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My beginning as a legally recognized individual occurred on June 13, 1928 in Bluefield, West Virginia, in the Bluefield Sanitarium, a hospital that no longer exists. Of course I can't consciously remember anything from the first two or three years of my life after birth. (And, also, one suspects, psychologically, that the earliest memories have become "memories of memories" and are comparable to traditional folk tales passed on by tellers and listeners from generation to generation.) But facts are available when direct memory fails for many circumstances.
My father, for whom I was named, was an electrical engineer and had come to Bluefield to work for the electrical utility company there which was and is the Appalachian Electric Power Company. He was a veteran of WW1 and had served in France as a lieutenant in the supply services and consequently had not been in actual front lines combat in the war. He was originally from Texas and had obtained his B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Texas Agricultural and Mechanical (Texas A. and M.).
My mother, originally Margaret Virginia Martin, but called Virginia, was herself also born in Bluefield. She had studied at West Virginia University and was a school teacher before her marriage, teaching English and sometimes Latin. But my mother's later life was considerably affected by a partial loss of hearing resulting from a scarlet fever infection that came at the time when she was a student at WVU.
Her parents had come as a couple to Bluefield from their original homes in western North Carolina. Her father, Dr. James Everett Martin, had prepared as a physician at the University of Maryland in Baltimore and came to Bluefield, which was then expanding rapidly in population, to start up his practice. But in his later years Dr. Martin became more of a real estate investor and left actual medical practice. I never saw my grandfather because he had died before I was born but I have good memories of my grandmother and of how she could play the piano at the old house which was located rather centrally in Bluefield.
A sister, Martha, was born about two and a half years later than me on November 16, 1930.
I went to the standard schools in Bluefield but also to a kindergarten before starting in the elementary school level. And my parents provided an encyclopedia, Compton's Pictured Encyclopedia, that I learned a lot from by reading it as a child. And also there were other books available from either our house or the house of the grandparents that were of educational value.
Bluefield, a small city in a comparatively remote geographical location in the Appalachians, was not a community of scholars or of high technology. It was a center of businessmen, lawyers, etc. that owed its existence to the railroad and the rich nearby coal fields of West Virginia and western Virginia. So, from the intellectual viewpoint, it offered the sort of challenge that one had to learn from the world's knowledge rather than from the knowledge of the immediate community.
By the time I was a student in high school I was reading the classic "Men of Mathematics" by E.T. Bell and I remember succeeding in proving the classic Fermat theorem about an integer multiplied by itself p times where p is a prime.
I also did electrical and chemistry experiments at that time. At first, when asked in school to prepare an essay about my career, I prepared one about a career as an electrical engineer like my father. Later, when I actually entered Carnegie Tech. in Pittsburgh I entered as a student with the major of chemical engineering.
Regarding the circumstances of my studies at Carnegie (now Carnegie Mellon U.), I was lucky to be there on a full scholarship, called the George Westinghouse Scholarship. But after one semester as a chem. eng. student I reacted negatively to the regimentation of courses such as mechanical drawing and shifted to chemistry instead. But again, after continuing in chemistry for a
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