BELMAR, NJ — Three days before he would have turned 105 years old, Walter S. McAfee earned a distinction held by only some 850 Americans. The U.S. Post Office building in Belmar was dedicated yesterday in honor of the late Lake Como resident — a trailblazer in the field of astro-physics.
In the August 31 ceremony attended by some 200 people, McAfee was praised and applauded for his myriad scientific achievements that placed the United States on the cutting edge of satellite communications and missile guidance technology.
McAfee first made history in 1946 at the Evans Signal Laboratory in Wall as part of Project Diana when he calculated the speed of the moon — a breakthrough achievement that heralded the beginning of space exploration. He also was the first African-American to be promoted to GS-16, a “super-grade” civilian position in the U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC), where he was inducted into its Hall of Fame.
However, McAfee’s success goes beyond his professional resume, as those who remembered him recounted at the dedication ceremony, held on 13th Avenue across from the post office at 1300 Main Street.
“He was a scholar, a physicist, a patriot and, most of all, a gentleman,” said Michael Ruane, CEO of InfoAge Science History Learning Center in Wall, where McAfee is among five individuals on its “Wall of Honor,” dedicated in 2017 to recognize their contributions to the defense of the United States.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th District), who introduced the legislation to dedicate the post office building to McAfee, recognized his commitment to education. “We remember and honor him for his lifelong commitment to learning, including his service as chairman of the board at Brookdale Community College.”
Smith also acknowledged McAfee’s perseverance in achieving his goals and pursuing his dreams. “As an African-American, Dr. McAfee overcame adversity and prejudice with courage, tenacity and faith,” he said. “His amazing life inspires. He challenges us to strive for excellence. He is a truly role model.”
The most personal look into McAfee's life was given by two members of his family — nephew Leo Cecil McAfee Jr. and daughter Marsha Bera-Morris.
Leo McAfee, who retired as a distinguished professor of engineering from Michigan State University, said his uncle influenced his decision to enter his field — and continues to make an impact on the younger generations of the family.
Bera-Morris talked about how her father’s love for astro-physics extended into his family life. “I remember him waking me up with my sister Diane (Mercedes Mc Afee) to see meteor showers and lunar eclipses,” she said. “Space was one of his true loves.”
She took a look back at his life, particularly the countless struggles he overcame as an African-American to climb the academic ladder to become a physicist — an achievement that led to a 42-year career with the U.S. Army at Fort Monmouth. She also noted that when the McAfee Center at Fort Monmouth was dedicated in his honor, it was the first time a research and development facility of its kind was named after a civilian.
Bera-Morris also acknowledged her parents' ties to the local community. For more than four decades, Walter and Viola McAfee called Lake Como home — when it was known as South Belmar.
“To have his name on a post office — a central public building in the place he called home, raised a family, honed his scientific skills and contributed to major space exploration, “she said, “this moment provides a singular pride and satisfaction for so many in the family, friends and colleagues.”
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