John Hamilton Ruckman




* The following is an original essay “in progress” and written by P.S. Ruckman, Jr. The author welcomes all comments; especially those that might be helpful for purposes of documenting facts or events described herein, or which shed light on Ruckman family ancestry pre-1858. Send e-mail to Last Updated – 2/5/07


John Hamilton Ruckman was the son of a notable United States Army General and the grandson of a highly decorated war hero. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California and served as an intelligence officer with the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. He also donned the uniform a second time as a U.S. Army Colonel and a participant in the Manhattan Project. In addition, John Hamilton Ruckman was a talented writer, a skilled artist, an accomplished athlete, a boat enthusiast and fisherman, a musician, and a loving father and grandfather who left an estate which benefits his descendants to this very day.

          This essay will attempt to track the life of Colonel Ruckman, from his birth in New York to his death in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Along the way, I will attempt to shed some light not only upon his many accomplishments, but also his talents, hobbies, personal interests, and relationship with family members. In doing so, I have drawn heavily from newspapers, official transcripts, and eighteen years of his own personal diaries.




John Hamilton Ruckman was born on June 5, 1888, at Fort Hamilton, New York, New York Harbor, in the southwest corner of Brooklyn. He was the firstborn child of John (a.k.a. “Jack”) Wilson Ruckman (1858-1921), a native of the State of Illinois who left the family farm to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point and, later, became a major general in the United States Army (Coast Artillery).

John’s paternal grandparents, Thomas R. Ruckman (1831-1904) and Mary O’Brien Ruckman (1832-1922), were farmers who moved from Circleville, Ohio, in the middle 1800’s to Sidney, Illinois, just south of Champaign/Urbana. Mary O’Brien Ruckman was born in Limerick County, Ireland. John’s father was the second child of Thomas and Mary, and the firstborn son. Thomas and Mary had a total of six children. 

John’s mother, May Hamilton Ruckman (? – 1925), was born in the Presidio of San Francisco and was the youngest daughter of a highly decorated war hero, Colonel John Hamilton (1832-1900). In all likelihood, John Hamilton Ruckman was named in honor of his maternal grandfather.


Early Childhood – Traveling With the Army


          John Hamilton Ruckman probably traveled much more than most children of his age as a result of the fact that his father was a rising star in the United States Army. “Jack” and May Ruckman moved to Fort Monroe, Virginia, when their son was three years old. “Jack” served as a 1st Lieutenant, graduated from Artillery School and remained at the Fort to serve as Police and Acting Ordnance Officer until his son was eleven years old.

          In February of 1892, May gave birth to a second child, Marjorie Campbell Ruckman. “Jack” and May would have no additional children.


Marjorie Campbell Ruckman and

John Hamilton Ruckman


In April of 1893, five-year-old John Hamilton served as a “page” in the wedding of his Aunt, Florence Hamilton, and Otto F. Winterwerb of Frankfort, Germany. Florence was the oldest daughter of John’s grandfather, Colonel John Hamilton.  The “pretty home wedding” was guided by the Rev. Dr. Reese F. Alsop, of St. Anne’s Church on the Heights (Brooklyn) in the presence of “friends and relatives.”

The family then moved to Fort Slocum, New York in 1899

          The 1900 federal census suggests eleven-year-old John and his eight-year-old sister, Marjorie, were living with their parents in the Artillery Defenses of Havana, Cuba. By the late 1890’s, Americans owned millions of dollars in Cuban property (primarily related to the sugar, tobacco and iron industries). The sinking of the Maine (February 15, 1898) encouraged Congress to declare the island “free” and President McKinley to effectively declare war. A four-year occupation of the island followed the Spanish American War.

          Captain “Jack” Ruckman was transferred, however, to Fort Totten (NY) for duty at the United States Torpedo School and School of Submarine defense in October of 1901.

          John Ruckman’s paternal grandfather, Thomas Ruckman, passed away in Champaign (IL) in August of 1904. Shortly thereafter, a leave of absence on surgeon’s certificate of disability was granted to Captain Ruckman for four months.


High School Years


John Ruckman attended Grammar School for two years and graduated from the ninth grade at the Buckingham Grammar School in Springfield, Massachusetts.

He then attended Flushing High School, in Flushing New York from 1903-1904. The school, founded in 1875, is the oldest public high school in the city.


1903 Report Card from Flushing High School


          Ruckman attended Wilmington Friends School, Wilmington, Delaware, from 1905-1906 and specialized in the study of Chemistry. He was also active in athletics and the school’s magazine staff. Wilmington Friends was founded in 1748 for the purpose of providing education opportunities “in an environment immersed in Quaker values.”




          During the course of a school year, Wilmington Friends published a quarterly entitled Whittier Miscellany and Ruckman served as the Assistant Editor. The March 1906 issue (volume III, no. 2) featured one of his five-page short stories, entitled “A Mountain Fire” (pp. 7-11). The story was thick in description of a forest fire on the side of Cold Mountain that was fought by a group of men led by “Herr Doktor Professor Schmidt” - the German “expert in charge of the Forestry School.” Schmidt was described as a man who always wore “the same old German hunting costume” and was nicknamed “Kaiser.” The tale ended with a “small brown spaniel” named “Sandy” rescuing two men.

          Ruckman authored the short story, but also drew an illustration entitled “The man turns slowly in his saddle” (below). The effort would seem to suggest the 17 year old had considerable potential, if not a wealth of talent.


John Hamilton Ruckman’s 1906 Illustration:

“The man turned slowly on his saddle.”


On pages 23 and 24 of the March 1906 Whittier Miscellany, Ruckman wrote brief reviews of four lectures. He described the first - on Fridtjof Nansen’s famous voyage - as focusing on an “old” subject, but full of “new facts.” Nansen had published a thousand page account of his polar expedition (Farthest North) in 1897.


Fridtjof Nansen


The second lecture was given by Jacob Riis (1849-1914), a native of Denmark who authored a detailed and dramatically illustrated 1890 book entitled How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York. Riis became a photo journalist for the New York Evening Sun and one of the first photographers to use flash power – enabling him to capture images of children sleeping in dark corners and orphans kneeling together on the floor to say their evening prayers. Theodore Roosevelt read the book, which was first featured in a series of article in Scribner’s Magazine, and - as Police Commissioner of New York - had several lodging houses closed down. Roosevelt would later called Riss, “the most useful citizen of New York.” 


Jacob Riis, Lecturer

Wilmington Friends, 1906


Ruckman wrote that the Wilmington Friends meeting room and gallery were “packed” and there followed what was “perhaps” the “finest lecture of the year.” He suggested that the students could have never realized the conditions in the tenement districts without actually seeing the places.


Jacob Riis Photograph of Hell’s Kitchen


Ruckman lamented the fact that the third lecture, by a Professor Pearson, featured no illustrations and, worse, began with poetry. He observed, that many students were soon day dreaming about “track meets and summer camps,” but a string of interesting stories (one about a bear) soon had everyone’s ear. Ruckman humorously observed that “one of the models of decorum” woke up “so quickly” that he tipped over an iron umbrella stand.” Professor Pearson was eventually given “tremendous applause” and was described as the school’s “most beloved speaker.”

The final lecture of the year was W. Roland Grant’s illustrated presentation on Yellowstone National Park. Ruckman noted the lecture was like a “beautiful dream” and a “veritable trip to fairyland” that was both “strange and grand.” The primary and grammar school girls were said to have been sympathetic with Grant’s opinion about bears, but the boys “seemed unable” to “reconcile” the theory that it was “right” to allow “fifty or sixty trout to die of suffocation on the shore,” and yet it was “wrong to deal out instantaneous death to a grizzly.”

Ruckman’s athletic ability was highlighted at the Friends’ School’s Annual Inter-Class Track and Field Games (May 11, 1906). He finished first in the 100-yard dash, first in the 220-yard dash, first in the pole vault, first in the 12-pound shot put, second in the high jump, third in the hammer throw and second in the broad jump.


17-Year-old John Hamilton Ruckman


Graduation day came on June 16, 1906. Ruckman and just four others were candidates for diplomas. Each of the graduates gave a commencement speech. Among the topics selected were German secondary schools, radium, the siege of Khartoum and the history of Wilmington. Ruckman’s speech was entitled, “Arial Navigation.”



Off to Dear Old “Tech”


John Hamilton Ruckman entered Course II (mechanical engineering – steam turbine option) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in September of 1906, just after his parents had moved to the State of California. When he arrived in Boston, his home address was thus listed as the Presidio of San Francisco. When he graduated, his home address was listed as Fort Baker, Sausalito, California.

From 1906 to 1910, Ruckman was a member of MIT’s Mechanical Engineering Society, the Technology Club and the Cosmopolitan Club. He also served as Treasurer of the Civic Club, art editor of the Technique, and a member of the Technique Electoral Committee. In addition, Ruckman was a member of the class football team, the track team (shot put and one hundred yard dash), and the Second Basketball team.


MIT Track Team – John Hamilton Ruckman seated, front, center.


In his eight semesters at MIT, Ruckman consistently scored marks of “P” (passed) or “C” (passed with credit). Given a publicized clash that his father once had with the Texas State Legislature over whether to teach German in public schools, it was somewhat ironic that John Hamilton substituted German for French. For his “general studies” courses he chose International Law and European Civilization and Art. Ruckman’s highest course scores, however, were in Applied Mechanics (100) and Physics: Heat (96).

He seemed to stumble in only one semester, the January term of 1909.  Ruckman received three “D” s (deficiencies) in Differential Equations, Machine Drawing and a Physics Lab. The only thing that might seem relevant (in the eyes of this writer) is the fact that his parents, John W. and May H. Ruckman moved to San Francisco around this time. Major Ruckman was placed in command of Fort Baker in February of 1909. Each of their son’s grade deficiencies was made up, however, in May, April and October respectively.

In his second year at MIT, the twenty-year old Ruckman wrote a theme for English class that, “in point of expression,” was considered “much above the average.” The theme, entitled, “Why Take the First Two Years at Tech,” was published, in its entirety, in the April 1908, issue of The Technology Review (pp. 168-171).

Ruckman’s piece began with the simple question, “Should a man go to another college for two years before entering Tech?” The first paragraph of the piece heightened the seriousness of the inquiry by stating; “the long delay between the attainment of manhood and the foundation of a home by our young men is largely responsible for our most perplexing social problems.”


MIT Football Team - John Hamilton Ruckman seated on floor, far right


Ruckman noted “tuition and living expenses” at MIT were a “serious drawback” and the dormitory system was “another striking advantage” of such institutions. He recognized that the “companionship” of dorms would do much to “mitigate the first tedious, uphill, lonesome year” which had “proved the ruin” of many “excellent men” at Tech. Ruckman also took note of the popular argument that “college life” produced “broader men” while technical studies had an injurious “narrowing effect.”    

That being said, Ruckman argued the expense of his education was “money well invested.” He noted that, in the previous summer, he had looked for a job in the Far West and found that the word “college” generally made contractors “wary” about him. But the words “one year at Boston Tech” were worth one hundred dollars a month “every time.” One offer was for one hundred and fifty. Ruckman added, “I hope to see the same name bring more.” In sum, he suggested the “reputation” of his Alma Mater could make up for much of a student’s expenses during summer vacations – assuming a student was willing to work.

Ruckman considered the lack of dorms at MIT “abominable,” but added that “it becomes easier” for students after the first year and emphasized that college life is not all “plain sailing” either. Indeed, “many a freshman” had gone “to pieces” at other colleges and universities “from conviviality.” He also argued that the situation at Tech was “more like real life.” The second year student wrote:


The man who wishes to work on the Bearing Straits tunnel must be able to stand loneliness, and the first year in Boston admirably fits a man for such work in many ways.


As for “broad” men coming out of college and universities, Ruckman explained that the debate was not new, having previously been considered as a tension between the classical or scientific education. Ruckman suggested, however, that the notion that there was a huge gulf between the two was “long ago exploded.” The best evidence of this was the fact that, at the time, “nearly all colleges” gave “as much attention to the sciences as the classics.”

But Ruckman made his own definition of a “broad” man explicit:


[He] is a man who is able to survey all questions and all objects from an at once impartial and disinterested standpoint; in other words, to form a true estimate of the acts of his fellow man, and to be able to appreciate the world in which he lives for its own beauty and not for what he can make out of it.


 He then quickly concluded that, “considering the material” with which MIT worked, an education there did “far more” to make a man “broader, more intelligent and disinterested than that elsewhere.” In his experience, most men left the school “with little love of money” and a “firm resolve to be all-round men, masters of their craft, and to love and understand the works of nature.” Tech broadened men “splendidly” but, at the same time, gave them a means to earn a loving – something which the “average college” did not do.


The “Dome” at M.I.T.


Finally, Ruckman gave what he considered the reason “above all other reasons” to be a Tech man:


A Tech man [learns] during his first years at college to work. At other colleges one may become polished and all that, but he doesn’t learn to work. That is the point. That is why men from other colleges have such a hard time on entering Tech. That is why Tech men are in demand. That is why they pay the prices and stand the boarding houses. That is why they can learn more than other students in a given time. It is because of the spirit of Technology. “Work is here for every man, and every man is here for work.”


The twenty-year old who would later serve in WWI, rise to the rank of Colonel in the Army and participate in the Manhattan Project wrote:


I am ready for work and like it, and believe that I am being fitted for greater work in future. [Tech] is, with all her drawbacks, the greatest college in the world; and that is why I am here.


The May, 1908, issue of The Tech (the school newspaper) was, of course, thrilled with Ruckman’s summary and general conclusion. It reported the publication of Ruckman’s essay on the front page.

In November of 1908, The Tech featured a lengthy “communication” from Ruckman regarding whether or not “the Tech man considers himself and his alma mater equals to other men and colleges.” To address the question, Ruckman considered attitudes toward athletics and the Institute in general.

He noted other institutions (such as West Point and Cornell) had varsity basketball teams, football and baseball teams and crews. Tech did not “lack material” for these enterprises, but they could not be organized. Each enthusiastic effort, according to Ruckman, was met with the criticism, “Tech men won’t support it.”

With respect to sports that already existed, the situation seemed worse. Ruckman noted track was considered “the one thing worth supporting,” but the number of supporters at events ranged from only three to fifty.  Many considered basketball, a “minor sport”, so it may not have been a surprise that one outing drew only three fans. Ruckman concluded Tech men did not see themselves as the equals of other college men.

With respect to the Institute, Ruckman noted the “remarks” of men around him. They complained they learned more in high school and they were getting “robbed.” They always had their eyes on some other better system for doing things that was being used somewhere else. Likewise, they complained that they were worked too hard by the “Stute.” He concluded that, if such persons really considered themselves the equals of other college men, they would learn more and participate in sports and the operations of the Institute.


John Hamilton Ruckman, 1910


Ruckman saw two exceptions to this defeatist attitude, Technique and the Show. He observed they are “the best productions of their kind in the country” because “the Tech men believe that they are.” Thus, he concluded, it would be best if Tech men were to simply “throw away this idea” that they were “no good” and realize there was “no cause to be ashamed” of Tech.


M.I.T. Thesis


          Ruckman completed his thesis in May of 1910. The fifty-nine-page work was entitled, “An Investigation of Stresses in Open Links.” Ruckman tested the validity of a formula that was generally used in computing the strength of hooks and other open links. Ruckman conducted several tests of elastic limits and yield points of specimens of steel plate when subjected to tension and bending, and to both combined. He used circular hooks of various radii and cross sections to collect his data.


John Hamilton Ruckman, Signature

From 1910 MIT Thesis


          He concluded that the formula of interest was actually “dangerous” for rings of small radius and two alternatives were equally so. He concluded, however, that two formulas were “well adapted for the circular hooks of rectangular cross section.” The complete work consists of roughly ten pages of written text. The remainder consists of intricate charts, graphs, data summaries and formulas.


University of California


After leaving the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ruckman worked for three years as a driller in the oil fields of California. He also did postgraduate work in Historical Geology at the University of California, 1913-1914, and received a Master of Science Degree.

At present, there is little information regarding these years, but the Bulletin of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of California cites Ruckman in numerous instances. Ruckman was credited with providing a “detailed mapping” of the Santa Margarita foundation. He and several others in a summer paleontology class were also praised for providing “much help” in the Mount Diablo region. In November of 1913, Ruckman and one other visited Oroville South Table Mountain (75 miles south of Sacramento), made a brief study of stratigraphy and collected fossils.

A second bulletin notes that Ruckman, a Dr. B.L. Clark, and a field party from the Department of Paleontology created the “Tejon Collection” in December of 1913. Ruckman researched the white shales overlying a white sandstone member and discovered two fauna, one of which was “small but characteristic of the Balanophylia zone, Mount Diablo region.”

Ruckman'a 1914 thesis was entitled: "Faunal Succession of Coalinga East Side Field, Fresno County, California."


Civilian Employment

In a resume that he put together in the 1940’s, John Ruckman identified his places of employment as follows: Calvert Oil Fields, Ltd., Balfour, Guthie and Company, Glagow, Agts., Standard Oil Company (New York, N.Y.), Utilities Commission (Washington, D.C.) and the E.I. DuPont de Nemours Company. His work in oilfield operations also included prospecting in Colombia and, from 1915-1916 he worked as a Line Supervisor with the DuPont company at Carney’s Point, New Jersey.

          In 1916, Ruckman’s life took a dramatic turn, however. The turmoil in Europe suggested, to some, that the United States would soon be involved in the World War.


Plattsburg Rookie


Shortly after the sinking of the Lusitania, A group of Harvard graduates (including Theodore Roosevelt) approached Major General Leonard Wood and asked him to consider the creation of military style summer camps for business and professional men. The men approached General Wood because the project was not supported either by President Wilson or the War Department.

Nonetheless, over a thousand doctors, lawyers, college professors, bankers and businessmen paid a thirty five dollar enrollment fee and awkwardly donned their cotton uniforms a four week training course at Plattsburg Camp, New York, on Lake Champlain, sixty-five miles south of Montreal. The list of enrollees included, among others, Teddy Roosevelt, the Mayor of New York and his police commissioner, Harvard’s football coach, notable clerics, and a U.S. Senator.


General Leonard Wood


Each dirt floored Plattsburg tent was assigned eight men and training began each day at 5:55 A.M. (taps at 10:00 P.M.). General Wood addressed the T.B.M.’s (Tired Business Men) himself around evening campfires with riding crop in hand. All of the training officers were West Point graduates and the thirty day camp ended with nine days of war games. From 1913 to 1916, over 18,000 men received training in such camps.

Ruckman attended Plattsburg from August 10 to September 6, 1916, as an employee of the E.I. du DuPont de Nemours and Company of Wilmington, Delaware. Frances Russell notes that some of the Plattsburgers enrolled in 1916 “received reserved commissions at the end of the course.” Among them was twenty-eight year old John Hamilton Ruckman.

In an August 14, 1945, letter to the Navy Liason Officer for the Selective Service, Ruckman wrote:


During this period, incidentally, I was one of the members of the “old American Legion,” from which the entire Reserve Organization of the U.S. Army and Navy was formed. I was also one of the Plattsburg Rookies in General Woods’ Camp in August 1916, getting my Reserve Commission as a result of an examination held there.   


          Russell, who describes the Plattsburg Camp as the beginning in the United Sates of “the twentieth–century conception of the citizen soldier” also notes that, by the summer of 1917, the Plattsburg Camp had “evolved into an officers’ training camp” where “ninety day wonders” emerged after three months training “with gold second lieutenant bars on their shoulders.”



Army Training: 1916-17


Ruckman entered the United States Reserves as a First Lieutenant on November 1, 1916. He was called into active duty May 8, 1917, and entered the Resident Officer’s Training School in Fort Myer, Virginia (just outside of Washington, D.C., and Northeast of Arlington National Cemetery), where he remained until the month of August.

On May 26th, the twenty-nine year old asked Mary Warner Armstrong to marry him. Mary, born on October 26, 1896, in the State of California, was the fourth child and second daughter of Alfred Warner and Effie Burton Fulenweider Armstrong. Mary’s father was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended Brooks Military Academy there before graduating from Yale University in 1882. He was a marine engineer for Harlan and Hollingsworth in Wilmington, Delaware. Mary’s grandfather, Alfred Cornelius Armstrong, was railroad man (Lake Shore, Atchison, Topeka, and Sante Fe) and a close friend of the DuPonts (of munitions fame), Andrew McNally (of Rand McNally) and Col. George G. Green. The families extended their business relations to the degree that they purchased land and built beautiful homes together on Mariposa Street in Pasadena, California.

Ruckman was soon ordered to the 80th (or “Blue Ridge”) Division as a bayonet and physical instructor. He was made Second Lieutenant of the Infantry on August 15, 1917, then transferred to the National Army training facility at Camp Lee, in Petersburg Virginia, on September 1, 1917. The Camp (built just two months earlier), accommodated 60,000 soldiers from New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia.


Soldiers Training in Fields at Camp Lee


In the month of September, he was assigned to the 157th Depot Brig and thus transferred to 2,400 acre Camp Gordon in Chamblee, Georgia, just to the north of Atlanta. There, he trained with the 82nd (or “All American”) Division, composed of personnel from Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

On October 6, 1917, Ruckman was finally transferred to the 18,000-acre Camp Travis, Texas, and made Aide De Camp (an officer who acts as a military assistant to a more senior officer) of the 179th (or “Oklahoma”) Infantry Brigade. There, he was in charge of communications and reconnaissance. The 179th was organized as a component of the 90th Division which took as a nickname, the “tough ‘ombres.”  


John Hamilton Ruckman in Camp


Interestingly, Ruckman’s fifty-nine year old father, Brigadier General John Wilson Ruckman, had been nominated Major General by President Woodrow Wilson the previous August and was made commander of the Southern Department in September. As a result, the father was based at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio. Camp Travis sat on the northeastern adjacent boundary of Fort Sam Houston, so the son was only minutes away.

Unfortunately, General Ruckman, whose name was already a mainstay in the nation’s leading newspapers, had drawn exceptional attention to himself by building a set of gallows overnight and sending thirteen soldiers to their death. The hangings were in relation to courts martial following the Houston Riots of 1917.




John Hamilton Ruckman, 1917



Army Training: 1918-1919


The General’s son was made First Lieutenant on January 1, 1918, and was stationed in the headquarters of the 179th Infantry Brigade (90th Division). A little over a month later, President William H. Taft toured the camp and sat on the review stand with Ruckman’s father, the General. Taft gave also gave four speeches to the camp during his visit.

On March 16, Ruckman was certified in the Infantry School of Arms, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to be an Instructor in the subject of Liaison-Technical. This was also right about the time that a fatal balloon accident occurred at Fort Sill, killing five men and wounding several others.

Meanwhile, the General was busy holding well-publicized meetings with the Governor of Texas and local religious leaders in an effort to stamp out “saloons, vice and gambling” in the San Antonio area. In March, General Ruckman composed (and distributed) a public circular on vice and lobbied against the German language being taught in schools. The Texas State Legislature formally recognized his outstanding service.

          But, in May of 1918, General Ruckman failed a physical that disqualified him from the Foreign Service. He was returned to the rank of Brigadier General and, on May 26th, placed in Command of the Northeastern District, in Boston, Massachusetts.

The General’s son did not have the good fortune to leave the anxiety of Texas until June 15 when he was transferred to the newly constructed cantonment at Camp Mills, Garden City, New York. The Camp (located just 10 miles to the East of New York City) was used as a temporary holding point for troops prior to their embarkation on transports to Europe.

Thus, three days later, John Hamilton Ruckman became a member of the American Expeditionary Forces and remained so until June 6, 1919. As a result, he saw action in the Saizerais Sector, the St. Mihiel Offensive, the Puvenelle Sector, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and served as a member of the Army of Occupation.



Off to the Great War


On July 27, 1918, General John J. Pershing persuaded a conference of Commanders that American troops deserved their own sector on the Western Front and chose the St. Mihiel salient. The Germans had controlled the salient since September of 1914. The First Army and the French II Colonial Corps took over the sector on August 30. On September 12, sixteen U.S. divisions attacked. Lieutenant Colonel George S. Patton led the only U.S. tank brigade to see action in the War and Colonel William “Billy” Mitchell led over five hundred bombers in the air. The battle lasted thirty-six hours and John Hamilton Ruckman was there. The average advance of his division was six kilometers.


St. Mihiel Offensive


Meuse-Argonne Offensive


When the St.-Mihiel Offensive was complete, Pershing marched the entire U.S. Army to the Verdun area some sixty miles away, to participate in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The Offensive began at 5:25 in the morning on September 26 and, before it was over, almost twenty-seven thousand Americans lost their lives penetrating three heavily fortified lines of German defense. Another ninety-six thousand others were wounded in an Offensive involving more ammunition than the Union Army had expended in the entire Civil War.


Evening Artillery: Prelude to Argonne Offensive


Major George Wythe’s History of the 90th Division notes the signalmen of the Division “were put to several tests, but in each case they were successful to a remarkable degree.” Wythe adds that General Joseph P. O’Neil was “kept informed of everything that was going on” by Lieutenant Ruckman “from an observation post on the ridge west of Bois des Rappes, his telephone having been installed in a shell-hole.”

Ruckman would later write that the memory of six-week effort was “dear to every American soldier’s heart.” It was – he said - a kind of “memorial” to “the unselfish devotion of comrades living and dead.”  The “Gettysburg” of the Great War was:


A time when death was a member of every company and when his presence came no longer to be especially dreaded. It was a time when petty jealousy, personal ambition and rivalry were slowly washed away in the blood of heroes; those who survived to the last days were able to catch a glimpse of what our nation and perhaps the world might be if all men could lay aside their individual interests and work as brothers for the common good. It was a vision such as few of us had imagined. It was one which we hope may never be entirely lost. 


Ruckman was made Captain on November 1, 1918, and would never forget the last paragraph of an order that he received on November 2, the last day of the battle of the Meuse-Argonne. It read:


Captain J.H. Ruckman will establish an observation post and advance center of information on Hill 243.


As the new Captain told it, he was in place the next morning, just before 8:00. He watched American artillery send earth, brush and tree trunks in the air while the bodies of Americans and Germans from the previous day’s battle lay all around him. When battalions of infantry headed into the thick forest, there was no hostile fire and considerable concern that there might be some sort of trap. But the Germans had fled and, Ruckman wrote, “the day of glory had arrived.”


John Hamilton Ruckman 1917


          The average advance of Ruckman’s division in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was twenty-two kilometers and when the last bullet flew, it had been under constant fire from August 20th to November 11 (excepting seven days in changing sectors). In that time, it went “over the top” (charged out of the trenches) in two major offenses and seven minor offenses and never relinquished a single foot of ground to the enemy.


American Cemetery at Meuse-Argonne




Twenty-three years after the war, Ruckman would note the November 10 anniversary of events at Stenay, the last French town to fall into American hands before the Armistice took effect.

Ruckman also provided commentary on the “new problems” that arrived just after the signing of armistice. He observed the “organization and discipline” of the German army was lost “temporarily” and a common sight for abandoned automobiles were the scrawled words “Parol ist Heimat” (The watchword is home). Ruckman notes that the evidence of this disorganization soon “disappeared,” however, and the Germans appeared anything but “beaten or demoralized.” 

On the other hand, Ruckman observed, “the entire American Army suffered from a severe depression of morale” after the cessation of hostilities. He attributed this depression to a number of things including: hostile propaganda, physical and mental exhaustion, the loss of comrades, “disappointment at the unspectacular finish of the campaign” and, of course, homesickness. He gave great credit to the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Army Educational System for preventing this mindset from having “serious” results.

On November 10, Ruckman was made Adjutant General (or Chief Administrative Officer) for the 179th Infantry.

The following month he became an Assistant G-2 (Intelligence Officer) at the Headquarters of the 90th Division.


General T. Allen and Staff.

Ruckman on back row, far right.


Lonnie J. White’s 1996 work, The 90th Division in World War I, notes the reception for the Division’s troops back was particularly hearty when the Mongolia arrived at Boston. During a brief delay, locals climbed into their boats and filled the harbor. Those that were able to get close to the Mongolia hurled candy and cigarettes onboard. As the vessel came into the harbor, whistles and sirens let out a chord that could be heard for miles. Thousands of balloons were released at the dock and the flag waving soldiers hurled German coins into the crowd. White notes a “party of officers,” including Captain Ruckman were “first off.” At the bottom of the plank, ready to greet his son, was General John Wilson Ruckman.



Technology’s War Record


As the year 1918 came to a close, the wife of a professor Sedgewick at MIT wrote a letter that suggested that a book be written which recognized the contribution of Tech graduates to the Great War. The suggestion was forwarded to another individual, then taken up at a meeting of the Alumni Council. On June 6, 1919, an eight-member committee of graduates and faculty met and outlined a plan for the book. They also constructed a “provisional” table of contents. As originally conceived, a different individual would edit each chapter of Technology’s War Record. But a decision was eventually made to place the entire publication of the book into the hands of Captain John H. Ruckman who was an instructor of Modern History (economic) at the Institute.

Five months later, “blanks” were mailed out to alumni. In November, The Tech reported Ruckman had received “an encouraging number” of replies from circular letters. At that point, he estimated a total of 3,363 MIT graduates had participated in the War and 1,396 were members of the American Expeditionary Forces. Ruckman had also identified 121 individuals who had lost their lives. Eventually, he received information related to six thousand “records.” A search through Technology periodicals and other publications raised the total number of persons that were recognized in his work to 8,000.

          On May 18, 1920, The Tech reported that very few copies of the first printing of Technology’s War Record (fifty six hundred in all) were not “already spoken for.” But, a little over one month later, an editorial noted Ruckman was getting a “half hearted response” to his requests for information. By October, The Tech reported “delays caused by lack of cooperation from the Alumni” had “held up” the publication of the War Record book. Ruckman was reported to have been “embarrassed” by this “lack of interest” or “backwardness.”


Cover, Technology’s War Record

John H. Ruckman, Editor


Ruckman’s role as Editor of Technology’s War Record was certainly downplayed in the publication itself. He penned a four paragraph Foreword (page vii) that set the tone for the narrative that followed. He noted MIT was “not only a valuable auxiliary in developing commerce and industry in time of peace” but “in time of national emergency it becomes an indispensable part of the Nation’s military organization.” He acknowledged that the “real history” of the War was “written it the shell-torn fields and forests of France” in the blood of “friends and brothers” and that Technology’s War Record did not tell “the whole story.”



Marriage, Family and the Army Reserves


John Ruckman and Mary Warner Armstrong were finally married September 20, 1920. John was thirty-one years of age and Mary was twenty-three. The marriage would last forty-six years and produce three children.


Mary Warner Armstrong Ruckman



            Ruckman’s connection to M.I.T. was surely a factor in the 1920 campus appearance of General Leonard Wood, his Plattsburg mentor. Ruckman served as a member of a committee that was “appointed in charge of reception of the distinguished visitor.” The Tech reported that Ruckman’s father, General John Wilson Ruckman, was also among the “prominent persons” attending.

          On October 28, 1920, John and Mary Ruckman had their first child, a son, and named it John Hamilton Ruckman, Jr. John Jr. would later test successfully into West Point, but did not enter. After living for some time in the Pasadena Playhouse, in San Francisco, he served in England as a soldier in World War II. He was honorably discharged on disability. John Jr. died in Baltimore, Maryland, having never married. The diaries of his father make clear that his parents enjoyed his friendship, but were constantly concerned about his health and general state of mind. 


John Hamilton Ruckman, Jr.



The new father, John Hamilton Ruckman, accepted appointment as Captain of Infantry in the Officer’s Reserve Corps on March 12, 1921.

          On April 10, 1921, the Decatur Daily Review reported Ruckman had found shells that were “fifteen million years old” in Marlton, New Jersey. Ruckman, described as a “professor” and “federal geologist and engineer,” judged the area as having “the greatest rang of such specimens in the world.” The “recent discoveries” of Ruckman were also said to have “upset” previous calculations of the age of deposits in New Jersey.

Almost two months later (June 1921), John Ruckmans father, Brigadier General John Wilson Ruckman, died in Brookline, Massachusetts. The funeral was held at West Point.


John Wilson Ruckman



The following November John and Mary had their second child, a son, in Wilmington, Delaware. They named it Peter Sturges Ruckman. Peter became a Second Lieutenant in the Army and a hand-to-hand combat drill instructor. He Attended Kansas State University and the University of Alabama before completing his Ph.D. at Bob Jones University (South Carolina). Peter also married Janie Bess May of Sawyerville, Alabama, and had five children.


Peter Sturges Ruckman

(1922 – present)


Nine months later (August 1922), John Ruckman’s Irish born grandmother, Mary O’Brien Ruckman passed away in Champaign, Illinois.

In 1923, Ruckman moved to Topeka, Kansas, where he worked as the Supervisor of Excess Federal Equipment with the Kansas State Highway Commission. After two years, he became an independent consulting engineer with offices in the New England Building at Topeka – a position that he maintained for the next fifteen years, until 1940, when he was called back into the service of the military. In a personal resume, he noted that his work included some valuations (up to $2,000,000) and City Planning. He also acted as Industrial Advisor for the Kansas Planning Board under the Spellman Foundation.



New England Building, Topeka, KS.


John Ruckman’s mother, May Hamilton Ruckman, passed away in April of 1925.


May Hamilton Ruckman


On June 3, 1928, John and Mary had their last child, Marion Armstrong Ruckman. Marion attended the University of Delaware and was active in the Episcopal Church and the League of Women Voters. On December 31, 1947, she married Robert Mapes Dodge (1917-2000), the great grandson of Mary Mapes Dodge, author of Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates. Dodge was a Republican State legislator in Delaware and the State Majority Whip. Marion and Robert had three children.


Marion Armstrong Ruckman Dodge



In the 1930 federal census, John was forty-one years old and his wife, Mary W., was thirty-three. Their son, John Hamilton, Jr. was nine years old and Peter Sturges was eight. Marion, the daughter was one. John listed his occupation as “civil engineer.”

Ruckman’s tours of active duty included several two week stints at Fort Des Moines (1924), Camp Curtis, Topeka (1925), Fort Des Moines (1925), at the 354th Infantry Training (1929), Fort Crook, Nebraska (1930), Fort Leavenworth (1931), Fort Riley, Kansas (1932), Fort Leavenworth (1933 and 1934), Fort Crook, Nebraska (1935), 7CA Headquarters, Omaha (1937) and Fort Leavenworth (1938).

From 1924 to 1940, Ruckman also took at least seventeen Army Correspondence and Extension Courses. Across this period he was Captain, then Major and Lieutenant Colonel of the 354th Infantry Reserve. Ruckman’s classes and scores were as follows:


John Hamilton Ruckman

Army Correspondence / Extension Course Title








Military Law




Administration, Discipline & Courtesies




Military Hygiene and First Aid




Tactics, Techniques of Inf. in Offensive and Def. Combat




Tactics and Techniques of Infantry and Associated Ams.




Command, Staff and Logistics – Infantry




Troop Movements and Shelter




Troop Landing




Prep. Subjects: Tactics, Technique of the Separate Arms




Tactical Principles and Decisions




Troop Leading: Command, Staff and Logistics




Tactical Principles ad Decisions




Tactical Principles and Decisions




Mil.Org; Combat Orders; Estimate of Situation




Troop Leading & Command Staff & Logistics




Command, Staff, Logistics: Terr. Org; Mobil.& Troop Leading





On September 23, 1940, Ruckman returned to permanent active duty. On that day, he also purchased a “Daily Reminder” from the Standard Diary Company of Cambridge, Massachusetts. For the next twenty-six years he completed entries in diaries faithfully. His first entry in the first diary read:


Rcd. orders to active duty. Reported to Adj. Gen. M.R. McLean, who informed me unnecessary to see Gov. Ratner. Visited Rollas Clymer of Kansas Industrial Development Comm, also H.R. Miller of Kansas Planning Bd. Then Jeff A. Robertson Commr. of Labor. who referred me to Chas. B. Newell, Dir. of Unemp Comp. Div. Later showed me figures on available labor for munitions but stated unable to provide. Ref. To Washington. Fair. At St. Highway Comm. Out. Reported by letter to Asst. Secy of War. Wrote Wallace.


Payne Ratner, Republican

Governor of Kansas (1939-1943)



Ruckman was assigned to the Ordnance Department on January 29, 1941. He later learned, from the Associated Press, that he was ordered to the Army Ammunition Plant in Charleston, Indiana. So, he emptied his desk and made the trip. He was “mugged and fingerprinted” on February 5 and put up at a “dump” called the New Albany Tavern. When Ruckman arrived at work the following day, he discovered that he had “no specific duties” except working on “forms and administration,” which caused him to keep falling asleep. He also complained that the sun had not shined ten minutes since his arrival.  

By February 11, Ruckman still had no specific duties and was spending time in the public library, studying chemistry and visiting various plants. He moved into 2123 Reno Street and drove to the University of Louisville one evening to take a chemistry course. Later, he would write, “As a chemist, I am a good plumber.” Ruckman also learned that his son, Johnny, Jr., was made corporal. On the other hand, he got a “disturbing letter” from Pete.

One benefit of being in Indiana was that Ruckman could take a train over to Champaign, Illinois, and visit his father’s family. On February 16, he visited his Uncle Will, and Aunt Lida. When he returned to work, he noted there were still no orders. After two full weeks, “still nothing doing” and he was getting “irksome.”  On February 12, he learned that he was probably “slated for another plant.” But, two weeks later, he was ordered to Washington.


Washington D.C. 


Ruckman arrived in Washington on February 28 and stayed at the Senate hotel, where there were “too many bugs for comfort.” He met with several of the officers with whom he would work and felt as though he outranked every one around him except one General.

          On March 1, he had breakfast at the Plaza Place and noted there were lots of “crusading mothers” lobbying against the Lease-Lend Bill. Ruckman described them as a “horrible looking lot – reds and crackpots.” He found a room to rent at 2700, N.W. 28th, and spent more time in the library and taking long walks (ranging from eleven to twenty-nine miles).


John Hamilton Ruckman

Circa 1940’s


          On March 10, his orders finally came through and he seemed pleased that he was “now back in the infantry.” Meanwhile, back at the office, he still had no specific duties until the 12th, when he was made liaison officer to Engineering Branch Construction Division, Office of the Quarter Master General. Later, in a personal letter, he wrote:


I believe that I was transferred to the Ordnance Department chiefly because they thought me too old for rough and tumble fighting … I understand however [they] are now talking about waiving all eligibility rules … Should this rumor prove true, I may a little later find myself where I can be a little scared as well as busy.


On September 22, Ruckman wrote:


Thus endeth my first year of “active service” in the undeclared war of 1940 - ? Quite appropriately, the only event was a trip to the dentist and an unsuccessful attempt to buy t some “cit” clothes. Stuff hasn’t risen in nominal price but its shoddy.


Ruckman’s asked to be relieved of his duties there as they were, in his opinion, “becoming trivial.”




          On October 6, 1941, Ruckman learned that he would “probably” be sent to Anniston, Alabama, and began “studying” the situation there. The Anniston Army Depot, a thirty-eight square mile facility located near the City of Anniston, Alabama, was purchased by the War Department in September of 1940, and the groundbreaking ceremonies took place on February 7, 1941. The Depot was also situated south of Fort McClellan, a training ground for troops in 1917. Eight days after he heard that he might be sent to Anniston, Ruckman heard that his orders “were out” and he began “preparing” to leave. On October 15, he learned that he would actually be in command of the Depot.

          After a quick trip back home, to Kansas, Ruckman arrived at Anniston on October 26 and found “things” were in “good shape.” He noted, however, that the surrounding town was a “dump.” On the following day (in the pouring rain) he observed that the roads in the area seemed poor, some of the igloos were “rough” inside and that there was a saline liquid collecting on the floors. Further inspection of the igloos (on November 4) found “some very poor work” and “plenty wrong.” A few weeks later, he and others were addressing numerous leaks in the structures.

Ruckman also spent the first couple of nights (and several thereafter) sleeping in the Administration Building, on the floor, with an electric heater, since it was discovered that there was no officer on duty a the Depot over night. By October 31, he had made arrangements for overtime and guards and moved his belongings into 620 Knox Avenue.

In late November and early December, Ruckman found a suitable location on the Depot for the construction of a testing lab, a guard house, and new surveillance lab. On December 3, he also went to watch a demonstration at Fort McClellan which he described as “interesting,” but the shooting was “vile in spots.” He observed the 37s and MGs were very slow about “corrections” and 60mm Howitzer dropped one shell 1,000 short! As he put it, that was just “lousy.”

His diary entry for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, December 7, 8 and 9, 1941, read, in part:


Slept late. I came out. My leg is still sore so I nursed it all day till about 4:30. Then I started to get supper and discovered Japanese had surprised Pearl Harbor. They gave Navy a severe shellacking and war is on. Busy till 1 AM … Declaration of War today. We all listened to FDR’s speech at 11:30 AM. Pearl Harbor at least as bad as at first reported. Somebody’ll catch hell … A day of wild rumors. U.S. radio stations seemed to take every Berlin and Tokyo dispatch for gospel truth and toward evening an Orson Wells broadcast was interrupted by a “spook” air raid on San Francisco.


          Ruckman was given orders to “prepare for bombing” and spent some time working on an air defense plan. He also conducted a general inspection of the Anniston Army Depot on December 9 which did not “please” him “much.” In “buckets” of ran and “red mud,” he struggled with the installation of a siren and concluded the guards were “only about half efficient.” One morning, at 2AM, he knocked over a barricade “trying to outfox them.”

          Warehouse 24 was ready by December 15, but Ruckman complained of “too many men” in the area and found it particularly “annoying.” He also learned that the Arizona and Okalahoma were sunk at Pearl Harbor and that his son, Johnny, Jr. had been promoted to Sergeant.

The engineers finally took over the construction division on the 16th and the Depot received its first out-shipment order. By the 17th, the Depot was shipping out bombs. On the 21st it received an order for 3,500,000 rounds of 30 cal for Marines in San Diego. On the 22nd, ninety-five men were loading 155 mm practice bombs in a driving rain that continued for several days. The telephones and teletype were knocked out and there were leaks in 115 of 299 igloos. The warehouses were also leaking and all construction projects on the Depot came to a grinding halt. In the midst of violent rain and “active” shipment, Ruckman was also forced to increase the number of guards, issue riot guns, and stay up all night in response to a report of possible “trouble.”

          As the year ended, Ruckman seemed to gauge the progress of the Depot by the fact that 29 cars had arrived on December 29. He noted that, if they had arrived just two months earlier, it would have been “disastrous.” As things stood, the Depot was “not much jarred” by their presence. Ruckman was also notably calm about the fact that the “big bombs” were starting to come in. 1941 as “one hell of a year.”

          A historical report of the Depot would later note:


On the first of July 1942 the Anniston Depot Guard, if not a unique organization, was at least a most remarkable one. It was a well disciplined body of armed men equipped with revolvers, rifles, shotguns and some Thomson guns and possessed of considerable automotive transportation,. But in the last analysis at that date, its members possessed no standing as police officers while under the laws of War they could be classified only as guerrillas; the only excuse for its existence was that of military necessity.


          Ruckman was awarded the American Defense Service Medal on August 6, 1942. Two months later, the Adjutant General in the War Department informed him that he was also awarded the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal.


Testing Equipment: Anniston Army Depot

          In October of 1942, Ruckman wrote:


It is perfectly true that I have been quite busy in getting this Depot organized, but I don’t look forward with any great joy to operating it once it becomes a going concern. To tell you the truth, taking ammunition off a freight car, putting it in a magazine, waiting two weeks, taking it out of the magazine and putting it back again on a freight reminds me a little of the old “shot drill” which they used to use for exercising convicts when I was a youngster.


Two weeks later, in a letter to Robert Bunten of the Merchants National

Bank, in Kansas, Ruckman wrote:


Hereabout we are living the same old life with periods of quiet altering with others of furious activity. Between Commanding Generals who want stuff delivered day before yesterday and theoretical perfectionists who want to see that no one works overtime, I am certainly having things to think about … Whereas in the past it has always been considered axiom that the simplest plan is the best, the good old United States Government seems to get more complicated every hour.


In November of 1942, Colonel W.A. Capron took over as Commanding Officer at Anniston and Ruckman became the Depot’s Executive Officer and Security Officer – a position that he retained until April of 1943. Capron spoke glowingly of his predecessor. He noted Ruckman was not only the commanding officer, but responsible for “all matters of construction” there since the beginning, in 1941. Ruckman’s supervision of permanent buildings, railroads, roads, switch yards and “pertinent equipment and utilities” involving more than twenty million dollars was of such quality that Colonel Capron recommended him to the War Department for the Army decoration of the Legion of Merit Award.

Ruckman did receive a special letter of commendation from inspector General through Fourth Service Command.


New York

From May of 1943 to August of 1943, Ruckman served as Executive Officer at the Seneca Ordnance Depot, a ten thousand acre facility which is known today as the Seneca Army Depot Activity. He arrived at the Depot (near Romulus, New York) on May 9 and enjoyed a “nice hotel” and a “good room” before an “amusing old character” came in from the Depot picked him up. Ruckman described his escort as an “ex-3rd Division and Texas Ranger” who told him some “wonderful lies.”

On May 10, Ruckman reported that he had been assigned to “renovation and brass popping” but, in the days that followed, he seemed pleased that he was getting more men, that production was “not so bad,” and that things seemed to “click.” Characteristically, he observed that the guards were “not alert” at Post 23. He also complained that ten women, all of whom appeared “virtually good for nothing” were sent to him by one Straub. At the end of his first month, Congressman Tabor came to the Depot for a “ceremony.” Ruckman noted Tabor arrived late, “as is usual for his type” and never did make it to the L.C.L. building.

The popping plant (Building S311) was shut down in June, for a period of time, and Ruckman quickly concluded that the “work” in “renovation” did not “suit” him. Within two weeks he was told that he would be made a “stores” officer. He then heard that he was being “held” for something and the big news finally came on June 30. Ruckman was informed that he would be in charge of tactical training in the ammunition companies. He explained the decision as a result of the fact that they “made an awful flop of their night exercise.”  On the other hand, he noted they had been “badly coached” and had “no guns, no signal lamps, no auxiliary equipment, no nothing.” A few days later, Ruckman had dinner with the “men,” for the first time since 1919 or 1920, when he was with his father somewhere.  He also gave them “a little talk.”

          Ruckman inspected his companies, rearranged the troops, and worked on patrols and shelter in a series of showers and drizzles. He also continued to eat with the men and lecture afterwards. His companies also worked on marches and outposts while he “got the decks cleared of officer candidates.” Ruckman lost weight in the process but complained that the troops were not “improving” as fast as he would have liked. The 690th missed a rendezvous on a night march and struggled with tent holes in the dark. When the 689th showed up badly at drill, he had “quite a conference” with them. 

          By July 12th, Ruckman had his companies deploying for attack and beginning emergency motor movements and parachutists attacks. But, when he broke out the blank cartridges and had a “bang up advance guard problem on his hands.” A Captain got captured “again.” Another midnight rendezvous failed on July 17 and the 690th was shot up “like a bunch of boy scouts first night in camp.”  A “hot reception” followed at 4 AM.

          An “A-1” convoy practice was held on July 20 and a “fair” gas drill followed. Ruckman attempted to arrange for target shooting, but found the range (near Pine Camp) was not set up for “street fighting.” In addition, a Colonel with an armored division “assured” Ruckman that his troops could not use the range. Ruckman calmly wrote in his diary that evening, “I’ll get through OK.” Meanwhile, the “idea” of him being made an “operations officer” was “again up.”

          On July 30th, an inspector General – a Colonel Hood – arrived and Ruckman considered him “about the best” that he had seen. Hood put people “through their paces” and was meticulous about dog tags, identification of equipment and service records. Ruckman worked until 10 PM that evening, but seemed pleased that he had “learned a lot” from Hood.

          Ruckman was made “operations officer” on August 5th and was pleased with the manner in which one of his companies marched through the woods at night. Four days later, the companies packed watched his men “aboard.” He noted that they were heading for his “childhood home of Hampton Roads” (Virginia).  

          Mary Ruckman came to visit her husband as the month came to an end. Her husband said she looked “very young and pretty in very becoming clothes.” They spent several days together, visiting the Depot, canoeing and going to dinner and the movies. She also watched him play second base with the “bandits” and got all that she could at a clam bake.

          On September 5, Ruckman wrote that it was “like the old days at Anniston” since he checked in early and found forty two men ready for duty in the magazine area. Two hundred men were working by noon and over thirty cars were loaded.  The satisfaction of the efficient work also came with the news that a Captain Elliot wanted to send Ruckman to Washington! Ruckman wrote, “God knows why,” and three days later, he was walking around in the Pentagon.

          On November 4, 1944, Ruckman was ordered to proceed to Jefferson Barracks to be mustered out. He sarcastically called it “some ending for J.H. Ruckman.” Five days later, Ruckman said “good bye” to staff and the popping plant gang. He then traveled to St. Louis and Jefferson barracks, filled out forms, took a physical and had a “silly ‘terminal’ interview” with “someone.” Afterward, he passed a bunch of German prisoners at work. Ruckman wrote:


Seemed to be damned good soldiers. One of them clicked his heels so loud that I saluted before I realized he was giving me the Nazi high sign.


Ruckman took the train back to Kansas on November 14.


Manhattan Project


          On December 21, Ruckman received a call from Stuart Snedden in New York “relative to the Oak Ridge situation.” On the day after Christmas, Ruckman met Snedden in New York, at the University Club, and came away from what he considered “a very satisfactory interview.” On the following day, the two men had another “nice talk” before Ruckman took the train back to Wilmington. Several weeks later, Ruckman learned that Snedden was no longer connected with the “Oak Ridge situation” and, after a phone call to Tennessee, he also learned that his job application had not even been looked at. All of that changed, however, when he received a telegram late in the evening on January 17, 1945. Ruckman was asked to come to Oak Ridge “at once.”

          Ruckman negotiated his salary and looked over his new job, which was “interesting but puzzling.” He was also “processed and processed, mugged, finger printed and social security numbered.” On his Social Security application form, he listed his home address as 1609 Broom Street, Wilmington, Delaware, but also described himself as an engineer for the Fercleve Corporation at P.O. Box 1265, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The 52,000 acre “Secret City,” twenty miles west of Knoxville, would eventually have as many as 75,000 residents, but visitors were not allowed and the surrounding entire area did not appear maps for seven years. It was part of what would become popularly known as the “Manhattan Project.”

          On January 27, Ruckman bought some “civilian sox” and, later, “donned” his “civies.” His wife cried when he gave her his tags. He packed his bags and got on the train. Later, he noted in his diary that the career of “Lt. Col. John H. Ruckman one-time C.O. 2nd Bu 354th Inf 89th Div” had officially ended. In a membership application to the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers dated June 4, 1945, Ruckman stated he was the Chief Research and Design Engineer for Fercleve and that he was specifically connected with the Manhattan Ordnance District’s “Project S-50.”

The S-50 Plant at Oak Ridge (formerly known as Clinton Engineer Works) was built in just sixty-nine days and was one of four primary production facilities. It was operated by the Fercleve Corporation (a subsidiary of H. K. Ferguson Company) and utilized liquid thermal diffusion to separate the isotope uranium-235 from the heavier and more plentiful uranium-238 in order to create plutonium-239. The one hundred and seventy-nine million dollar plant was constructed because there was a keen sense that production levels were not satisfactory in the Y-12 Plant (which employed electromagnetic separation) and the K-25 Plant (which employed gaseous diffusion). Eventually, the same materials were produced in a sequential manner: being shipped from S-50 to K-25 and then to Y-12 for final processing. The end product was then sent to the laboratories at Los Alamos for experimentation and the creation of the first Atomic Bomb.


S-50 Plant, Oak Ridge, TN.


Thermal diffusion uses heat transfer across a thin layer of liquid or gas to separate isotopes. Cooling a vertical film on one side and heating it on the other produces convection currents, an upward flow on the hot surface and a downward flow along the cooler side. Under these conditions, lighter 235UF6 molecules will diffuse toward the warmer surface and heavier 238UF6 toward the cooler side. The combination of this diffusion and the convection currents causes the lighter U-235 molecules to concentrate on top of the film while the heavier U-238 goes to the bottom. This was a simple, relatively low-cost process, but it consumed much more energy than the gaseous diffusion (the only process used during the Cold War). The S-50 Plant contained 2,100 columns of nickel and copper pipe, each almost 50 feet long, which provided initial enrichment of uranium for the gaseous diffusion.


Columns at S-50 Plant

But one writer notes that the “quantities of U-235 and plutonium produced” at Oak Ridge were “better kept secrets than the design and production of the atomic bombs.” At the bottom of his application for the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers, Ruckman wrote:


For the moment, firm holding this Contract and details of work had better remain confidential.


In a letter dated August 14, 1945, Ruckman wrote:


Our outfit [Fercleve] for extremely good reasons, has not received a great deal of publicity, but just “between us boys,” we modestly admit that “We Won the war.”


Indeed, when President Harry Truman announced the bombing of Hiroshima, he mentioned the facilities at Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Los Alamos, commenting: "The battle of the laboratories held fateful risks for us as well as the battles of the air, land, and sea, and we have now won the battle of the laboratories as we have won the other battles." On August 6, 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson presented Ruckman with a certificate recognizing his work “essential to the production of the Atomic Bomb, thereby contributing to the successful conclusion of World War II.” The certificate identifies Ruckman as a member of the War Department’s Corp of Engineers (Army Service Forces), Manhattan District. 



Ruckman’s Manhattan Project Certificate


            Ruckman kept his personal diary faithfully from January 27th of 1945 to September 29th the day that he packed up everything and returned to Wilmington. He would describe the coming Thanksgiving as the best had experienced in twenty seven years.



Ruckman became a full Colonel on January 21, 1947.

As a resident of 107 Henlopen Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, John Hamilton Ruckman retired from the Army on June 30, 1948. He was awarded an Army of Occupation Medal with a Germany Clasp, and American Defense Service Medal, and Army Commendation Ribbon, a World War II Victory Medal, and an Honorable Service Lapel Button for World War II.

          Ruckman applied for retirement benefits on February 1, 1949.

          In February of 1950, he became a corresponding member of the Geological Society of Washington, founded in 1893, to “promote the increase and dissemination of geological knowledge.”



Army, Here I Come … Again!


On September 23, 1950 (a date that Ruckman would recall in his personal diaries ten years later), Ruckman donned his uniform a second time “to bring peace to the world” and reported for duty to Topeka, Kansas.


John Hamilton Ruckman, circa 1950



Rear Admiral R. E. McLean, Jr. invited Colonel Ruckman to participate as an “civilian observer” onboard the U.S.S. Murray, a Fletcher Class Destroyer off of the Atlantic Coast. Ruckman joined the crew of 273 for ten days in late November, 1957.

On February 27, 1959, he was made a Lifetime Member of the Kansas Engineering Society.


Life at Rehoboth



John Hamilton Ruckman, circa 1960


John Hamilton Ruckman died on August 10, 1966, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Although his wife, Mary, was eight years younger, she passed away less than a month later.


Grave of John and Mary Ruckman

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware



John Hamilton Ruckman: The Man


          Colonel W.A. Capron, who replaced Ruckman as Commander at Anniston said the following of Ruckman:


Colonel Ruckman is of the highest type, sincere and honest to a fault. His character and reputation are absolutely unimpeachable. His code of ethics is of such a high order that I have known him, upon numerous occasions, in the interest of truth to make professional enemies when he could readily have avoided the issue by a minute departure from technical fact.





“Atomic Bomb Aid Wins ‘E’.” New York Times, September 11, 1945.


Historical Report of the Organization and Activities of Anniston Ordnance Depot, Anniston Alabama. January 1, 1943.


The Manhattan Project Heritage Preservation Association, Inc. at


Rinaldi, Richard. A 2005. Orders of Battle: The United States Army in World War I. Tiger Lily Publications.


Roster of Attendants at Federal Military Training Camps, 1913-1916. Military Training Camps Association.


Russell, Frances. 1964. “When Gentlemen Prepared for War.” 15 American Heritage Magazine (April, Issue 3).


Vogel, Peter. 2001. “The Last Wave From Port Chicago.”


White, Lonnie J. 1996. The 90th Division in World War I. Sunflower University Press: Manhattan, Kansas.


Wythe, Major George. 1920. A History of the 90th Division. The 90th Division Association.