The 62d Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) at Ft. Totten, was Austin Wortham “Cy” Betts’ first post; and life there, leaving by 4 p.m. each day, taking Wednesday afternoons off, and living nearby; was delightful. The only adventure was breaking regulations to repair an experimental fire control unit during firing practice. A transfer to the Corps of Engineers led to assignment to Ft. Belvoir and then MIT for a master’s degree in civil engineering. Next, he was assigned to the Office of the Master of the Sword at USMA to prepare for the 1940 Olympics, a result of winning the EIGL gymnastics all-around and horizontal bar championships. However, the Olympic goal was doubly doomed. First, a hurricane and flood in New England resulted in an emergency transfer, and second, the 1940 Olympics were cancelled.
When Bermuda was selected as the location for anti-submarine bases in the Atlantic, Cy became assistant, and later, district engineer, building a base that remains active today as a commercial airport. In mid-1943, as an Airborne engineer, he was transferred to the Pentagon to be a B-29 air base construction planner for the China-Burma-India Theater. From there, he went to India, then China, where he was engineer for the Fourteenth Air Force under LTG Claire Chennault. It was an unforgettable experience as he worked with Chinese to build airbases with hand labor.
After V-J Day, Cy was assigned to the Manhattan District Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. There, he was associate director, becoming the research and development specialist he would remain for the duration of his career. An assignment to Army Field Forces HQ at Ft. Monroe lasted only eight months, as MG. K.D. Nichols, formerly of the Manhattan District but by then chief of Research and Development, requested Cy to be his executive. After attending the Industrial College, Cy was sent to G-3, HQ, USAREUR, but he did not remain there long either; he was called back to Washington to be Army advisor and director of guided missiles and receive his first star.
In 1959, BG Betts became director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, the agency’s only military director. In 1961, he was assigned to the Atomic Energy Commission as director of military applications as a major general, completing the circle that began at Los Alamos. He was recalled to the Pentagon in 1964 to conduct a study of ballistic missile defense and became chief, Office of the Chief of Research and Development, in 1966, as a lieutenant general. On retiring in 1970, he became vice president for operations at Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in San Antonio, continuing to consult long after mandatory retirement age.
His service contributions were numerous, but a quick summary includes: completion of construction projects in Massachusetts, Bermuda, and China on schedule and on or under budget under the most difficult circumstances; establishment of the Los Alamos support organization that continues to this day; crafting the policy that led the Army to adopt nuclear weapons for combat operations while fostering tri-service cooperation and restructuring research and development program presentations to introduce a coherence and rationale that had been lacking; driving the construction of prefabricated housing and a permanent computer facility at Huntsville that is still in use today; leading ARPA to achieve working relationships between military and scientific personnel that had not previously existed and recruiting the talent needed to carry them out; contributing significantly to the development of cleaner and more militarily responsive nuclear weapons with lower yields; adapting an adequate testing program after Soviet moratorium violation; and overcoming SECDEF and Congress resistance to a number of important Army programs, including a new main battle tank, a greatly improved armed helicopter, a new surface-to-surface guided missile system, and an advanced air defense system.
Cy always said that the wonderful thing about the R&D business was the caliber of the people with whom one worked, and he cited names such as Bradbury; Nichols; Glenn Seaborg (AEC), Dr. Harry Wentzel (DA civilian); Admiral John H. Sides (OSD); Dr. Harold Gaskell (OCRD); George Sutton (ARPA); Army Assistant Secretaries Willis Hawkins, Robert Johnson and Russ O’Neil; and Under Secretary of the Army Norman Augustine. With that group, he added Southwest Research Institute’s Martin Goland. The respect and admiration worked both ways; Cy was always honest, sincere, and conscientious, and these men asked for him by name over and over again because they knew what he could and would do.
Cy was also proud of his post-Army legacy, serving as executive secretary for the National Conference on the Advancement of Research, an organization bringing together R&D people from academia, government, and industry to discuss topics of mutual interest, continuing even after retiring from SWRI. He served as president of the San Antonio Rotary Club, secretary of the San Antonio chapter of Torch International, and remained active throughout his life as a fellow in the Institute of Environmental Sciences, the Society of American Military Engineers, and as an associate fellow in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Cy’s life partner, the former Edna Paterson, died of emphysema after 57 years of marriage. He remarried, marrying her close friend, Roberta Wool, a fellow tenor in their church choir whose husband, a retired Air Force officer, died after 25 years with multiple sclerosis. The Betts’ home has a quiet corner, with pictures, dedicated to their memories. The church always played an important part in his life, as a member of the choir, in addition to numerous other responsibilities. The essence of heaven, he used to say, was how one is remembered on earth. And lest there be any doubt, he will be remembered on earth by many, many people, in many walks of life, as a prince among men. He lived the creed of the Cadet Prayer as well as any graduate. Be thou at peace.
- Mrs. Roberta W. Betts (W '34)
- Lt Col James W. Leland, USAF, Retired
- COL (R) and Mrs. Thomas B. Russell '59