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The Baltimore Sun

WARD BOSTON, 84

Probed Liberty attack

Ward Boston, a former Navy attorney who helped investigate the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty that killed 34 crewmen and years later said President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered that the assault be ruled an accident, has died.

Mr. Boston, a retired Navy captain from Coronado, Calif., died June 12 of complications from pneumonia at a San Diego-area hospital, said his wife, Emma Boston.

Mr. Boston was assigned as a legal adviser to a military board of inquiry investigating the attack on the Liberty, an electronic-intelligence-gathering ship that was cruising international waters off the Egyptian coast on June 8, 1967. Israeli planes and torpedo boats opened fire on the Liberty in the midst of the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War.

In addition to the 34 Americans killed, more than 170 were wounded.

Israel has long maintained that the attack was a case of mistaken identity, an explanation that the Johnson administration did not formally challenge. Israel claimed its forces thought the ship was an Egyptian vessel and apologized to the United States.

In 2002, Mr. Boston said Mr. Johnson and his defense secretary, Robert S. McNamara, told those heading the Navy's inquiry to "conclude that the attack was a case of 'mistaken identity' despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary," according to a signed affidavit.

Mr. Boston said he kept his silence because he was a military man, and "when orders come ... I follow them." He said he felt compelled to go public after the publication of the book The Liberty Incident, which concluded the attack was unintentional.

GEORGE R. SAMPLE JR., 84

Journalist, founder of company

George R. Sample Jr., a journalist and a founder of what would become American Publishing Co., has died.

Mr. Sample died Wednesday of cardiac arrest at Corry Memorial Hospital, several months after he was injured in a fall at his home, said his son, George Sample III.

In the 1960s, Mr. Sample helped found what later became American Publishing Co., which was subsequently sold to Hollinger International. He served as vice chairman for Hollinger's American Publishing Co. and was credited for making improvements to the Chicago Sun-Times and the Jerusalem Post.

Mr. Sample also created the family-run Sample News Group, which owned two newspapers in Maine and five newspapers in Pennsylvania, and was the longtime publisher of the Corry Journal in Pennsylvania, where he started working after graduating college.

DETLEF GROMOLL, 70

Mathematician

Detlef Gromoll, a mathematician who helped lay the foundations for studying the abstract distortions of shapes in three or more dimensions, died May 31 in Stony Brook, N.Y. He was 70.

The cause was a brain hemorrhage, said his son Hans Christian.

Dr. Gromoll's research, including a fancifully named "soul theorem," formed some of the groundwork leading to the proof, in 2003, of the Poincare Conjecture, one of the most famous and intractable problems in mathematics, by Grigori Perelman, a Russian mathematician.

(The conjecture essentially says that any shape that does not have any holes and that fits within a finite space can be stretched and deformed into a sphere - although Henri Poincare was conjecturing about shapes and spheres of a higher dimension.)

In work from the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Gromoll and his collaborators looked at how knowledge about the local bending of a surface could provide information about the surface's global structure.

"Geometry became one of the most active and important areas" of mathematics, said H. Blaine Lawson, a colleague of Dr. Gromoll's at Stony Brook University, where Dr. Gromoll was a professor of mathematics. "Detlef is certainly one of the main people responsible for that."

In the soul theorem, published in 1972, Dr. Gromoll was studying the properties of certain surfaces that could have flat regions or curves like the outside of a sphere but not regions shaped like saddles. He found that the properties of such surfaces, infinite in extent and existing in any number of dimensions, could be deduced from a finite central core region.

GUNTHER STENT, 84

Molecular biologist, philosopher

Gunther S. Stent, a University of California, Berkeley, molecular biologist who was a member of the key post-war group of scientists who solved the basic mysteries of the gene and how DNA functions, died June 12 at a retirement home in Haverford, Pa.

He died of a massive staph infection that he had been fighting for several months.

Possessed of a restless intellect, Dr. Stent changed career directions at least twice, first abandoning molecular biology for the study of neurology and behavior - becoming a leading expert on leeches in the process - then becoming a noted historian and philosopher of science.

Dr. Stent was a member of the so-called phage group, a cluster of notable scientists centered on Max Delbruck of the California Institute of Technology. Other members of the group included James Watson, Francis Crick, Salvador Luria, Alfred Hershey and Renato Dulbecco.

All shared the view that bacteriophages, tiny viruses that infect only bacteria, provided the simplest model for studying the intricacies of DNA.

Dr. Stent got his introduction to phages when he visited Dr. Delbruck in 1948 in an effort to become a postdoctoral researcher in his laboratory. The noted biologist offered him a position, asking him if he wanted to work on phage.

"Yes, sir," Dr. Stent replied. "That's exactly what I want to work on, but could you refresh my memory as to just what phage is actually all about?"

At Caltech, he worked alongside Dr. Watson before the latter's move to Cambridge University, where he and Dr. Crick deciphered the structure of DNA.

Dr. Stent had no major scientific breakthrough of his own, but his work helped prove the structure deduced by the Cambridge pair. In one series of experiments, for example, he incorporated radioactive phosphorus into the DNA of a phage. When the isotope decayed into sulfur, it would break the DNA chain, killing the phage.

By correlating the rate of phosphorus decay with the loss of phage activity, he demonstrated that DNA was double-helical, confirming Watson and Crick's structure, said Michael Botchan, co-chairman of the department of molecular and cell biology at Berkeley.

Dr. Stent's work on phage led to one of his most influential books, the 1963 Molecular Biology of Bacterial Viruses, which became the key text in the field. An updated version in 1970, written with Berkeley colleague Richard Calendar and called Molecular Genetics, is considered a classic.

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