My Grandfather: Business analytics in wartime, 1942

My Grandfather: Business analytics in wartime, 1942

Summary: Like many American veterans, my grandfather fought in World War II. But he didn't fight with bullets -- his weapon against the enemy was his brain.


Editor's note: This was first published in December 2011. We're republishing this on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. 

In May of this year, my maternal grandfather, Sidney Esikoff, passed away. He was 91 years old. He would have been 92 at the end of this month.

I wanted at the time to write about him, and the influence he had on my life. But I was too devastated and emotionally drained to deal with it.

Yes, Sid had a long and happy life, but he was very much our family leader, and it was a tough thing to even think about, let alone convey in an article.

And as collected as I was, since he had been ill and deteriorating for several years from Alzheimers, the impact was still tremendous. I really couldn't bring myself to do it.

At his services I delivered his eulogy, and I could barely do that without breaking down in tears.

Now, six months after his passing and on the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which threw this country and its allies into a global conflict against tyrannical aggression by the Nazis, Italian and Spanish Fascism and Japanese Imperialism, I finally have the motivation and the wherewithal to talk about him and what he did for our country.

My interest in my grandfather's participation in the war effort started when I was very young, when he used to tell me stories about going up in bombing raids on B-24 Liberators while stationed in Italy.

He told me that he wasn't a pilot or a bombardier, but he desperately wanted to be one. His eyesight was apparently not good enough and he wasn't considered good enough physical material either.

But he was still an officer, a Captain. When he discharged from the service in 1946, he left as a Major. He had explained to me that he was involved in US Army Air Forces as a "statistician" in the mediterranean theater, based in Italy, and they collected all kinds of reports and stuff about virtually everything the Air Forces did, from bomb damage assessments to plane replacements and death tolls and ammunition supply requirements.

He also told me that back in the early 1940s, he was one of the first people to use "computers" made by IBM, although they weren't actually called computers then. They were "Tablulating Equipment" which were automated calculators and rudimentary data processing equipment that used punch card readers for collating information.

There were few people in my family he actually spoke to about what he did during those times -- the war was an uncomfortable subject for him. On the few times he went up on missions with the bombing groups, he said that he was so scared he literally peed in his pants.

We didn't really talk about it very much as I got older either. I knew he was proud of my achievements as a writer and as a information technology professional, and we occasionally talked about our views on the world and such. His memories of the war would come up, but he would shut the conversation down soon enough.

"So many young boys died that I lost count," he used to tell me. And then we'd move on to talking about the Yankees, George Steinbrenner or Star Trek, which he introduced me to many, many years ago.

During the week my grandfather passed away, I was shown the following photograph by my aunt. It intrigued me.

If you click on the photo you can blow it up to full resolution. Sid is the young man directly behind the first officer in the first row on the left.

I remembered how Sid told me that he had "gone to Harvard," but it wasn't as a regular undergraduate. Before he enlisted, he had taken some courses at NYU for a few years and was in charge of the bookkeeping and factory floor manager for his father's fur and animal hides tanning business in Brooklyn.

But he never actually finished college and graduated per se. I would learn the details of that later on, and how it changed things.

Part of me wonders if he went to war to get the heck out of his dad's business, which was a pretty disgusting way to make a living. But I digress.

In any case, shortly after Sid passed away, I asked my mother to requisition his military records from the US government, because I was genuinely interested in what he did. And I also started investigating what this Statistical School at Harvard actually was.

Several months later, I got back a huge packet back from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. I wasn't expecting a data dump that big or anything at all, because I was told by other war vets that during the 1970s, many military records were destroyed in a fire. I was amazed by how much information the Army actually had on him.

What I learned between my own research and from Sid's records astounded me.

On March 6, 1942, 22-year old, freshly married Sid enlisted with the Army. On his paperwork, he notes that he had taken three years of accounting courses, some chemistry classes, and 400 hours of training on aircraft instrumentation.

Planes were obviously a huge passion of his.

Sometime after basic training, in June of 1942, his submitted paperwork for officer candidate school indicates that he applied for training as a meteorologist, but was asked to submit his college transcript and verify that he had completed certain courses.

Unfortunately, he never took his final exams at NYU and couldn't demonstrate what was required. So he was rejected from that program.

In September of 1942, he applied for a different officer candidacy position: Statistics, after apparently completing an eight-week course at Harvard Business School. His demonstration of mathematics and accounting proficiency obviously got him in the front door.

So what was this school at Harvard?

Shortly after the December attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and with the realization that our involvement in the war was about to escalate big time, it was apparent to the Army Air Forces that they needed some sort of standardized method for collecting and analyzing data and generating various different types of reports.

To that end, they created what was referred to the US Army Air Forces Statistical Control Division, which was about 6,000 people who were deployed overseas, and about 12,000 people deployed stateside who were mostly engaged in the Department of the Interior.

In these Statistical Control Units, which were attached to fighter and bomber squadrons, only a small portion became officer material. Over 3,000 officer candidates went through a rigorous training program at Harvard Business School.

This program was specially tailored for the task of cranking out the precursors to what we call Business Analytics or Business Intelligence experts in the computer industry today.

My grandfather was an utter whiz with numbers and became a successful commercial and residential real estate developer later on in life. Now I know how he honed his skills.

Some of the people that went through the Harvard training school either as graduates or instructors are very famous. Eugene M. Zuckert, who eventually became the seventh secretary of the Air Force, was an instructor there.

Robert McNamara was the youngest instructor at the school, and taught while he was the rank of Captain.

McNamara himself later became part of a group of business process experts at the Ford Motor Company called the "Whiz Kids" and then President of the Ford company itself.

After Ford, McNamara formed another "Whiz Kids" group during the Kennedy Administration, where he became Eighth Secretary of Defense.

A number of these members went through the same program as my grandfather, such as William Kaufmann, a very well-known nuclear defense strategist who developed the Kennedy-era and modern nuclear warfare principles of Counterforce.

Do you have your taxes done by H&R Block? You've got the US Army Air Forces Statistical School to thank for that, because Henry W. Bloch went through the very same training program as Sid.

Sid didn't kill any Nazis with rifles or in hand-to-hand combat, and while he was decorated for the theater of war he participated in, such as the air raids during Operation Tidal Wave, he never became the pilot or the navigator or bombardier he aspired to be.

But that doesn't mean his contributions and those of the other Statistical Control officers he served with weren't extremely vital. Without analysis of the data that was collected, it would have been utterly impossible to coordinate the war effort.

My Popi was a Wartime Business Analytics expert. A Whiz Kid. And I'm proud of him for that.

Did one of your relatives serve in Statistical Control during World War 2? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Enterprise Software, CXO, IBM


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • RE: My Grandfather: Business analytics in wartime, 1942

    What a different time it was. For good or for bad, we still have young men and women who the general public will never hear about, who are using their brains to help protect America. Thanks for sharing the story with us and may we never forget.
    • RE: My Grandfather: Business analytics in wartime, 1942

      Same thing here in the UK, most of the cutting-edge 'computing' geeks of the time never talked about what they did since it was top-secret, and the skills they developed in WWII needed to remain secret during the cold war.
    • RE: My Grandfather: Business analytics in wartime, 1942

      Yep there are "armies" of dedicated federal workers who work every day to ensure our guys on the front lines have the very best gear. While we federal workers take a lot of criticism, I can tell you that I am extremely proud to work with the folks I do, doing what we do in R&D science and engineering to protect the freedoms that the vast majority of people in this world could only hope to have.
      Thanks to "Sid" and the many others of quiet, dedicated folks we still have these freedoms.
      • Indeed

        I remember working a temp job in my younger days in an electronics factory that assembled two-way radios for the Army. There was a sign exhorting the workers to build the radios as if their sons would be carrying them into battle with them.
        John L. Ries
  • Commiserations JP on your loss

    ... though i can't say i know anyone that served in Statistical Control, my maternal grandfather too served during WWII - only with the U.S Marine Corp engineers in the Pacific Theater. <br><br>His commendation is a source of great pride for my mother (in particular), though like most the men who served in WW II, it's something he never liked to discuss. Actually, i never knew of it until some time after he passed away (some 20 years ago). <br><br>But closer to your inquiry, I guess having served in that branch of the Armed Services, made my grandfather a member of [i]"mechanical & engineering control"[/i].<br><br>Thank you for sharing that great insight into your grandfather's contribution to the war effort and, again, my genuine sympathy for your loss.
  • statistical in the 2nd world war

    I don't know if this is of interest but the allies used statistical mesurements based on the serial numbers of german tanks captured to determine how much tanks did the germans actually had.
  • MORE!!

    Would like to hear more, not sure if the records or other sources can show some of the things they worked on.
  • RE: My Grandfather: Business analytics in wartime, 1942

    Hi Jason,
    The tragedy of war is universal, and every country has its heroes. Every war has stories of courage and sacrifice. Even the bad guys have them. I recently read "Samurai" by Saburo Sakai and "Berlin" by Beevor. They give you a perspective on the war which I think many in the US are not familiar with. Sakai overstates his victories, but it's a gripping and harrowing read. Beevor shifts the scales. Nazi Germany lost about 75% of its men and materials on the Eastern front.
    • Interesting. And surely the sign of a madman.

      Imagine; a 75% loss of men and gear on the Eastern front. Unless one stops to really consider what that means and what it amounts to, its difficult to imagine how much lunacy is in a mind that says "lets push on" until that much destruction to your force has occurred. Normally 15% to 20% of your force destroyed is a solid indication, that unless a particularly special thing happens, if you continue to do exactly what your doing you have a problem you may not get out of. Of course its vastly different if your inflicting as serious, or more, damage to the opposing force. Of course it could be different if your force is advancing well and swallowing up decent tracts of enemy ground and creating strategic losses for them.

      But if your fighting toe to toe for the most part and you figure that your 20% wasted and the other side isn't budging, at least much...sanity dictates you start looking at new tactics and strategies before your forces start to come apart at the seams. Unless like I said, if your just holding out as long as you can for some big expected game changer to take place in your favor. Its not unlikely Hitler was, to a significant degree, holding out for a game changer in Germanys favor, but we have a fair bit of advanced research into what Germany was working on by the end of the war and we can count on the fact that most people in Germany who knew of such things, with an operational mind at the time, must have known that any such game changer was unlikely in the extreme to arrive in time to turn the tide of losses on the Eastern front.

      How many were brave enough to try and convincingly advise Hitler of that is entirely another question of course.

      To take a 75% loss of forces would only be typical in a scenario where such a force was fighting to the death, or near death, because its country and people were felt to be potentially facing extermination. There is nothing that ever indicated that Germany and its people were facing, or thought they might be facing extermination generally. Conversely, members of the Nazi Party who had a decently fulsome knowledge of the atrocities the Nazis were participating in knew quite well that they were facing extermination on a personal level.

      And therein lies the madness. As a leader to throw away so many of your own armed forces like battlefield waste for no other reason than you want to avoid your own personal extermination. Better a million of my own country men die now that I may be saved for another year. Madness.

      It should be a lesson our world learned and never forgets. When you have leaders who are willing to create and generate methodical systematic atrocities like the Nazis did, your also dealing with leaders who will gladly throw you and the ones you love under the bus, however many millions they have at their disposal, if it buys them another day in power. Its madness that many of our grandfathers seemed to inherently understand was intolerable, even when they didn't know the full degree of the depravity they were fighting against until the war was actually over.

      They fought with conviction. Can you even imagine what kind of madness might exist today if they hadn't.
  • My father in law

    ... was the radio officer on a lot of the test flights for the development of radar because he was a radio engineer. When he passed away a few years ago, I kept most of the valves (US tubes) he had; some of these are genuine WWII and brand new in their boxes. One day I will find them a home restoring equipment for a museum.

    He also did not talk much about the war. I believe that apart from some mercy missions, like dropping food to Amsterdam (there is a picture of his plane at the end of Volume 3 of "Lancaster at War"), he did not fly active missions. He had some great stories but all of these were about training and test flights after the war.
  • RE: My Grandfather: Business analytics in wartime, 1942

    What a great article, I loved it. This article actually makes me feel like wanting to know more about Sid and what else he did during his service in WWII, thank you for that. Hearing all the stories and watching all the movies and everything else about the wars, I never thought of the brains behind the the guns. It is very interesting to hear all about this and to actually hear 1 mand story. We need to keep these stories in writing before all the men and women who served are gone and can no longer tell them.

    My Dad served in the Korean War and he never spoke much about it while he was alive and now becuase of this article I have a new found passion to find out what I can about my Dad and his time in the service, again, thank you for this article.

    God Bless Sid and all the Men and Women who have and still are serving in the military.
  • Just to correct one fact ...

    I know this is an article on your Grandfather. And that his actions and your obvious love for him are the important elements. However, I can't help but correct a fact within your article.

    I'm really sorry to do this but ... "on the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which threw this country and its allies into a global conflict" is incorrect.

    Britain, the Commonwealth, Europe, and the Allies had been in a global conflict with Gernany since 1939. The Commonwealth by definition being a global alliance with members on every continent in the world. By June 1940, the Allies had declared war on Italy. Although war with Japan was not formally declared until December 7 through 20, 1941, fighting actually began with the invasion of China in 1937 and continued with the Japanese invasion of French Indochina in 1940. And of course, Germany maintained several colonies in the Pacific.

    Arguably Britain and her allies declared war on Japan due to the invasion of Hong Kong on 8 December, 1941 at roughly 8:00 am. This invasion occurred within 14 hours of the initial (naval) contacts and within 6 hours of the 7:46 am air attack on Pearl Harbour (roughly 2 am 1941.12.08 Hong Kong time). Also arguably the declaration of war by Japan 24 hours prior to the invasions may have had something to do with the Allies' declarations. (The timing of this actually makes interesting reading given the IDL and communications speed in 1941).

    The U.S. did not declare war on Germany until 11 December 1941 AFTER Germany and Italy had declared war on it.

    What the attack on Pearl Harbour did was to silence the isolationists and pro-Nazi voices in Washington allowing President Roosevelt to officially support the Allied efforts. It and the subsequent declarations of War by the Axis forced the US into the conflict despite the politcal opposition.

    Not that any of that has any bearing on either your love for Grandfather, the bravery of the people who fought or the vast loss in life.
    • RE: My Grandfather: Business analytics in wartime, 1942

      @PMPsicleNo after Pearl Harbor the USA stepped things up a notch against the axis powers. Granted we shouldn't have been helping the allies before that at all, or at least not favoring them. But hey it was a war and if the USA is nothing else it is the world's arsenal.

      At least the Bush family was in a cozy business relationship with the Nazis. I mean what's fair is fair. Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt were the real criminal gangsters of that time though. Compared to that crew the Nazis were the good guys!
      • So, your kind will find the smallest of opportunities to attack Bush,

        even if Bush had nothing to do with Sid, nor starting the war (although Bush Sr played a small role as a pilot), and wasn't even born back then. <br><br>Why couldn't you just let the attacks go for at least one discussion?<br><br>I'll bet you lose a lot of sleep each night just thinking of ways to attack the Bush family.

        I'm surprised you didn't take it all the way and blame Bush for starting WW2. So, go a head and say it now, "WW2? Bush's fault!".
      • I'm glad your side lost

        So are most people, for what I think were very good reasons.
        John L. Ries
      • Your a kook paulfx1.

        When WWII was gearing up, the United States was far from the worlds arsenal. In fact, pretty much entirely the opposite.

        What the U.S. did have was a good navy. You don't supply the rest of the world with your navy ships the way you might with rifles. And as far as tanks went, before the U.S. got really up and running in the war, they had practically no significant tank force. It was practically non existent.

        And politically, the U.S. was obviously very standoffish to the whole war until the Japanese navy kicked the snot out of Pearl Harbor and then sitting on their hands was no longer an American option of safety for the citizens.

        And this; "Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt were the real criminal gangsters of that time..... Compared to that crew the Nazis were the good guys!.".?????????????????????

        Ha! Well I guess that just about says it all dosnt it.

        I know your ilk fully suspect that when you speak your brand of tripe that you will have your detractors and decide to just live with it, so long as you say your piece. What you obviously don't realize is that because what your saying is so vastly out of skew with reality generally, that as opposed to having even some far flung hope of spreading your thoughts on how things were when you say such crazy things, your only spreading empirical evidence that your a moron. I have no idea what it is that makes you wish that the truth and reality was different than what it was and is, but your commentary is so purely ludicrous that it does nothing to spread your silly ideas and only serves to paint you as a twit.
  • extraneous "bidness"; he was an analyst

    So, he was an analyst, not a "bidness analyst". And they were "process experts", not "bidness process experts". Bidness has little to do with it. Otherwise, I agree, it's a great article.

    Some of my relatives included a precision machinist, chief QA inspector of aircraft engine parts (both beginning in 1940 to send engines and planes to England, later for diver-bombers in the Pacific theater; most of the factory workers were farm laborers quickly trained, with just a handful of engineers), a supply sergeant in Italy, and a smattering of grunts.

    Seymour Cray got his start at ERA (engineering research associates) developing power supplies and then computers for the navy and various agencies, according to a speech he gave. It gave him a respect for blending the theory he'd learned at college with empirical testing and experience, and for collaboration among people with varied knowledge and abilities.

    The discussion reminds me of _Berlin Diary_ written by a radio reporter based in Berlin in the 1930s until after the Nazi conquest of France. The leftist revisionists are full of hogwash. We sent a lot of expertise and equipment to the Russians. We aided the Chinese. And they've been ingrates. Meanwhile, our relations with erstwhile enemies Japan and Germany and, to a lesser extent, Italy, have been much better. But the propagandists are always trying to change history to be something it was not.
  • Greatest Generation never told their story

    Fascinating, Jason, was all of this information in the Report of Separation, or what information did you ask for?
    • RE: My Grandfather: Business analytics in wartime, 1942

      @Starbookzzz there was a vast amount of material in the Report of Separation and his enlistment documents, about 100 pages of stuff. That and the 1951 PDF enclosed in the article completed the entire picture.
  • RE: My Grandfather: Business analytics in wartime, 1942

    Than you so much for sharing your grandfather with us