Frank Shanty

Age 85 : Inventor of canisterless gas mask worked in chemical systems research at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

June 05, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

Dr. Frank Shanty, former associate technical director of research and development at the Army's Chemical Systems at Aberdeen Proving Ground and inventor of a canisterless gas mask, died Sunday of prostate cancer at his daughter's home in Stewartstown, Pa. The former Forest Hill resident was 85.

Dr. Shanty was born in Baltimore, the son of a laborer, and raised in Pigtown.

"They were dirt poor, and when he was a child, his family must've moved 10 times because they couldn't pay the rent," said his daughter, Kathleen R. Amrein.

He skipped grades in school and, after graduating from Southern High in 1939, attended the Johns Hopkins University on a full scholarship.

After earning a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Hopkins in 1943, Dr. Shanty enlisted in the Navy. He served in the Pacific Theater as a radar countermeasures flight officer aboard aircraft carriers. He was discharged with the rank of lieutenant in 1946.

After the war, he taught at the Veterans Institute of City College and at the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute. In 1950, he went to work at Edgewood Arsenal.

He returned to Hopkins and earned a master's degree in chemical engineering in 1953. Additional degrees included a master's in environmental health from the University of Pittsburgh in 1960 and a doctorate in environmental health science from Hopkins in 1974.

At Edgewood Arsenal, Dr. Shanty was chief of major divisions at the laboratory and directed many major research and development projects, including protective masks, alarm systems, detectors, shelter systems and decontamination systems.

During his 24-year tenure at Edgewood, one of the many projects that Dr. Shanty worked on was the development of the M17 canisterless gas mask, which eventually became the Army's standard protective mask.

"Starting in 1952, the Chemical Corps began work on a new mask to replace the M9 series. The corps wanted a mask that was more reliable, suitable for any face size and skin texture, and more comfortable in any climate," wrote Jeffrey K. Smart, command historian at the Army's Chemical and Biological Defense Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"Utilizing previous work on canisterless civilian masks and earlier military prototypes, Dr. Frank Shanty, a young engineer assigned to the Army Chermical Center, thought of the concept for a new mask on a late-night train to Cincinnati, Ohio," Mr. Smart wrote."The final result was the M17 Protective Mask, the first canisterless military mask, which was standardized in 1959."

Dr. Shanty's mask, Mr. Smart wrote, eliminated "the problem of heavy left- and right-handed masks, weighed less and had reduced breathing resistance."

As senior inventor and managing engineer of the mask, Dr. Shanty was awarded a U.S. patent for it in 1959. It was used extensively by U.S. forces in Vietnam and during Operation Desert Storm.

Dr. Shanty put patriotism before personal profit.

"He could have resigned from Edgewood and taken the mask to private industry for his own personal financial gain, but he didn't," his daughter said.

Frank C. Shanty, a son who lives in Bel Air and writes widely on international terrorism issues, said, "He looked at it as service to his country."

Several years ago, while he was recuperating at Good Samaritan Hospital, Dr. Shanty's roommate was a veteran of the Gulf War.

"I was visiting my father one day and got to talking to my father's roommate. He told me that gas had been used during the Gulf War and if it hadn't been for those gas masks, he wouldn't have been alive," the son said.

"I looked at him and asked if he'd like to meet the inventor of that mask and pointed to my father. He got up and shook his hand, and said, 'You have no idea how many lives you have saved,'" the son said. "I looked at my father and he was beaming from ear to ear."

From 1974 until his retirement in 1980, Dr. Shanty was associate technical director for research and development at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where he was responsible for planning and staff management for the Army's $40 million chemical and biological defense and research and development program.

During his career, Dr. Shanty was chairman or a member of numerous Department of Defense, NATO and other international panels and committees. He also had been U.S. representative on the U.N. Study Commission on Chemical Warfare.

In addition to his work at APG, he was a lecturer and research consultant at Hopkins from 1975 to 1990, in aerosol science and studies of the deposition of fine particles in the respiratory tract.

From 1981 to 1986, he was a research associate at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he was co-author of published studies on health effects of air pollutants.

"He was a very good person and an outstanding scientist. He was good with people and, in my case, helped mentor me," said Joseph J. Vervier, who was technical director at Edgewood from 1990 to 1997.

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