When reporter T.R. Reid approached his Washington Post publisher Ben Bradlee in 1981 about the possibility of taking a yearlong sabbatical to write a book about the origins of the microchip, the famous publisher asked Reid, “When do you leave for Japan?”
At that time, most of the world drew the same conclusion as Bradlee did because Japan was the world leader in microchip production. Four years later, Reid’s book, “The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution,” helped to enlighten the world that it was American ingenuity, which sparked the electronics revolution. More specifically, it was Texas Instrument’s new employee Jack Kilby who demonstrated the world’s first successful integrated circuit.
That invention placed Kilby on the highest mantel, alongside great American inventors like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright brothers. Though humble in his demeanor, Kilby was proud of that distinction. He was, after all, an American patriot.
Five days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, he volunteered for the U.S. Army Reserves during his freshman year at the University of Illinois. As a 19-year-old college sophomore, six months later, Kilby unselfishly put his education and career goals on hold when he was called to active duty.
In his book “Jack St. Clair Kilby: A Man of Few Words,” Kilby’s engineering peer and friend Ed Millis documented that Kilby trained briefly as a Signal Corps recruit before transferring to the Office of Strategic Services, better known as OSS, which later became the Central Intelligence Agency. After specialized training, he was assigned to Detachment 101 of the OSS, a precursor to the Green Berets. In India and Burma, Kilby served in radio operations, intelligence gathering and radio repair. He even drove a truck, when needed. He earned an honorable discharge on Christmas Eve 1945, and renewed his educational pursuits at Illinois a few weeks later.
Recognizing Kilby’s service to his country, both as an inventor and as a soldier, the theme for Jack Kilby Day easily took on a patriotic flair. Scheduled for the day are displays of military vehicles, live patriotic music performances, and a flyover during Saturday’s lighting ceremony in downtown Great Bend.
The Great Bend Army Air Field Museum will display four military vehicles at Kilby Square, beginning around noon. Kevin Lockwood, who has been restoring military vehicles since 1995, said the vehicles scheduled for display are: a 1942 Ford-built jeep; a 1941 Dodge half-ton general purpose carrier (pick-up); a 1944 one-and-a-quarter-ton Dodge weapons carrier; and a 1941 armored half-track. Lockwood said the museum also will provide a small radio and Signal Corps display so people can see how those items operated back then.
Great Bend High School’s A Cappella Choir will start the 7:30 p.m. ceremony with two songs. Immediately following the choir, the GBHS Band will perform two songs, with the flyover sandwiched in between the band performances. Renowned tenor soloist Trent Green will perform three songs, intermittently throughout the evening, including a rendition of “God Bless America” in a cappella to end the ceremony as the sculpture is being lighted. (For a detailed list of all performances, check the program schedule in this issue of the Great Bend Tribune.)
“This day has something for everyone to enjoy and it is a fitting tribute to Jack Kilby, who proudly claimed Great Bend as his hometown,” said Glenn Opie, who chairs the Committee to Honor Jack Kilby. “Jack was humble, but he was a lifelong great American who continues to inspire this community nearly seven years after his passing. We hope people will come out in droves to meet his family and friends, meet those connected to the monument, and most of all, to honor Jack for his worthwhile achievements to mankind.”