of Placitas Jardineros, such as parties, game nights,
and other activities. He has a son in California, two granddaughters,
and two great-grandchildren. He’s had to give up his beloved
cigars, but still enjoys a martini now and then. He’s extremely
well-read and intensely interested in politics and the world economy.
Al Garblik is a testament to the human spirit and his passion for
learning is an inspiration.
His credentials in electrical engineering and his interest in ham
radio led him to be a part of history—some great, some regrettable,
but always exciting. He was working as a high-speed radio operator
handling overseas traffic on the “Polish circuit” in
1936 when he overheard that Warsaw was being bombed before the sound
went dead. He clearly recalls the day he was told that “The
Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor.”
These events in history changed the focus of his career with Bell
Labs. He shared that then-President Harry Truman wanted AT&T
(the telephone company) through Bell Labs to become engaged in the
war effort by operating Sandia Corporation. AT&T declined and
Truman threatened to have the Justice Department investigate them
as a monopoly. AT&T agreed to operate Sandia for one dollar
a year. Al’s early work resulted in the creation of a radio
device for the Navy to direct pilots back to aircraft carriers using
Morse Code signals emitted from a circular antenna aboard aircraft
carriers. He built the first ten himself. Subsequently, thousands
of such devices were built for both the Navy and Air Force. He received
many letters from pilots acknowledging that this technology kept
them from being lost at sea and saved their lives.
This application of high-speed Morse Code technology led to the
creation of 450 different communication channels for use by the
military in Japan, and was the subject of his Master’s thesis.
In 1949, his pioneering work, coupled with family health concerns,
led him to Albuquerque and Sandia Corporation. His work at Sandia
on the engineering aspects of Pershing missiles and with ‘Honest
John’ was his introduction to nuclear weapons and to the famed
scientists at Los Alamos that had been involved with the Manhattan
Project. He helped to create a safety device that would disarm a
nuclear weapon if the missile veered from its intended target.
He shared that although this work was exciting and challenging,
he knew that the scientists involved sincerely regretted the outcome
of their work on the first hydrogen bomb. “Those thinkers
saw hell, were privy to Dante’s inferno,” he said. They
were aghast at the damage at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the time,
Japanese kamikaze pilots were flying themselves into ships on suicide
missions much like the suicide bombers inflicting misery in the
war in Iraq. It was a difficult time in history.
His experience in the nuclear arena resulted in an invitation to
work with the Air Force on a Manhattan-like project being started
in California. The best technical people in the country were pulled
together—including Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen
bomb; two Nobel Prize-winning physicists; expert aerothermodynamacists,
and Al Garblik. They were charged with solving the problems of how
missiles could re-enter the atmosphere without burning up, and the
issue of sloshing fuel in the boosters. Al said he couldn’t
wait to go to work each day. He would again work with these famed
scientists on weapons re-entry issues in the late 1960s. His final
contribution to the U.S. missile program before his retirement in
1977 was the development of an Advanced Maneuvering Re-Entry Vehicle
to direct the trajectory of missile re-entry.
Midway through his career, Al became interested in exploring the
world. He has traveled to almost every major country on earth. He
and Judy leave soon for a trip to Europe. Laughingly, he shared
that the first Mercedes he purchased in Germany for export to the
U.S. cost a mere $2,500. He is now busy editing and transferring
his collection of three- to four-thousand photographic slides onto
CDs. Al now uses his computer rather than a ham radio to maintain
frequent conversations with people from around the world. He is
currently reading three books (on Einstein, Oppenheimer and Teller),
and trying to get a handle on global economics.
You really should meet Al. Ask him about his latest gadget.
If you have a recommendation for a person to highlight
in “Real people, real stories,” please email a paragraph
about the individual and your contact information to: email@example.com
or mail it to: Signpost, P. O. Box 889, Placitas, NM 87043.