HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. -- Washington D.C., 1957. The District was still a sleepy, southern town that had yet to see a metropolitan boom. At least that was the perspective of David Woods, then a 24-year-old ensign in the United States Navy, who took a daily bus to his post at the Pentagon where he was carefully working with classified military information.
Under Chief of Naval Operations Arleigh A. Burke, Woods produced scientific movies of research and development that featured up-and-coming naval operations.
"The new airplanes, the new submarines, the new ships, the new weapons systems, all of the brand-new stuff," Woods said. "And this was still so new it was classified."
For a period of three years, Woods wrote, narrated and directed 12 films, each containing secret and restricted data, which meant the inclusion of atomic information.
"It was fun and kind of ominous to put a piece of paper in your typewriter and type 'secret restricted data' in capital letters on the top of the paper," he said.
The 30-minute films, which featured short segments on about eight new naval projects such as hydrofoils - technology used on watercrafts - and Polaris - missiles fired out of submarines - were sent to the fleet and rotated for viewing among approximately 3,000 ships.
In hindsight, Woods believes the films served a purpose that was, while he was initially producing them, beyond his understanding.
"Admiral Burke wanted the people in the Navy, particularly the junior officers, particularly the young enlisted people, to see what terrific new weapon systems and new ships and airplanes were coming so they would stay in the Navy," Woods said. "From Burke's standpoint, this was a retention film."
"But fortunately nobody told us who were making it. We thought it was the scientific march of time," Woods said. "Which is why it worked. Because it was highly successful. And I'm afraid if we'd tried to make it into a retention thing it would have been nothing."
For data to be considered secret and restricted, Woods said, the only information that needed to be revealed was the kiloton yield of one weapon. Woods, therefore, devised the plan of presenting the films in a way that made them seem as highly classified as possible to garner interest. However, he was actually keeping the amount of exposed classified information at a minimum by revealing only a few kiloton yields per film.
"Most of the secrets we had were so technical, we didn't know what they meant," he said. "They knew it was exciting, but they didn't know what was secret or what was restricted. It kept them from talking too much about it, other than generalities."
By a stroke of luck, Woods had been hand-picked by the Navy to run the film project - a priority of the Naval Photo Center - as soon as he was accepted into Officer Candidate School, before he was even commissioned.
On the commander's list, next to his name was a notation stating: "Has Ph.D. in cinema."
Woods, however, did not have his Ph.D. in cinema. He had earned his bachelor's degree in speech and radio at San Jose State University and master's degree in television writing and production at Stanford University, taught a one-year professorship at Lehigh University and was an Ohio State University student for a Ph.D.
But not in cinema.
Woods was working toward a PhD in television, which, he said, was much different.
Nevertheless, he wouldn't be tarried by a technicality.
"I never told the Navy. I didn't know what they thought," he said. "But they all seemed to say, 'here's this ensign with all this experience and knowledge and he'll be good.' So I just shut up and studied a lot, worked at night and got through."
And get through he did.