Two new members were inducted into the White Sands Missile Range Hall of Fame, a distinguished club of past WSMR employees who have left a mark in WSMR’s history, Oct. 23. This year, former Public Affairs Specialist, James P. Eckles, and former Optics Systems Manager, Andres Portillo, joined the ranks of some of the most impactful people of WSMR.
“We couldn’t be the pearl that we are today without following in your footsteps,” said WSMR Commander Brig. Gen. (P) Gwen Bingham of the Hall of Fame members.
Eckles joined the Public Affairs team in 1977 and is credited with the Trinity Site Open House event. He has also created events like bicycle treks that are still hosted by MWR to this day. Since his retirement in 2007, Eckles wrote a book about his experiences and the history of WSMR titled, “Pocketful of Rockets.”
“It’s a profession where you get to be a little bit of everything,” Eckles said about being a Public Affairs Specialist.
During his speech, Eckles reminisced about his time spent with ranchers where he helped conduct family reunions for them and the times he coordinating hiking trails for the Sierra Club. Eckles also reminisced about the time he helped to record sounds for the initial Star Wars films. Eckles said he was able to take part in these great adventures because all of the organizations always came together to make events like the ones he coordinated possible.
“Thank you to all of you who made our work a little easier,” Eckles said.
Portillo shared a very different recollection of WSMR as he joined the WSMR workforce in 1958 shortly after graduating from what was then known as Texas Western. Portillo dedicated 43 years to the range. His accomplishments include helping to integrate systems like the Aided Laser Tracking System, Multi-Mode Automatic Tracking System, and the Launch Area Theodolites into WSMR Data Collection Capability. He is also credited with coordinating the first digital imaging shoot off for a test mission.
Portillo received a special introduction when WSMR’s Chief of Staff, Frank Chavez, introduced Portillo’s grandson, Tyler Dillard, who gave the audience a brief description of the type of grandfather and family man Portillo has been while working at WSMR. Dillard described his grandfather as a role model he said he never knew exactly what his grandfather did on the range because he was always so focused on being the best grandfather, husband, and father to his family.
“To us, he was always a Hall of Famer, today we just made it official,” Dillard said.
Both men were recognized during a luncheon where WSMR Commander, Brig. Gen. (P) Gwen Bingham awarded them with the WSMR Hall of Fame Medal, American flag, and a certificate. After the luncheon the two newly inducted members and their friends and family made their way to the museum where they each unveiled their Hall of Fame frames. Portillo and Eckles will have the frames that contain their photo along with a biography of their time at WSMR hung up at the WSMR Hall of Fame hallway located in the WSMR Museum.