Korean Service
Author of Korean War PhotoDocumentary
Purple Heart
At The Han, 1952

From Successful Middle Management

To The Unemployment Line

Hilac Completed, 1972

One year after my finest technical and management success up to that time, the great American Scientist Albert Ghiorso forced my resignation from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. I was umemployed, career in shambles, spirit almost broken.

In retrospect, this was largely a form of delayed collateral damage from the Korean War.

Combat can give you an attitude.

Just training for combat, going through Boots or Basic, can change you. Actually facing an armed and angry enemy, and surviving ... can change you a lot more. You develop values and behavior patterns that may last years, even a lifetime. But survival priorities in combat can be completely opposite to those of peacetime. Particularly when they seriously impact on others, as in a leadership role.

Americans are intelligent, impulsive individualists. Leadership and guidance in combat must be strong enough to form us into a coordinated force with a specific purpose. Leadership must be direct, uncomplicated and based on mutual trust. Otherwise, key people may make snap decisions entirely on their own, with limited information and objectives. Their individual strengths and courage may be simply thrown away in unconnected sacrifices. With their best men gone, the entire unit may be destroyed.

In peacetime, strong control is resented, and where needed it must be applied with subtlety. A manager must be aware of the strengths and problems of different personality types, and must incorporate this awareness when dealing with different individuals. Leadership must gain group cooperation by mutual agreement. Personality, human-relations skills and persuasion are vital in focusing the strengths and contributions of key people on the most important problems. If a manager fails in this, without directed collaboraton of its best people, the entire project may fail.

Korea changed my attitude from friendly wonder at our amazing world to constantly expecting trouble, and a ruthless drive to overcome it. I gave no thought to tact or other human-relation skills. This is a dangerously flawed management technique, in more relaxed civilian life.

In May, 2011, I was asked to give information and insight into the life of one of America's finest scientists, Albert Ghiorso. I had worked fairly closely with Albert for over five years, and been his Project Engineer for the Hilac. Our Crew had always been underfunded and understaffed, but had been successful anyway. When we were tasked with building a new accelerator, the SuperHilac, we didn't expect that to change and it didn't, except for adding severe time constraints. Under this kind of pressure, psychologically similar to survival pressure in combat, all-out effort was essential and my intense drive was effective. Against all odds, we succeeded in giving Albert and LBL an International Heavy-Ion Research Facility.

But repeatedly overcoming problems that require maximum efforts by driving ordinary people to their limits isn't often the best way to work with them. Even when successful it can create enemies, not admiration. Even one resentful colleague may cause more professional harm by deceit and distortion than can be overcome by true accomplishment.

For example, I was totally unaware of how a passive-aggressive colleague can undermine one's reputation. I proved the Program Manager had incorrectly evaluated the stresses on the giant SuperHilac input transformer banks, showing they would probably have blown up during initial accelerator cavity conditioning. Almost overburdened by other tasks, I simply replaced his plan with an effective protective design and moved on. This seeming contempt made a powerful enemy, and my obtuseness prevented me from even suspecting the fact, far less defending myself.

About a year after my Engineering team completed our remarkable feat Albert replaced me as Project Engineer on the next machine, the Bevalac. He felt my attitude was "too abrasive" to gain the "willing" cooperation of our staff. Regardless of my unbroken string of major accomplishments in middle management, he considered me unfit to continue at that level.

Albert, as true an innocent in his way as I in mine, would have been an easy target for cleverly presented misinformation but ... and the point of this discourse ... combat in Korea had indeed fatally flawed my "attitude" as a manager in organizations not forced to deal with extreme financial and technical constraints.

The weakness of pride caused me to resign from Berkeley, my career virtually destroyed and, in many ways, my family as well. I was lucky to get a fresh start at Los Alamos, and make a difficult but eventually successful comeback.

I hope my comrades in arms are sufficiently intelligent, practical, fore-warned ... or all three ... to avoid similar damage but, if not, I sincerely hope my observations here will help them deal with their own difficulties.

Well, that's all in the past, isn't it? I feel honored to even be asked for background input on this brilliant scientist. These attached emails were intended to pay Albert my final respects. I think they do.

This page is part of my autobiography. The appended emails include a discussion of the only blot on my professional career, so are properly included.

But besides giving insight into the brilliant scientist for whom I worked, they are an honest and objective explanation to myself of the events through which the "attitude" of this particular veteran caused him to flounder in civilian life, so many years ago. Unintentionally, they may also show how a great man's priorities in advancing science can sometimes devastate the lives of the imperfect creatures who make the advance possible.

In any case, to Albert ... and to all of us, soon enough ... Rest In Peace.

Bert Kortegaard, 7/5/2011
Semper Fi, and GO NAVY!

Bert Kortegaard

Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 11:05:31 -0700
From: Art Ritchie art3030@comcast.net
Subject: [Fwd: Query about Albert Ghiorso]

Hi folks,

As many of you know, we lost Al Ghiorso last year in late December. Some of you may remember Bob Schmieder who worked with Al several years ago. I came to the HILAC after Bob had departed. Through our colleague Bud Larsh, Bob discovered that I arrange a periodic lunch for the Super HILAC Old Phart's Gang.

Bob is currently writing a biography of Al and would be very interested in interviewing anyone who worked with Al. I have forwarded Bob's email regarding his work on Al's biography and his desire to contact people who worked with Al. See below. I have cc'd Bob in this email.

From: Bert Kortegaard [mailto:korteng@rt66.com]
Sent: Sunday, May 22, 2011 12:29 PM
To: robert@schmieder.com
Cc: Bud Larsh 'Art Ritchie'
Subject: Fwd: Query about Albert Ghiorso


I was Electronics Project Engineer for Albert on the Hilac, the Super Hilac, and for a brief time the Bevalac.

Albert relieved me as Bevalac Project Engineer on the grounds that it was a level of management that exceeded my abilities. I resigned in a daze, but he was entirely correct. So my most personal contribution to your serious study of Albert is that, although on several occasions I know he was duped by people who preyed on his sense of justice, he was an excellent judge of men, and our abilities. He was also intensely loyal for previous work even when his judgement eventually became negative. After I resigned he arranged a year in Germany (Darmstadt), and provided a wonderful reference which helped me get into the laser control field at Los Alamos. At Los Alamos I heeded his advice and stayed at the laboratory and small engineering team management level where I was primarily the lead engineer. Doing interesting and challenging work, but keeping within my strengths, has resulted in a wonderful professional life, which I really owe to his judgment.

At the engineering level, Albert's most interesting approach was his tendency to do experiments which involved simultaneously changing several critical parameters in a single experiment and estimating their individual effects by observing the single outcome. This was a mental form of Design Of Experiments. I never saw him actually do the statistics required by formal DOE, and I'm really not certain to what extent he routinely did that in all his professional work. But he did routinely order us to change alignment controls involving five or six parameters in single experiments ... which I thought would require about 64 separate tests, a practical impossibility ... and interpreted the significance of the single result with a high enough degree of confidence to direct us on the final configuration. We couldn't prove his reasoning was correct, but the results were usually clear improvements. I have never seen anyone else even try to do this.

As a manager himself, he never micro-managed. He was results-oriented, and yet when we reached those results we realized that he had determined the key technical considerations of our engineering approach at the outset, evaluated them, decided they were not-unreasonable, and then let us do our job.

If I had written a book about Albert, the last paragraph would be a single sentence:
Albert Ghiorso was a remarkable man.


Bert Kortegaard

From: "Robert Schmieder"
To: "'Bert Kortegaard'"
Subject: RE: Query about Albert Ghiorso
Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 15:32:11 -0700

Hi Bert-

What a superb essay about Albert--thank you so very much. It adds to the picture of him that has developed from my many years of friendship and his many friends. With you permission I will use your input in one form or another in the book. Thank you so much!

Actually, your name is very familiar to me, because we were at the HILAC at the same time, and I remember you (admittedly only vaguely). I was there 1969-74 as a postdoc. While I didn't spend much time in the HILAC control room, I did spend a lot of time in Bldg. 71. Ironically, I'm spending a lot of time there again, because Albert's things are all collected in a room, and I am working through them.

Some time ago I found your website ./b606.htm, and I just looked at it again. You certainly distinguished yourself, giving a gentle lie to Albert's decision to let you go. You are uncommonly generous to him, but also correct in your judgment of him as an intuitive person. From my observations of him, that is one of his most certain features.

In about a month I'm on my way to Darmstadt, to consult with the staff (Peter Armbruster, etc.) who worked on some projects with Albert. Anyone you want me to say hi to?

Thanks so much Bert. Is there more in your mind about Albert that I could draw out in a personal meeting, or that you might feel moved to write? If so, know how much your knowledge and insight will contribute, and for that I am most grateful.

You can see stuff about m, and Albert, at www.schmieder.com.



Dr. Robert W. Schmieder
(925) 934-3735

From: Bert Kortegaard [mailto:korteng@rt66.com]
Sent: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 12:38 AM
To: robert@schmieder.com
Subject: RE: Query about Albert Ghiorso

Hi Bob

You are most welcome to use any part of any communication from me for use in your biography of Albert in any way you choose. I very much hope it will be of use to future researchers who try to understand the kind of man that accomplished what he did.

That said, the following is a digression.

I truly appreciate your appraisal of my assessment of Albert as generous, and my own career as suggesting he was in error in relieving me so long ago. The event itself was obviously traumatic, and my decision to stay a working engineer rather than return to management was at times a tough one. And yet, Albert's decision truly was entirely correct, as was his advice on my future career objectives. I enter this digression at least largely because his assessment in both instances is a parallel to his approximating complex DOE methods by intuition and brilliance rather than logical proof based on complete data.

Albert could have known nothing at all about "management" methods appropriate during combat. In a real way that was how I managed ... "no matter what happens, no matter how it looks, just keep your cool and keep your focus and kill every one of the bastards". In a fundamental sense my management approach was similar to how my little ship Wantuck helped win our Korean Presidential Unit Citation at Inchon in spite of having only about 1/4 the strength every tactical plan would have required as a minimum for success. If this interests you at all, I summed up that sort of problem in./BlueControl.htm

Translating that approach to managing happy, peaceful civilians on a job where we were equally under-staffed, under-funded, under-supported and the object of hostile criticism by those in our support base who wanted what few resources we did have for their own use .... didn't work. It could never have worked. Had I been a decent manager in civilian life I would simply have summed up the difficulties and acted logically. Instead of driving everyone beyond their limits to get the job done anyway, I should simply have declined the job in the first place. Maybe that offers some key to Albert's decision-making process. He most likely did estimate the probability of our getting the job done according to his management standards and levels of employee expectation, decided we couldn't do it without help, saw that I was taking a course that would not succeed, and ... zap.

In the event, my replacements got more than double the manpower and financial resources than we had been given, and still took over twice as long to complete the job as we had been allocated. I guess Albert may not have needed a lot of data or complicated calculations, at that.

I had worked all this out by the time I might have gone back into management at Los Alamos. I realized my personality is suited for the intense all-out sort of intellectual attack that frequently crushes all difficulties in attacking desperate technical problems, but is disastrous in general management. I could have made the adjustments, I believe. But it just wouldn't have been any fun. ;~)

Again, Albert intuitively saw enough of all this to just reach out and profoundly touch my life in two places, and go on with his own without breaking stride.

If you really, really, really get bored and want a digression yourself, you might be interested in this allegorical mockery of successful management that I wrote many years after the above events../Ron/AllegoryFrame.htm

As you may now agree, I am not being generous in my discussion of Albert. Just as honest as a person ... who fundamentally enjoys life and its daily struggles more than "success" .... can be.

End of digression.

If you are a skilled interviewer, you might possibly be able to draw more relevant information about Albert from me by dropping by on your way to Darmstadt. I am convinced future generations need to know a lot more about our scientific heroes than just the discoveries they made, if our nation is to ever regain its technical greatness. So, I would try to be available if you take the detour, and I'd like to know you anyway. I've only taken time to partially browse your site, but it seems to indicate you are doing a lot more with your life than summarizing the life of a friend, however great a man. Still, unless you are very skilled at doing that sort of fishing you might better pass, I probably can't tell you anything Albert's many friends haven't already confirmed in your own observations.

As for Darmstadt, I can clearly remember the men I worked with there, and the families they were kind enough to let my own family meet, but I've forgotten too many names to wish to be remembered 35 years later. I do wish you would pass on one general observation, though, if you will. The scientists, engineers and technicians whom we knew were wonderful to us. I still speak passable umgehen Deutsch, and still have the warmest memories of Germany and its people. So, if you will, you may pass on my family's most sincere appreciation for their kindness. We've always been grateful and proud to have known them.


From: "Robert Schmieder"
To: "'Bert Kortegaard'"
Subject: RE: Query about Albert Ghiorso
Date: Wed, 25 May 2011 16:37:43 -0700

Hi Bert-

I had a great meeting (3 hours!) with Rich Leres yesterday, and you were in our conversation. I so much appreciate your non-rose-colored glasses picture of Albert, and I was able to get Rich to mention a few similar impressions. All these comments will go into making the picture of Albert, and I hope it will be the better for them.

We came across a picture of Bette Shipley. She was such an interesting character, and if she's still alive I'd love to track her down. Do you have any recollections of her (good or bad!).

I realized that I don't know where you live. Los Alamos? If you have any particular friends in Darmstadt, I'll be happy to do my best to find them and deliver your greetings.

There's nothing about Albert, LBL, and your career that I'm not interested in. The more off-line stories I have, the more copies of the book we'll sell! Besides, I'm getting a thrill learning so much more than I ever expected. So any other stories will be most welcome.



Dr. Robert W. Schmieder
(925) 934-3735

From: Bert Kortegaard [mailto:korteng@rt66.com]
Sent: Thursday, May 26, 2011 3:12 AM
To: robert@schmieder.com
Subject: A moment in time

Hi Bob,

First things, please give my very best to Rich Leres. I remember him well, with considerable respect for his team approach as well as his energy and professional abilities.

Next, as well as passing on our general appreciation for everyone's kindness which I have already asked, we did have two particularly `close friends at GSI to whom Barbara and I would ask you to pay our respects if possible. Peter Finke and Helgi Villiamson, and their lovely ladies. Intelligent, imaginative, compassionate, dedicated, and so very human. It's been 36 years but Barbara and I remember all of us ... the way we were ...

Now, I ask you to go back to April 20, 1972, a moment in time when the Engineering, Maintenance, Drafting and Operations staff under Albert were the finest collection of people I have ever worked with. We were at our peak, we were a complete team, and every one of us thought we were as skilled, responsible, competent and fine a bunch of professionals as you could find anywhere. I've worked with some truly great engineers and scientists before then, and since then, but I've never had any reason to change my opinion of that moment.

We had all made heroic efforts ... as always underfunded and understaffed and with time schedules pulled out of Bob Main's hat ... but we had finished the SuperHilac. I had spent a final 72 hours in the control room, gradually nursing the RF cavities through out-gas sparking until we had reached full energy and could hold it. John Parle's instrumentation showed all systems go. Bill Stahl's 6949 cavities all held up. Jock Fugitt's RF drive systems and power supplies met every requirement and, together with my own closed-loop drive controls, forced the RF systems to recover from each cavity break-down at unprecedented speed. Ron Milner's brilliant video display of all the chaotic activity showed the amazing power of the energy-absorbing processes.

Within an hour after I reported full beam to Main, he and Albert and Glenn Seaborg showed up out of nowhere, with an LBL cameraman and Chet Hatch and Rudy for a backdrop, and took this picture for the LBNL image library. I hadn't realized I was even in the picture, but there I am on the right with folded arms and ski jacket and 3-day beard, feeling a little unloved and looking a little sour.


One reason we had always been so successful was that I never did much management work. Until I was assigned the Bevalac I was mainly the lead Electrical Engineer, though not nearly at the skill level where I finished my career. (Lifetime learning does have its effect.)  

Just consider a few of the accomplishments of those of us who physically brought the SuperHilac to this plateau which, apart from providing the research instrument you were able to use, also made the Bevalac project possible at all.

Finding a major RCA design flaw was an accomplishment of my own. Each RCA 6949 pantagraph power amplifier had cost $20,000 and lasted an average of 1,000 hours. This had kept the Hilac operating budget crippled and would have made the proposed SuperHilac too costly to operate. I had analyzed the failure mode and time sequence and concluded creep in length of the 48 filaments edged them into the optical region, and was the problem. This had to mean they were not properly sintering the filament bars. RCA had denied this possibility, so I had taken one failed tube out to Lancaster and proved my thesis on their own equipment forcing them to correct their process. With that, 6949 failures virtually ended. About 1980 my friend Jock Fugitt, who had eventually been given my old Project Engineering job, wrote me a commendation at LANL saying they just about couldn't make the tubes fail, so even though RCA raised their cost to $200,000 the operating budget was zero. Jock was kind enough to say I had saved the Bevalac budget some 5M$ in 1980 money (about 10 times what I was paid my entire career) More importantly to me, LANL also used these tubes at Phermex, and it was the former Phermex engineer Bob Stapleton who actually hired me at LANL when he heard I had been forced to resign at Berkeley.

Spence Knoll's innovative organization for keeping our working drawings going while at the same time allowing us all to change them on-the-fly as we did testing and redesign was superb. John Parle's instrumentation work was good enough for him to be offered a development engineer job in Washington State. Jim Johnston's ability to keep the tech force on hand yet never under foot had to be seen to be appreciated. And more. And more.

There were literally dozens of difficult tasks done by all the SuperHilac staff that are worth studying. One of the big design concerns was the probability that the main power transformers which supplied modulator power would blow up. They already had blown up once, under less stress, but my predecessor Bob Smith had proved it an anomaly. Or had he? I reviewed his work and found he had used impedance methods, essentially steady-state calculations, but the fault currents that stressed the transformers when the modulator banks broke down were of course transients, and simple calculus showed they were over three times higher than Bob had calculated, plus they were practically undamped, making the effective number of faults almost ten times more than actual fault counts. The insulation stresses were ... I forget exactly, but a significant power function of the fault energy ... and those transformers seemed very likely to blow up during initial cavity conditioning. Rudy Johnson designed a lossy series-current loop that greatly reduced the true peak fault current and also critically damped the ringing, to a level consistent with a 20 year insulation life expectancy without significant decrease in power efficiency. This was a simple technical problem when addressed correctly, but my predecessor had a PhD in Engineering .... We were not only capable practically, we were technically rigorous.

I'll close with an image which might give you an outside observer's perception of what we had done..

A couple of months after we were at full operation a visiting GSI engineering manager was sitting in our control room as we brought the systems back up after having one accelerating cavity at air for maintenance. I saw his jaw literally drop and his eyes visibly widen as he stared at Milner's video displays of the chaos in the cavities and the RF systems driving them, as they relentlessly flooded the cavities with enough energy to crash through the multipactoring regions which had of course been the reason prior outgassing correction took so long. The rest of us had become accustomed to what a great job we all had done, but to see this comic reaction of a respected foreign colleague who had never actually pictured what we had been able to do was very gratifying. I will admit this is still a high point in my life.

It's closing on 4am just now. Thinking back to the magnificent group we once were, I am becoming a little sad. So many of them have died, just as have so many of my best friends from the terrible days of the Korean War. Still, they all live in my memories, they really do. Our home is in White Rock, a bedroom community some 15 miles east of Los Alamos and a thousand feet lower. At these moments, in my dark little computer room, blinds open to the darkness of the mesa, I can almost sense Ghosts of Indians Past peering in at me, but I can never quite sense what they are thinking. I hope we would like one another. And so, at this moment, I will admit that I think Albert had quite a lot to answer for when he gave us such a tough task as the Bevalac, and didn't fight for the support he knew Main had promised us and could see we needed.

We were terrific technically, and even I wasn't hopeless as a manager when tasks were within our strength. It was a little hard for all of us but, for me, it was the first major professional battle I had ever lost, and is still the only one. And it was a battle I didn't even know I was in until Albert told me I had lost it.

While I drove everyone too far doing the best job we could, expecting promised help before we collapsed, Main and Albert simply made a bargain to get all the help needed by giving Hartwig control of our little machine and the little band of brothers who had built it. Since by then everyone already wanted to shoot me anyway, that part of their decision was easy.

In these small hours, I can admit I think Albert had better choices than the one he made. Choices affecting others than myself. To mention one, before telling me I had lost the fight I wish he had told me who I was fighting. We both knew I didn't understand politics. Giving me a fighting chance to face Hartwig directly and address whatever objections he had to providing me the support seems one reasonable alternative to making high-level deals and then shooting me out of hand. Another alternative, had Albert just elected to alert me in time, with an unblemished 15 year performance record at Berkeley I could almost certainly have found a challenging and comparable management position at LANL.

Still, what actually happened may have been the best thing that could have happened, for me.

Although coming here with my career in shambles and my spirit almost broken, I have been very happy. I have been privileged to fight it out through most of the best theoretical and engineering efforts of my career. I even became a Program Manager my last few years ... I had to, it was my own program.

I've been content with my world just the way it is, and myself, for a long time. I would never even have thought back on this if you hadn't sent me that email.

Most of the people I know today are retired LANL colleagues at our Senior Center, or other Korean War veterans, and I'm proud to say they seem to like and respect me, as I do them. I'll never be the man my dog thinks I am but, nearing life's end, I can't see that Albert made any clearly damaging effect on my life, just forced me into paths I might not have chosen myself. And after all, he opened the door to a few of my best engineering challenges. I do greatly respect the scientist, and also the man. And, though there may still be a little pain just below the threshold ... at the moment it all seems like yesterday ... it was actually a very long time ago.

Best regards, and best of luck with the bio.


From: "Robert Schmieder"
To: "'Bert Kortegaard'"
Subject: RE: A moment in time
Date: Thu, 26 May 2011 07:37:33 -0700

Oh my goodness, Bert…

This is by far the most eloquent and perceptive portrait of Albert and the HILAC team that I have so far (and probably will ever get). Please know two things: First, this will materially enhance the book by bringing insight and interest and balance. I must say this is an author's dream, and for that I cannot adequately express my appreciation. Second, you will have to partially trust that I will not use this to anyone's harm. I hope I will be able to provide drafts of the manuscript to you to make sure you're OK with it.

The real value in what you write here is the image of the crack HILAC team. I knew this was the case, but I am not qualified to formulate it. Having it in your words is priceless.

There is one more item you might be able to help me with: You mention a lot of names from that period. I wonder if you would be willing to simply write a list of names you remember and tell me their roles were, to the best of your knowledge. For instance, Bill Stahl was the ___. I am collecting lots of pictures and other references, but to be honest, I am still assembling the cast. You didn't mention Bette Shipley; did you know her? Have any juicy stories about her?

Bert, this is simply great. It would be so great to be able to meet you personally, but I don't have any plans right now to be in White Rock. If I get anywhere near, I'll come see you for sure. You certainly have more than my thanks--you have a lot of respect for what you did and how you handled the manifestly wrong decision. And I do know what you mean about how events are not always in our control, but usually turn out to be for the best.

Take care, and we'll be talking again,


Dr. Robert W. Schmieder
(925) 934-3735

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