Jim Fraser already had two years of college behind him at the Missouri School of Mines when he got a chance to take a competitive exam in 1944, along with 360 other potential candidates, for the United States Military Academy at West Point.
He not only passed the test, but three years later graduated in 1947 at the top of his class. He was 12th out of 320 graduates.
Shortly after graduating from the point he was married and he and his new wife were sent to Germany as part of the occupation forces after World War II. They were there from 1948 to 1952.
“I served in eight different cities in Germany as part of the occupation troops,” the 90-year-old retired colonel who lives in South Port Square, Port Charlotte, Fla. explained more than 65 years later. “Some of the time I served on the eastern front as part of the deterrent against the Russians.”
The biggest thing that happened to the young lieutenant was that three of his four children were born while he was serving overseas in Germany.
After returning to the U.S. he signed up for an advanced civil engineering degree at the University of Illinois. He studied the effects of a nuclear blast on homes and buildings as part of his Army education.
“I was sent to the country’s nuclear test site in Nevada. The University of Illinois, while working with the Army, had established several nuclear sites on the Nevada range,” Fraser said.
“I experienced one nuclear bomb blast out there in 1953. We watched the blast from eight miles away,” he said. “It was an air drop and they detonated the bomb 200 feet off the ground. The next day we walked almost to ground zero. We got a close up look at what a nuclear bomb could do to manmade structures.”
After his stint at the nuclear bomb range in Nevada, he was assigned to the Nuclear Power Branch of the Engineering Research and Development Lab at Fort Belvoir, Va. This was his first up close look at what nuclear power could mean to this country if used for civilian purposes.
Greenland was his next out of country assignment. Fraser was stationed at Sondrestrom Air Base where he supervised the construction of a 4,000 foot extension of the bases 6,000 foot runway. It was a year’s undertaking.
In 1958 he returned to the States and for the next three years taught physics to to cadets at West Point.
Fraser got a completely different assignment in 1962, he was assigned to the Army’s Language School at Monterey, Calif. to learn Turkish. After a year of learning to speak the language he went to the United States Engineering Group at Ankara, Turkey. By this time he was a major.
He became the officer in charge of construction on 29 military bases around Turkey. By the time he flew home to the U.S. in 1966 his rank had been upgraded to lieutenant colonel.
“In June 1966 I was assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas to command the 31st Engineering Combat Battalion. In 1967 I volunteered to go to Vietnam,” he said.
“After six months of training I was supposed to take the 31st Battalion to Vietnam with me. As soon as we were ready to ship out to Vietnam the Army came up with another plan. It decided to cut up my battalion and put the various companies in other engineering battalions.
“I was sent to Vietnam in 1967 as an extremely disappointed individual. The first few months over there I was assigned a desk job in Saigon. I complained to the major general in charge of engineering troops in Vietnam.
“About a month later I was appointed commander of the 84th Engineering Construction Battalion at Qui Nhon. We built airfields, hospitals, roads, ammunition dumps after I took over the unit in August 1967.
“We were slightly involved in the Tet Offensive between January and March of 1968. Vietcong guerillas ambushed some of our trucks on Highway One. We lost eight men killed and 18 wounded,” Fraser said.
On his return to the States he was reassigned to the Institute of Nuclear Studies at Fort Bliss. His job was to develop criteria for the Army’s nuclear weapons. During this period he presented a paper on “Blast Phenomena” at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
Fraser’s last assignment in the Army was as a full colonel in command of the 35th Engineering Construction Group at Fort Bragg, N.C. In 1972 he retired from the Army after 27 years of service. During these years he commanded four companies, two battalions and two groups.
Since he was only 49 at the time, Fraser decided he wasn’t ready to retire. So he and his wife moved back to El Paso, Texas, where they owned a house, and he went to work for the City of El Paso as a design engineer.
Two years later, in 1975, he was offered a much more important position with the City of Atlanta. Atlanta was on the verge of building a rail system. Three years later Fraser became the Director of Engineering for the entire project.
By the time he retired for good in 1986 he had worked on the construction of the Atlanta subway system for 11 years.
This was about the time he married Nelda, his second wife, His first wife died in 1985. Fraser has six children: Becky, Denean, Keith, Linda, Terry and Phyliss.
Name: James Franklin Fraser
D.O.B: 10 Sept. 1923
Hometown: Bolckow, Mo.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 12 Dec. 1942
Discharged: 31 July 1972
Unit: 84th Engineering Construction Battalion
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal w/two awards; Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star w/V for Valor; Meritorious Unit Commendation, w/two awards; Army Commendation Medal, Army of Occupation Medal (Germany)
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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