Yesterday, Walter Munk’s study ended and I know what his desk looks like. It is piled with papers and his recent writing. I am sure he was studying and writing right up to his last days. I was privileged to visit his La Jolla home on the hill below UCSD twice. I saw the desk and what he was working on then. It was exhilarating to realize I was in the presence of such an intellectual giant.
He had a small theater tucked into the side of the hill below his home. As a member of the San Diego Shakespeare Society I attended theater events there.
The first time his wife Judith was still alive and was herself a fascinating individual. She was an artist and architect and helped design and build their home. One of their daughters took some of us around. She led us down a trail that went to the Ocean. We didn’t go all the way to the ocean but, enough to appreciate the fun she and her sisters had growing up there.
Two major accomplishments excited me about Walter Munk. One he and Roger Revelle were instrumental in the founding of UCSD…San Diego’s most distinguished University. The other how he, a scientist and oceanographer made such a difference in the outcome of WWII. One of his lifelong studies was ocean waves.
He helped the military leaders decide when to land on the beach at Normandy. They delayed one day because of the results of his study. My uncle was a medic on D-day …he went up and down the beach 3 times. Walter Munk’s study gave them the information they needed for a smooth landing and possibly saved my uncle’s life.
Walter Munk and his wife were kind and wonderful hosts. Sadly I read a few years ago of the passing of his wife Judith. They had been married over 50 years. Walter Munk was 101 years old when he died. I attended his 100 year birthday celebration at the Old Globe Theater. It was wonderful to see him receive well-deserved accolades. A street in La Jolla down by the water was named after him. Although he was too humble to agree many called him the Einstein of the Ocean. He was definitely San Diego’s best known Oceanographer.