David T. Griggs

David Tressel Griggs
Born (1911-10-06)6 October 1911
Columbus, Ohio US
Died 31 December 1974(1974-12-31) (aged 63)
Snowmass, Colorado US
Resting place Mount Griggs, Alaska US
Nationality American
Education Ohio State University, (AB, AM)
Occupation Professor of Geophysics, UCLA
Spouse(s) Helen
Children two
Parent(s) Robert Fiske Griggs
Laura Amelia Tressel Griggs
Awards Purple Heart
Medal for Merit
Air Force Exceptional Service Award[1][2]

David Tressel Griggs (6 October 1911 – 31 December 1974) was an American geophysicist. He served as the second Chief Scientist of the U.S. Air Force from 1951 to 1952. [3]

Early life

David Griggs was born in Columbus, Ohio. His father was Robert Fiske Griggs, who discovered the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes near Mount Katmai in Alaska. The highest area in this area was officially named Mount Griggs in his honor. David accompanied his father on an expedition to that area in 1930.

At age 24, Griggs had an accident while mountain climbing in the Caucasus Mountains, located between the Caspian and Black Seas. He suffered compound fractures in both legs and a dislocated knee; this rendered him physically ineligible for military service during World War II.[4]

Public service

David Griggs helped form the RAND corporation in 1947. As the Air Force chief scientist from 1951 to 1952, he supported development of the thermonuclear (or fusion) bomb, with other scientists such as Edward Teller and Luis Walter Alvarez. During that time, the chairman of the General Advisory Committee, J. Robert Oppenheimer, opposed it, hoping to restrain a predicted worldwide nuclear proliferation. Griggs was one of those whose testimony caused the Personnel Security Board's vote to suspend Oppenheimer’s security clearance in 1954, which caused several physicists to consider Griggs as the “Judas who had betrayed their god.” [5]

Griggs accompanied US Army General William Westmoreland through three extended trips to Vietnam in the mid 1960s. [6]


Griggs was a civilian non-combatant in a tactical mission over northern Italy during World War II. He was hit by a 20-mm shell from an enemy plane. After recovering from the wound, he received a Purple Heart .[7]

For his contributions during the war, President Harry S. Truman presented him a Medal for Merit, the citation reading:[8]

DR. DAVID GRIGGS, For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services as H2X Project Officer in the Eighth Air Force during the period 1 May 1943 to 1 April 1944. Dr. Griggs rendered invaluable service in connection with H2X equipment and instructing personnel to operate this equipment. Through his tireless efforts and outstanding leadership he made a substantial contribution to the heavy bombardment operations performed by the Eighth Air Force. The professional skill and the devotion to duty displayed by Dr. Griggs reflect the highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.

Griggs received the Walter H. Bucher Medal of the American Geophysical Union in 1970.

He received the Arthur L. Day Medal of the Geological Society of America in 1973.

Griggs was awarded two UD Air Force Exceptional Service Awards (1953, 1972).


Griggs suffered a heart attack during a skiing trip to Snowmass, Colorado. His daughter, Nicola Andron, died a few months later while giving birth. Her brother, Stephen, buried the ashes of Griggs and Nicola and buried them (at the site of where Griggs' parents' ashes are also buried) on Mount Griggs in Alaska - the mount named after his father, Robert Fiske Griggs.[1]



  • Christie, John M. (22 January 1976). "Memorial to David Tressel Griggs: 1911-1974" (PDF). 7. The Geological Society of America: 1–5. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  • Getting, Ivan A.; Christie, John M. (1994). "David Tressel Griggs" (PDF). Biographical Memoirs. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. 64: 112–133. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
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