VICKSBURG, Miss.— Though Howard W. McGee Jr. and Dr. Fred T. Tracy had very different careers during their time at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), the two now have something major in common—they’re both 2021 inductees to the prestigious Waterways Experiment Station Gallery of Distinguished Employees.
Surrounded by family, friends and coworkers gathered virtually and in-person, McGee and Tracy, both of Vicksburg, were inducted to the gallery at a ceremony on July 15, 2021, at the ERDC Information Technology Laboratory.
“Today, we’re putting them into a category—basically the Waterways Experiment Station hall of fame, the best of the best,” ERDC Director Dr. David Pittman told the crowd. “These two have helped pave the way for all of us and set the standard and example for all of us.”
McGee, who retired from ERDC in 2013 after 36 years of federal civilian service, began his career in 1977 as a laborer in the Weapons Effects Laboratory, which today is part of the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory.
“This is a profound moment for me when I think about how I got started,” McGee explained at the induction ceremony. “I came to ERDC with just a high-school diploma and a military background, and from there I was able to work my way up.”
About three years after he was hired as a laborer, McGee was promoted to a civil engineering technician—a role that allowed him to make remarkable contributions to his field for decades to come. In the following years, he planned, managed and executed studies of blast and weapons effects on structural systems, which allowed ERDC to develop life-saving technologies to protect the warfighter and the nation.
“I want to thank those individuals that had enough faith in me to give me this great honor, I can’t say thank you enough,” McGee said. “The reason I got this award is because of the many great people that I’ve worked with, and I want to tip my hat to them.”
“He is one of the lead experts of explosives in the world,” Pittman said of McGee. “He has saved so many, countless lives. Technologies developed with his help and patented by ERDC are still being used around the world today, and there’s no doubt he impacted ERDC, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Army and the nation.”
Tracy retired from ERDC’s Information Technology Laboratory in April 2016 after 47 years of federal civilian service.
“I’m absolutely stunned, grateful and honored by this award,” Tracy told the crowd. “But I can’t just stand here and say ‘look at what I’ve done;’ I have to stand here and say ‘look at how I’ve been blessed.’”
As a child, Tracy faced unique challenges. He was born without one of his hands and suffered vision loss. His first educational experience was in a one-room schoolhouse, where he was taught by a hog farmer. However, he went on to earn a bachelor’s from Murray State University and a master’s from University of Kentucky before he was hired at the Waterways Experiment Station. While studying for his master’s, Tracy had lost his vision almost completely and was declared legally blind.
During his career, Tracy was a top contributor in the fields of physics and computational engineering, writing a two-dimensional grid generation program and finite element seepage program that became used throughout the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and around the world. In 1991 through ERDC’s Graduate Institute, he earned the first computational engineering doctorate conferred by Mississippi State University. He also worked to advance the state-of-the-art in high-performance computing and wrote more than 100 journal papers, book chapters, conference papers and ERDC reports.
“Fred set the standard for generations,” Pittman said. “His groundbreaking work in physics and computational engineering will remain a vital part of this organization’s history for decades to come.”
In addition to their photos now hanging alongside 110 other members of the Waterways Experiment Station Distinguished Gallery, both McGee and Tracy have another important similarity—they still dedicate their expertise to the ERDC.
“They retired, but they didn’t quit,” Pittman said, explaining how McGee and Tracy both came back after retirement to continue working in their respective laboratories. “They’re still working with us, and we’re so grateful for their service and experience. Between the two of them, they have more than 90 years of experience—more experience than the life of Waterways Experiment Station, which is 92 years old.”