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Wilfred Holmes graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1922 and thereafter was assigned to submarine duty. A disability forced his retirement from the Navy and in 1936 he joined the University of Hawai‘i faculty as an assistant professor of engineering and mathematics. During World War II, he was recalled to active duty and served as an intelligence officer under Admiral Chester Nimitz. He worked in a secret room located under the Pearl Harbor headquarters building, helping to decode information from Japanese radio transmissions. Holmes returned to academia after the war to become dean of engineering. Holmes served as dean of the College of Engineering from 1947 to 1965 (there were short breaks in his deanship when he returned to teaching or was called to University administrative duties). Holmes saw many changes during his tenure. When he first came in 1936 there were only a few dozen engineering students. When he retired enrollment counts reached some 800.

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