John E. Pickering (27 April 1918 – 19 September 1997) was an American pioneer in the field of radiobiology, aviation medicine and space medicine and a Colonel in the United States Air Force . He spent much of his career in the Department of Radiobiology, Air University, School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Air Force Base , Texas. Pickering was involved with the first tests involving nuclear powered aircraft. Pickering co-wrote President John F. Kennedy’s last official speech before the fateful trip to Dallas, Texas in 1963. Colonel Pickering was a founding member and director of the Health Physics Society, the author of textbooks and many scientific papers.
John E. Pickering was born 27 April 1918 in Bisbee, Arizona and died in 1997. In 1942 Lieutenant Pickering, USAF married Virginia Copeland and the couple had 3 children, Patricia, Peggy and John R. The family were lifelong Methodists and members of the Central United Methodist Church of Albuquerque since 1989 when they moved to New Mexico. He was buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, Santa Fe County, New Mexico in burial plot: [Section: Y, Row: 0, Site: 288B]. At the time of his death he resided in Tijeras, New Mexico near Albuquerque, New Mexico and was buried on 22 September 1997.
Pickering attended the University of Arizona and in 1940 received BS degrees in chemistry and engineering and completed MS degrees in chemistry and metallurgy in 1941.
In May 1942 Pickering graduated at the top of the class and received a commission as a second lieutenant. His first assignment took him to Turner Field in Georgia. In September 1942 he was transferred to United States Army Air Forces Navigation School at Selman Field near Monroe, Louisiana. At Selman Field, Pickering advanced in position from instructor, flight commander, flight control officer, squadron commander, and administrative executive with the Navigation Training Group III.
In 1945 Pickering was assigned to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois. He completed courses in weather forecasting and advanced meteorology, and graduated at the top of the class. His next post was a short stint as a weather officer in San Francisco , California. After San Francisco, Pickering was transferred to Randolph Air Force Base in Texas and was charged with training air cadets in meteorology. He published his first book, "Student Handbook of Weather" in 1946. His next book came in 1947, "Air Navigation".
On 1 July 1947, Pickering was sent to the University of Chicago graduate school to complete studies for a Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry and physics. He returned in July 1948 before studies were completed, based on the needs of the United States Air Force . His assignment this time was with the School of Aerospace Medicine at Randolf Field as a research assistant in the Department of Biophysics.
In 1958 Colonel John E. Pickering, Chief, Department of Radiobiology, was named director of medical research at the U. S. School of Aerospace Medicine, San Antonio, Texas.
On 14 November 1959, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson formally dedicated the Aerospace Medical Center at Brooks AFB in San Antonio, Texas. Present at the ceremony were Texas congressmen Senator Ralph Yarborough and Representative Paul J. Kilday and United States Secretary of the Air Force James H. Douglas, Jr., the Surgeon General of the Air Force Oliver K. Niess, Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force Thomas D. White and General Otis O. Benson, the new commander of the School of Aerospace Medicine and Aerospace Medical Center.
After the assignment to the U. S. School of Aerospace Medicine in San Antonio, Pickering was assigned to the Office of Manned Space Flight, NASA.
In the 1950s Pickering was an Air Force researcher with the School of Aviation Medicine and participated as a research subject to study flashblindness in the atomic bomb tests including Operation Plumbbob and Operation Dominic I.
In 1956 Colonel Pickering was involved with the project to place a nuclear reactor on the Convair NB-36H Crusader and the development of a nuclear powered aircraft.
On 21 November 1963, Colonel Pickering and Lt. Gen. George E. Schafer co-wrote the technical portions of John F. Kennedy’s ‘Cap over the Wall’ speech. Kennedy visited Brooks Air Force Base to dedicate the Aerospace Medical Center. This was President Kennedy's last official act as President before Dallas.
An excerpt form the 'Cap Over the Wall' speech, with the closing 2 paragraphs from John F. Kennedy:
Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside; and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high to climb, too doubtful to try, too difficult to permit their journey to continue, they took off their caps and tossed them over the wall - - and then they had no choice but to follow them.
My friends, this nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space - - and we have no choice but to follow it. Whatever the difficulties, they must be overcome. Whatever the hazards, they must be guarded against. With the vital help of this Aerospace Medical Center, with the help of all who labor in this space endeavor, with the help and support of all Americans, we will climb this wall with both safety and speed - - and we shall then explore all the wonders and treasures that lie on the other side.(The end)