John W. Morris II

John W. Morris, Lt. General (Ret.) and former Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army, is the eleventh recipient of the Carroll H. Dunn Award of Excellence. The award is presented by the Construction Industry Institute to honor an individual for accomplishments in improving the cost effectiveness of the construction industry. The Executive Committee of the CII Board of Advisors selected John Morris because he exceeds all criteria for the award, and as the first public sector recipient, he brings both distinction and honor to CII’s highest recognition.

John W. (Jack) Morris II was born on September 10, 1921, in Princess Anne, Maryland, the only child of Allice and J. Earle Morris. His parents ran two movie theatres in the small town of Princess Anne, and his father later served as postmaster there. A talented athlete who lettered in three sports and a student who excelled, Jack was voted Student Athlete by the faculty at Charlotte Hall Military Academy.

Jack enrolled as a plebe at the U.S. Military Academy in 1940. In the middle of his second year at West Point, the bombing of Pearl Harbor caused his classes to be accelerated. In June 1943, he and his classmates graduated as Second Lieutenants, a group distinguished because it had the largest number killed in action of any class in the history of the Academy.

Along with others, he was designated for assignment overseas soon after graduation. Much of his World War II service was spent in the Pacific Area, where he was directly involved in the construction of B-29 airfields on Guam. He also was an original member of the Army’s Strategic Air Force, which later evolved into the U.S. Strategic Air Command. Jack also saw duty in Japan and the Philippines, where he met a lovely flight nurse, Geraldine King Ludwig. They fell in love and, at the end of the war, the young couple returned to the U.S. and married in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Having had the best mark in the country in the quarter-mile at West Point, Jack was invited to compete for a slot on the 1948 U.S. Olympic team. He declined the offer in order to pursue his graduate degree at the University of Iowa, where he earned a masters in civil engineering. During this time, he and Gerry welcomed their daughter, Susan, into the world, and he was reassigned to the Engineers School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The family spent the early 1950s in Europe, the location of Jack’s next assignment.

It was as Resident Engineer, Goose Bay, Labrador, that Jack got his first real exposure to the complexities of construction management. Rebuilding Goose Air Base in the mid-1950s was, as he puts it, a great “opportunity to fail.” His commanding officer in New York made it clear: you fail, you’re fired, no questions asked. A bitterly cold and remote location with record snows of 20 feet and precious few good construction days, Goose Bay taught him the importance of planning, the difficulties and hazards that come with extreme climates, and the value of management and controls in working a cost-plus contract. The experience he gained in planning and executing a major construction project in such severe conditions, with primitive communications and under tremendous pressure to put work in place, stuck with him the rest of his career. His success at Labrador helped lay the groundwork for facing other challenges.

One significant challenge was the Corps project to make the Arkansas River navigable. Jack was District Engineer, Tulsa, from 1962–65, and Carroll Dunn was Division Engineer, Southwest Division. Jack served as the contracting officer for the Oklahoma half of that project and some 20 other dams. Under his guidance, disputes were settled quickly because it was imperative that work be put in place. He worked off over 40 claims that he had inherited when coming into the project, and left no residual claims for his successor. He initiated a program of cooperation between the contractors and the Corps that became known as “value engineering.” For his numerous contributions on the Arkansas River project and for his innovation of value engineering, he was awarded the Presidential Citation for Management by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The passage of the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970 brought massive change throughout the engineering and construction industry. Jack was especially effective in harmonizing the needs of development interests with those of environmentalists. First as Division Engineer, Missouri River, and then as the Director of Civil Works beginning in 1972, he led the Corps as it integrated the new law. He was promoted to Lt. General and served as Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1976–1980. As Chief of Engineers, he provided outstanding leadership. The devotion that he brought to bear earned him the respect of President Carter, the U.S. Congress, and the American public. By the time of his retirement in 1980, he had testified before Congressional committees for 11 consecutive years, and was highly respected for his knowledge and responsiveness.

Jack’s experience in the design and construction of military and civil projects stretches over five decades. In addition, his military duties after his World War 11 service also called him to Korea and to Vietnam to lead combat units. During his career with the Corps, he participated in some of the largest projects ever undertaken: Lock and Dam 26 on the Mississippi River and the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway Project. He helped plan and execute the construction of two major airfields in Israel as part of the Camp David Agreement. He was part of a Presidential Commission that traveled to China to investigate and report on hydropower projects, including the Three Gorges Dam. He also had a significant role in the $20 billion Saudi Arabian Military Assistance Program, and his leadership on that project earned him recognition from Engineering News–Record as “Construction Man of the Year” in 1977.

Jack not only has been a public servant, but has been successful in the private sector as well. After retiring from the Corps as Chief of Engineers, he established an engineering consulting firm and worked with numerous European companies. He has helped both American and foreign companies conduct business in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and China. Today he continues his service when needed and serves on the Board of several U.S. companies in the engineering and construction field.

Jack has been a long-term advocate of education and research in construction. The University of Maryland bestowed upon him the first endowed chair in construction management, which enabled him to inaugurate a graduate level course in construction engineering management that he personally developed. He serves on the Advisory Board for the Dean of Engineering and Mathematics at the University of Vermont, and is a Trustee of the Association of Graduates, U.S. Military Academy, where he has served as Deputy Commandant. He also is an Honorary Professor at East China Technical University, Nanjing, China, and is Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland.

Jack has been honored many times with a variety of awards. He has numerous military awards, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Award, and five Legions of Merit. He has received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the National Parks and Recreation Association as well as the Palladium Medal from the Audubon Society of America. In 1995, he received the Golden Beaver Award for Engineering. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and this October will be recognized by the NAE with its prestigious Founders Award.

In a recent interview, Carroll Dunn said that he was extremely pleased with the selection of Jack Morris as the recipient of the Award of Excellence. Their working relationship and friendship go back over 40 years. Recalling their close relationship on the Arkansas River project, Carroll said, “Jack is a real asset to the engineering and construction community, and his selection is certainly well deserved.”

Jack Morris inspires those with whom he comes in contact through his wisdom, leadership, and his devotion to the engineering and construction profession. He exemplifies integrity and vision. CII is honored with his selection as recipient of the Carroll H. Dunn Award of Excellence.

Jack and his wife, Geraldine, live in Arlington, Virginia. Their daughter, Susan, is married to James Nelson. They have one child and live in Newbury Park, California. Their son, John W. Morris III, is a Colonel in the U.S. Army, and he, his wife, Tammy, and their three children are stationed in Korea.