Alumni Spotlight: Jim Tucker Survived Bomb Disposal Duties in World War II, Building Successful Career in Pulp and Paper
After he interrupted his studies at Georgia Tech to serve in World War II, Jim Tucker (ChE 1947-Co-op) opted to train in the U.S. Army’s bomb disposal program, learning the design of German, Japanese, Allied, and U.S. bomb fuses, and how to identify them by touch.
“My choice of bomb disposal was based on several factors, the primary one being a desire to save lives, not take them. I also had confidence in my abilities which included attention to detail. I had repaired clocks and other mechanical devices since I was 10, taking them apart and reassembling them. I could also remain calm during crises, and had the ability to organize and direct a group.”
Today, at age 95, Tucker is one of two surviving members of the “Co-op Boys,” a group of his classmates in metro Atlanta who were called for duty after enrolling at Tech in 1939 and 1940. Tucker and fellow alumnus/veteran James Ivey still meet for lunch every other month with Marilyn Somers, director of Georgia Tech’s Living History Program.
“Our group discussions have allowed me to recall memories long stored and forgotten,” he says.
Tucker knew he’d be called for duty as soon as the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor at the end of the first quarter of his sophomore year. Though he hoped he could wait until after graduating with his chemical engineering degree, he was called to active duty in April 1943.
When he selected the bomb disposal specialty, he learned it had a saying – “You go up fast!” – with a double meaning: Your military career could blow up with promotions, or you could from mistakes.
The bomb-disposal techniques he learned had been developed by the British Royal Engineers, who lost 360 of the 400 men initially assigned to this trial and error project.
Tucker was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in December 1944 and Captain in January 1946 when he was a member of the Occupation force. He was injured once on the job, though not seriously enough to keep him from work for long. When deployed to the Philippines, his major initial tasks were disposing of U.S. fragmentation bombs, whose parachutes had hung up in the widespread bamboo thickets, and deactivating booby traps.
“During the first 30 days after we went onshore in Cebu, I worked from dawn to dusk removing 100 or more fragmentation bombs daily to enable the Field Artillery to advance. I disposed of the fuses I removed to deactivate the bombs by tossing them over a concrete wall in a bombed out building in Cebu City. However, I eventually became tired, or careless, and one fuse didn’t clear the wall and exploded on my side tearing a big chunk out of my right cheek and scattering bits of aluminum in my lower body.”
He credits his Georgia Tech education up to that point with helping him survive those years. “Georgia Tech certainly helped me identify and diagnose new problems, and with the technical knowledge, understand the chemical makeup of explosives and how to handle them.
As a member of the Japan Occupation force, Tucker was responsible for disposing of all remaining explosives on the heavily fortified peninsular on the ocean side of Tokyo Bay. A Japanese interpreter was provided to assist in communicating with local officials, who supplied labor and vehicles for the task and arranged for food and lodging at convenient Inns. All explosives were identified and, if feasible, burned.
After completing this assignment in spring 1946, Tucker was assigned as Executive Officer of the 724th Ordnance Maintenance Company and charged with moving the 24th Infantry Division from Yokohama, Japan, to an arsenal near Fukuoka in the southern island of Kyushu. “Our train passed directly through Hiroshima so I witnessed the destruction the atomic bombs had caused there and in Nagasaki, which I also visited.”
The move of the infantry Division went smoothly enough that he was able to return to the U.S. in July 1946 and resume his studies at Tech in the fall.
Tucker enrolled at Tech in 1940 after graduating from high school in Brunswick, Georgia, and securing approval for a co-op position with Brunswick Pulp & Paper, where he completed a work term that summer.
Although his father wanted him to become a minister, Tucker considered himself too nerdy and introverted for that. “I thought the pulp and paper industry, which was becoming established in the southeastern U.S., would offer unlimited possibilities to me as a career.”
After graduating from Tech in 1947, he began his career as a project engineer for Buckeye Cellulose Corporation, where he spent eight years and was a key participant in the design of their first wood pulp mill. He joined Gulf States Paper Company as chief engineer at their pioneering Demopolis, Alabama, mill and was responsible for the first closed loop computer controlled process (Kamyr continuous digester) in the paper industry.
He entered the engineering consulting field in 1963 with Brown and Root where he spent 13 years as a manager of pulp and paper engineering and completed numerous domestic and international projects. Tucker spent 15 years as a principal at Simons-Eastern Consultants, first as vice president and chief engineer for 11 years and then as vice president for strategic planning and other special services before retiring in 1991.
He was an internationally recognized authority on pulp and paper processes, engineering techniques and engineering management. For his years of service, he received the Engineering Division Leadership and Service Award from the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry in 1989.
After retiring from his professional career, Tucker led strategic studies for several non-profit organization, including Georgia Agape, a Christian agency proving adoption and foster care services for children. As President and member of the Board he implemented the Plan, which made Georgia Agape a leading childcare agency in Georgia.
Tucker and his late wife, Nina, had two children, and today his focus is on his grandchildren and his large shade garden of flowering shrubs and orchid collection. “Both children and plants require patience, a virtue in short supply in my earlier years,” he says.
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Alumni Spotlight: John Burson
At the May 2017 doctoral and master’s Commencement ceremony, Georgia Tech awarded an honorary doctor of philosophy degree to John H. Burson III, ChE 1956, MS MET 1963, Ph.D. ChE 1964. This is the highest honor that can be bestowed by the Institute.
The embodiment of a 21stcentury Renaissance man, Burson is a physician, a former Georgia Tech professor, a military veteran, an involved community citizen of his hometown (Carrollton, Georgia), an enthusiastic volunteer, and a generous philanthropist.
Tours of Duty
A retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, Burson served in the Army Reserves for 30 years. At the age of 70, Burson asked that he be returned to active duty, and he was deployed in Iraq for three tours in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2011 as part of the military’s “Boots on the Ground Physician’s Program.” He earned combat medical badges and commendation medals.
Burson, who earned his medical degree from Emory, has had a distinguished medical career that includes service as chief of staff and chairman of the board of trustees for Tanner Medical Center from 1994-2012, an active member of the Tanner Urgent Care Clinic staff, and a self-employed physician at the Villa Rica Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic.
He is a licensed diplomat of the National Board of Medical Examiners, a fellow of the American Board of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He is also a professional engineer licensed in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and California. In the academic arena, Burson was an associate professor and adjunct professor in chemical engineering at Georgia Tech from 1959-1975, an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine, and a principal research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s predecessor institution from 1959-1975. He received the Regents Award from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents in 2015.
He has made extensive philanthropic contributions to Tech through the years.