John Medaris was born on May 12, 1902. Since the establishment on February 1, 1956, of the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency, the Army’s guided missile development program has been under the command of Major General John B. Medaris. He was assistant chief of the Ordnance Corps at the time of his appointment. The agency, which has developed several short- and medium-range weapons including the Redstone, the Sergeant, and the Nike, succeeded on October 22, 1957, in launching the Jupiter C at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
This gave the United States its first successful intermediate-range ballistic missile. In the following month, John Medaris was ordered to direct the launching of an earth satellite by use of a four-stage rocket. That was a version of the Jupiter C Such a rocket became the first U.S. earth satellite, called Explorer I, to be successfully launched, on January 31, 1958; other Explorers followed on March 26 and July 26.
In March 1958 General Medaris was named commander of the Army Ordnance Missile Command, which includes the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, whose new head is Brigadier General John A. Barclay, and California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, administered by William H. Pickering.) John Bruce Medaris was born in Milford, Ohio, May 12, 1902, the son of William and Jessie (LeSourd) Medaris. At the age of 16 he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps for World War I service.
In this connection, a revealing story is told. At practice on a rifle range he “scored eight bull’s eyes in a row” and was informed by his sergeant that he “could spend the war in the states” as an instructor. “I kicked four shots right over the hill,” Medaris recalls, “and was sent to France” (Newsweek, December 19, 1955). Discharged in 1919, he enrolled for the study of mechanical engineering at Ohio State University in Columbus, whereas a member of the senior ROTC unit and a cadet captain, he was invited to compete in special examinations for a commission in the Regular Army.
He has commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry in August 1921 and advanced to the first lieutenant in November. Medaris served with the 29th and 33d infantry regiments until 1926 when lie was transferred to the Ordnance Corps. After resigning from the Regular Army in October 1927, Medaris spent ten years in merchandising and business management at Cincinnati, Ohio. In February 1929 he has commissioned a first lieutenant in the Ordnance Reserve.
He was promoted to captain in May 1930, he served as a unit instructor for ordnance in the Cincinnati military district. John Medaris was recalled to active duty in July 1939 and promoted to major in August 1940. He was executive officer for the Cincinnati ordnance district until assuming executive duties with the contract distribution section of the office of the Under Secretary of War, Robert P. Patterson, in Washington, D.C. As a lieutenant colonel, Medaris served overseas through the World War II
Tunisian and Sicilian campaigns, first as a battalion commander and then as an ordnance officer.
He was advanced to full colonel on July 6, 1943, and was later sent to England, where he planned and executed the ordnance portion of the First Army’s invasion of Normandy, remaining as ordnance officer for the First Army’s campaign in Europe.
This included the organization and operation of the 20,000-troop field army ordnance service. After the end of the European war, Colonel Medaris served successively as ordnance officer, Fifth Service Command, and as ordnance officer, Army Ground Forces. Having served for about three years beginning in 1949 as chief of the first U.S. Army mission to Argentina, Medaris returned in June 1952 for assignment as an executive and assistant chief of the ammunition branch, the industrial division of ordnance.
In this position he initiated Operation Ready, which maintains plants for manufacturing armaments, rather than stockpiling war instruments that are subject to obsolescence (Collier’s, May 27, 1955). Becoming chief of the ammunition branch in May 1953 and promoted to brigadier general in July, Medaris was named industrial division chief of the New York ordnance district in November. Subsequently, as chief of the industrial division in the office of the Chief of Army Ordnance, he supervised all production and procurement of standard ordnance material of fourteen ordnance districts, three procurement centers, and eight manufacturing arsenals.
After he promoted to the rank of temporary major general in September 1955, Medaris was serving as assistant chief of the Ordnance Corps when in February 1956 he was sent to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. His assignment was to expedite the development and production of intermediate-range guided missiles as a steppingstone to the perfection of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). At the arsenal a group of 120 former German scientists headed by Dr. Wernher von Braun had brought to the point of production the Redstone, a ground fired bombardment the missile with a range of 200 miles, capable of carrying an atomic warhead, and showing promise of attaining the intermediate-range class of 1500 miles.
Late in February Medaris described the firing of a Redstone as the “first test mission to gather data” for the intermediate-range missile, which was named Jupiter and upon which work proceeded apace. The Air Force, meanwhile, was working on a similar weapon, the Thor, and in the fall of 1956 Defense Secretary Charles E. Wilson ruled that the intermediate-range missile, like the ICBM, would be operated by the Air Force. The Jupiter would, however, remain a development project of the Army at least through the fiscal year (Hanson W. Baldwin, New York Times, March 17, 1957).
Following the order limiting the Army to the operational use of missiles with a range of 200 miles (and the subsequent court-martial of Colonel John C. Nickerson, Jr., for calling attention to interservice rivalries and the superiority of the Army’s Jupiter over the Air Force’s Thor), the Defense Secretary appointed a three-man the commission in August 1957. This commission comprised General Medaris, Air Force General Bernard A. Schriever (See C.B., October 1957), and Wilson’s special missiles adviser, William M. Holaday, to render “at the earliest practicable date” a choice between the Jupiter and the Thor, or a decision to combine the best features of both. Later it was determined that the Air Force would supervise the production of both missiles.
A Jupiter “C” missile at Cape Canaveral, Florida on October 22, 1957, “flew it’s prescribed course and impacted in the pre-elected target area.” Army Secretary Wilber M. Brucker called the Jupiter the “most advanced guided missile yet produced in the free world” (New York Times, October 31, 1957). Other Army missiles include the Honest John, the Sergeant, Little John, the Corporal, the Lacrosse (for use as atomic artillery), the antitank Dart, and the antiaircraft Hawk.
In May 1957 it had been announced that the agency headed by Medaris was working on an antimissile missile designed to seek out enemy missiles in the sky and destroy them. Defense Secretary Neil H. McElroy, who succeeded Wilson, ordered Medaris on November 8 to proceed with “preparations for launching a scientific satellite by use of a modified Jupiter C test vehicle.” “The ballistic missile,” General Medaris commented, “is a highly efficient engine, once free of the atmosphere.
It is available without regard to the weather. With the accuracies of automatic guidance now clearly foreseeable, it becomes a superb delivery system for those resources upon which the absolute subjection and control of an enemy in war must depend. That includes the acquisition of information, the concentration of manpower and shorter-range weapons for local control, and the reinforcement of such forces with men, materials, and long-range selective firepower” (American Mercury, November 1957). Medaris was married to Gwendolyn Hunter on May 19, 1920, and they have a daughter, Marilyn C. (Mrs. Eugene Stillings).
The couple was divorced in 1930. Virginia Rose Smith became his second wife on August 29, 1931. Their children are Marta Virginia and John Bruce Medaris, Jr. The many honors awarded to Medaris include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, and French Legion of Honor. On October 30, 1957, he received an Oak Leaf Cluster to the Legion of Merit in recognition of “dynamic leadership directly responsible for the eminently successful Jupiter missile program.”
He is a past president of the Cincinnati chapter of the Reserve Officers Association and an honorary member of the Scabbard and Blade Society at the University of Cincinnati. General John B. Medaris wears a clipped, graying mustache and carries a silver-headed swagger stick (San Francisco Chronicle, May 18, 1957). He died on July 11, 1990, at Highlands, North Carolina, United States.
References Army – Who’s Who in America, 1958-59