Physical elements of White Sands Missile Range’s historical past are being preserved by a group of volunteer’s love and dedication to the range.
The WSMR Archival Holdings center, located in Building 1833, stores several thousands of paper documents, photographs, video, and film reels that tell the story of WSMR’s past.
Doyle Piland, a WSMR Historical Foundation volunteer and the unassuming director, has been volunteering every Thursday since he retired from WSMR in the late 90s. Piland, his wife, and eight other retired volunteers go through mountains of archives and properly store them, label them, and put their information in an online database. The group has a total of 176 years of experience on the range from as early as 1951 to as late as 2011.
“There was a lot of stuff in here that had been collected over the years and nothing was documented,” Piland said. “We got started and began recruiting volunteers to come in and help us.”
John Douds, a retired WSMR employee and a current volunteer, developed the concept for the center and recruited Piland to take the lead. The equipment used in the center is solely funded by the WSMR Historical Foundation and the volunteers. Debbie Walters, the executive director for the center, purchased a 16mm film projector out of pocket in order to be able to view historical film reels that were handed down.
The online database has around 25,000 entries. This represents a total of about 75,000 physical documents at the center. Piland said visitors can jot down the id number of an item they would like and send an e-mail with the request. The fees are $3 per photograph and $.25 per page for a document.
“We feel the price that we charge is much cheaper for someone to order a bunch of information without really seeing it first,” Piland said.
The archives consists of a variety of historical installation information including the first installation commander, Col. Harold Turner’s collection of documents. Former WSMR Public Affairs Specialist and current WSMR historian Jim Eckles has donated 17 boxes of information to the center. Eckles will be volunteering to input his own information.
“If it’s about White Sands or it originated at White Sands then we’ll take it,” Piland said.
Each volunteer donates six hours of their time every Thursday to archive documents that would have otherwise been neglected and possibly discarded.
WSMR Museum Director Darren Court said the system the center uses for archiving matches the one that was developed by the Army Museum database archive system.
“A lot of museums have their home run system or don’t have an archiving system at all,” Court said.
Their efforts have assisted several organizations, including their most frequent customers at Environmental Stewardship, and even some in private industries. Most recently, Piland said a professor from Auburn University personally stopped in to obtain copies for his studies.
Because of the importance of their role, Piland said the center is in need of new, younger volunteers who can work with him and someday take over the center.
Walters said there are still large aisles of documents that have not been touched due to lack of volunteers. Ideally, Piland said the center would need about 15 volunteers in order for it to work efficiently and effectively.
“We’re all very experienced and sooner or later we’re not going to be here,” Piland said.
Individuals with a basic understanding of WSMR and its missions would be the ideal volunteer candidates.
“You need some basic understanding of WSMR, how it worked, and how it used to work,” Piland said. “All of our volunteers have connections to the range in some ways.”
To view the WSMR database, visit www.wsmr-history.org and click on the “Archive” section in the left column.