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Colonel John C. Nickerson Collection

Identifier: MC-1
The files (4 linear feet.) Includes a total of 7 archival boxes containing 26 subject folders. The Colonel John C. Nickerson Jr. files are primarily focused on the records of his general court-martial by the Commanding General Headquarters, Third United States Army.

In addition to the official court-martial records are files collected on the correspondence of the Defense Counsel and the Trial Counsel during the conduction of the trial. Additional information can be found in the many newspaper articles by several of the leading news agencies who covered the trial proceedings.


  • 1915 - 1960


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research in the Archives & Special Collections reading room. Handling guidelines and use restrictions will be communicated and enforced by archives staff members.

Conditions Governing Use

This material may be protected under U. S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S. Code) which governs the making of photocopies or reproductions of copyrighted materials. You may use the digitized material for private study, scholarship, or research. Though the University of Alabama in Huntsville Archives and Special Collections has physical ownership of the material in its collections, in some cases we may not own the copyright to the material. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in our collections.


3.5 Linear Feet (7 boxes.)

Biographical / Historical

Colonel John C. Nickerson Jr. was born in Paris, Kentucky on November 18, 1915, to Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Nickerson. His father was the division engineer for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, Cincinnati Division. John Nickerson had one brother and one sister. John’s brother graduated from the University of Kentucky as a mechanical engineer in 1940. John’s sister was Mary L. Nickerson.

John attended grammar school and high school in Paris. After graduation from high school, John attended the University of Kentucky for one year, studying Industrial Chemistry. John was accepted into the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, and graduated in June 13, 1938. After graduation, John was commissioned into the Artillery Branch of the Army. John was assigned to the Scofield Barracks in Hawaii. John spent the next two years with a motorized artillery regiment. In the fall of 1940, John was transferred back to the United States and assigned to the 4th Infantry Division for a short period. In 1941, John was sent to Fort Sill for the Battery Officers Course. After this period, John was assigned to the 8th Infantry Division at Fort Jackson, South Carolina where he commanded an artillery battery.

John reached the rank of Battalion Commander of the 56th Field Army Battalion. John went overseas in December 1943 as Lieutenant Colonel, commanding a field artillery battalion, 8th Infantry Division. During the war years John received the Bronze Star, Air Medal, two Silver Stars, the Luxemburg Croix de Guerra, and the French Croix de Guerra. John returned to the United States in July of 1945.

After returning to the States, John was assigned to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. John returned to school and earned his M.S. Degree in Rocket Science from the California Institute of Technology. In the fall of 1954, John was made Executive Officer for the Rocket Branch Office of Research and Development Division, Chief of Ordnance. John went on to become Chairman of a committee known as the Jupiter Committee. John was a member of the American Rocket Society.

John disagreed with Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson’s decision to transfer the development of long-range missiles from the Army to the Air Force; John believed the Army’s efforts to be superior. For what he claimed to be for the good of America, John leaked documents pertaining to the Jupiter program to the media and defense industry officials, hoping to sway public opinion in the Army’s favor.

John was arrested in January 1957 and court-martialed in June. The Espionage Act and perjury charges against him were dropped, and he pleaded guilty to fifteen lesser charges; John received a relatively mild punishment: a year’s suspension, a fine of $1,500, and an official reprimand.

While his rank was suspended, John worked in the Panama Canal Zone as a construction inspector. He was assigned to Fort Bliss as an ordnance officer once his security clearance was restored.

John and his wife were killed in a car crash in May 1964.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of John C. Nickerson III, 1968.

Existence and Location of Copies

Processing Information

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, and competing priorities. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections as they are acquired and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.
Anne Coleman, David Hanning, Megan Sullivan
Description rules

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama in Huntsville Archives & Special Collections Repository

M. Louis Salmon Library
301 Sparkman Drive
Huntsville, AL 35899 Alabama 35899 United States of America