Hydrofoil Pioneers...

In Memory of Mel Brown

by Robert Johnston

(Last Update 26 Feb 04)

As I read the Massachusetts Instutute of Technology (MIT) Technology Review for November/December 1997, I learned of Mel Brown's death on March 18, 1997. While Mel never became active in IHS, he was an early contributor to the development of hydrofoils and should be recognized and remembered by our Society.

Mel attended John Hopkins University and was commissioned in the US Navy upon graduation from the Naval Academy. He had an illustrious World War II war record as a survivor of the sinking of the USS INGRAHAM. Out of a crew of 230, he was one of 11 that survived. The survivors spent several days in the water before being rescued. Mel told me that the long wait for rescue took the lives of many survivors, but, he said, "Every time I thought I couldn't continue to hold on, I thought 'I can't die now, I haven't even lived.'" Upon being rescued, Mel continued his war time experience in the South Pacific, later becoming the commander of the USS LUDLOW. Following WW II, Mel was selected to attend MIT and in 1949 earned Masters Degrees in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. After several years of assignments with the Bureau of Ships in 1955 he resigned his regular Navy commission and joined the Naval Reserve, retiring as a Commander.

It was while on duty with the Bureau of Ships that he became involved with hydrofoils. These were those early years when the Navy was trying to determine whether there was any naval requirement for hydrofoils. Mel joined the team of supporters that believed in the continuation of support for investigation of this principle. He was involved with the planning of the necessary programs that led to the construction of the research and development vessels, and ultimately the PGHs and the PHMs. In the meantime, I had also joined the Naval Reserves and was heading the Miami Shipbuilding hydrofoil effort. When we received the contract to put the Army's DUKW on foils we needed a program manager for this effort. Mel joined us in that capacity and made significant contributions to the success of the Flying DUKW.

Mel's interests in the amphibious field turned to using the air cushion concept for this application. Mel then joined Bell Aero where his interest in air cushion landing craft developed and grew. When Bill Ellsworth and Jim Schuler undertook the responsiblity for the US Navy to develop this concept they brought Mel into the fold to head this effort at the David Taylor Naval Research and Development Center. The success of this effort is displayed by the current day acceptance of the LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushion) as the standard for the Navy and the Marines. Mel Brown's contribution to the US Navy will long be remembered, and we of the hydrofoil family are proud of the fact that he was also a "hydrofoiler."


DD-444 Website...

[28 Jun 01] Thank you for keeping the page on Mel. As President of the USS INGRAHAM Association every week I receive some inquiry from some family member of the DD-444. The questions range from "How did they die " to "who were the survivors and what do they say about about the accident." Sadly the families were not told about the accident and what is known and what was not. Mel kept touch with several of the families and we include the relatives of DD-444 members at our reunion. Please direct family inquiries to our web site and let everyone know that they are welcome to attend our reunions. They are part of the USS INGRAHAM family and our experience tells us that such reunion attendance will help them finally deal with their loss in a caring manner. Every reunion includes a memorial service that honors those lost in this ship and those from the later DD -694 Our we site can be found at http://geocities.com/Pentagon/Quarters/4877/ -- Jerry King, President USS INGRAHAM Association, (jandbking@earthlink.net)


From Helen Offutt Brown, Mel Brown's sister-in-law:
Thank you so much for printing the article on Mel Brown by Robert Johnston.
My husband Vernon A. Brown, was his brother, who died in 1972.

Also I would like to say here; my brother perished in WWII in the U.S.Airforce in the B-24 "Bachelor's Baby" which went down in the valley of Wales enroute to England, due to a pilot's error.  He was S/Sgt. Samuel Louis Offutt, of Md.  He enlisted in Sept.194l after recieving his Law Degree from Univ. of Baltimore. He was killed on Jan. 7th,1944.

I have tried here with no success to see if there was a newspaper in Wales that day, telling of the crash; or what ever information I could obtain. He was buried at that time in Surrey, England and later brought back here and buried in Balto. National Cemetary, where I attended his military service.

Thanks again a million times for the memorial to my wonderful brother-in-law Mel.  His wife Bette also served in the Waves. I would very much like to share two of my favorite photos of them.  I loved them both dearly.

Gratefully, Helen Offutt Brown (23 Feb 2004)

Venon and Mel Brown at USN Naval Academy and Bette (Mel's wife as a Wave) and Mel Brown in uniform in the early years.

By Bill White (rev 040226wnw)

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