James Hanson Wakelin, 79, a physicist, oceanographer and businessman who was the first assistant secretary of the Navy for research and development and later was assistant secretary of Commerce for science and technology, died of cancer Dec. 21 at his home in Washington.

Although Dr. Wakelin held high office in the Washington area for little more than five years, his involvement in the nation's defense and scientific efforts extended over four decades. He was particularly fascinated by the challenge of unlocking the secrets of the seas and the oceans, and he helped oceanography win an important place on the agendas of both government and industry.

As a naval officer in Washington in World War II, Dr. Wakelin was one of those who shaped the Navy's commitment to sponsoring basic scientific research and what became the Office of Naval Research.

After a decade with the Textile Research Institute in Princeton, N.J., he returned here in 1959 to become an assistant secretary of the Navy under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He stayed in that job until 1964, having been kept on by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

In 1962, in line with similar steps that were being taken in the Army and the Air Force, he reorganized the Navy's science program with a view to greater efficiency and less duplication. Although his own staff was small, he had control over all Navy research funds, and this gave him authority over the department's efforts.

From 1960 to 1964, Dr. Wakelin also chaired an interagency committee on oceanograhy, and he headed the U.S. delegations to international conferences on oceanography in Copenhagen and Paris.

When he left the government, he became a consultant to business and government. He was chairman of the Research Analysis Corp. in McLean and the Oceanic Foundation, a research organization in Honolulu, and president of Scientific Engineering Institute of Waltham, Mass.

In 1969, he was named chairman of President Richard M. Nixon's Task Force on Oceanography, and from 1970 to 1971, he was special assistant to Gov. Russell Y. Peterson of Delaware for marine and coastal affairs.

In 1971, Dr. Wakelin returned to the federal government as assistant secretary of Commerce for science and technology, serving until 1972.

Dr. Wakelin received the Navy's Distinguished Public Service Award in 1961 and again in 1964. He also received the Parsons Award for Scientific and Technical Progress from the Navy League, the Fletcher Award of the Thayer School of Engineering of Dartmouth College and the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal of the Graduate School of Yale University.

A native of Holyoke, Mass., Dr. Wakelin graduated from Dartmouth College. He received a master's degree in physics from Cambridge University, England, and a doctorate in physics from Yale.

He worked for the B.F. Goodrich Co. in Akron, Ohio, before going into the Navy in World War II. After the war, he and some colleagues from the Navy formed Engineering Research Associates Inc. of Washington. In 1948, he joined the Textile Research Institute in Princeton. In 1954, he helped found the Chesapeake Instrument Corp. in Shadyside, Md., to do research on underwater acoustic devices for the Navy.

Dr. Wakelin published a number of technical papers on natural and synthetic rubber and textile materials. He was a trustee of the National Geographic Society, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a past president of the Marine Technoloogy Society, and a member of the American Physical Society. He was a member of the Cosmos and Chevy Chase clubs and an enthusiastic sailor.

His first wife, Margaret Smith Wakelin, died in 1973.

Survivors include his wife, Carol Holman Wakelin of Washington; three sons by his first marriage, James H. Wakelin III of Rumson, N.J., Alan B. Wakelin of Sagamore Hills, Ohio, and David S. Wakelin of Cape Elizabeth, Maine; two stepchildren, Lynn H. Nicholas of Washington and William G. Holman Jr. of New York City; eight grandchildren; and four step-grandchildren.


Air Force Colonel

Dwight W. Covell, 68, a retired Air Force colonel who flew 31 missions as a heavy bomber pilot in World War II and 100 missions as a helicopter pilot in the Korean War, died of cancer Dec. 20 at his home in Annandale.

Col. Covell, who had had a residence in the Washington area since 1962, was born in Chicago. He grew up in Muskegon, Mich., and attended Muskegon Junior College.

He enlisted in the Army Air Forces in World War II. He was commissioned in 1943 and became a pilot. He flew a B-24 "Liberator" heavy bomber of the 8th Air Force stationed in England. He went into the Air Force when it became a separate service in 1947.

Apart from the Korean War, Col. Covell's career included service at various Air Force bases in the United States and in Japan and Germany. He was stationed at the Pentagon when he retired in 1973.

His military decorations included two awards of the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and seven Air Medals.

After retiring from the Air Force, Col. Covell was a consultant to Cecorp of Virginia, a personnel placement firm, until his death.

He was a member of the Army Navy Country Club, the Retired Officers Association, the 8th Air Force Association and St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Falls Church.

His wife, Shirley Ann Covell, whom he married in 1943, died in 1988. Survivors include two daughters, Mary Suzanne Day of Sewell, N.J., and Nancy Lee Schlemmer of Emmaus, Pa.; a sister, Jean Borg of Muskegon; and two grandchildren.


Air Force Officer

Frederick J. "Rick" Kuhn III, 47, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and an expert in communications, died of cancer Dec. 21 at his home in Great Falls.

Col. Kuhn, who had lived in the Washington area since 1982, was born in Cincinnati. He received bachelor's degrees from Purdue University and St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Ind., and a master's degree in telecommunications management from the University of Southern Mississippi.

He joined the Air Force in 1968. His overseas assignments included duty in England and Germany. In this country, his assignments included the National Security Agency and the Pentagon, where he was in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Communications and Intelligence when he retired in 1988.

Col. Kuhn's military decorations included the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

After leaving the service, he went to work as a senior analyst for Horizons Technology Inc., a defense contractor in Fairfax.

Col. Kuhn was a member of the parish of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Great Falls.

Survivors include his wife, Ella J. Kuhn, and two sons, John and Steven Kuhn, all of Great Falls, and his parents, Frederick J. Kuhn Jr. and Norma Kuhn, and two sisters, Victoria Otting and Mary Kay Engelman, all of Cincinnati.


Insurance Executive

Carol W. Sperry, 100, a retired insurance executive and a past president of the Washington council of the Girl Scouts of America, died of congestive heart failure Dec. 21 at the Cambridge retirement home in Indianapolis.

Mrs. Sperry was born in Upper Marlboro and lived in Washington before moving to Indianapolis in 1988. She attended the Peabody of Conservatory of Music in Baltimore and was a yeoman in the Navy in World War I.

In 1919, she married Harris Franklin, a partner in the Washington insurance firm of Franklin & Strunk. After his death in 1937, she took over his partnership. She remained active in the business until retiring about 1955.

Her second husband, Marcy L. Sperry, died in 1949.

Mrs. Sperry was the first woman to serve on the vestry of St. John's Episcopal Church in Georgetown.

Survivors include a daughter by her first marriage, Carol F. Holliday of Indianapolis, and three grandchildren.