By Kari Hawkins, Assistant Editor, The Redstone RocketFebruary 5, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Mustard gas production brought Dr. John McDaniel to Redstone Arsenal.
But it was the vision of building the Army's leading science and technology center at Redstone that led him on a 35-year career path to become one of the leading forces behind what is now known as the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center. He was involved in the engineering work of many of the Army's early missile and rocket systems, and in obtaining funding for McMorrow Labs.
McDaniel first came to what was then Huntsville Arsenal in 1942, becoming the 344th person hired to work in a mustard gas manufacturing plant.
McDaniel, a native of Guin, Ala., made the move to Huntsville from Lafayette, Ga., where he worked as a teacher, because he wanted to be involved in defense work. With a bachelor's from Berry College in math and physics, McDaniel hired into a position with the Army's Chemical Corps that involved him in designing, modifying and performing maintenance for mustard gas chemical production, and shell and bomb loading equipment.
But then World War II began, and McDaniel served two years in the Navy. After the war, he returned to Redstone Arsenal to work for the Ordnance Rocket Center, where he went on to help develop several successful weapon systems, including Pershing, Little John, Honest John, LAW, Safeguard and Lance.
"My father, 'Dr. Mac,' loved the Army and Redstone Arsenal," wrote his son, local attorney Mark McDaniel, in an introduction to his father's memoirs.
"My father was totally and completely dedicated to the Army. He was once offered the job of undersecretary of the Navy. He got on the plane and came home. He was an 'Army man.' But then again, what else would you expect from a man who taught his children that the most admirable trait a person could possess was loyalty."
But before he could develop missiles for the Army or help establish the forerunner to AMRDEC, McDaniel supervised Huntsville Arsenal's demilitarization operation, which involved removing poisonous gases and high explosives from shells and bombs, and recover whatever materials were reusable, such as magnesium. In March 1949, Huntsville Arsenal was put up for sale, and McDaniel transferred to the adjacent Redstone Arsenal, which had the responsibility to fill the burster tubes of the chemically filled shells and bombs from Huntsville Arsenal with explosive materials such as TNT.
During 1948, the Office of the Chief of Ordnance decided to designate an arsenal to research and development in the field of rocketry. In June 1949, the Ordnance Department reactivated Redstone Arsenal to carry out this mission. The unsold Huntsville Arsenal was merged with Redstone and, with the addition of two government contractors to do research on rocket propellants and the arrival in April 1950 of Army officers and 120 former German scientists from Fort Bliss, Texas, to join the 1,200 personnel already at Redstone, the Arsenal entered the missile era.
"The most memorable stories my father liked to tell centered around the time he was the technical director for Dr. Wernher von Braun. This was right before Dr. von Braun went to NASA from the Army. My father considered Dr. von Braun the most charismatic manager he ever worked with," Mark McDaniel wrote about his father.
"Dad often told us how he would sneak a chocolate bar into meetings with Dr. von Braun, as the meeting would go into the early morning hours many times. No one was allowed to leave the meeting until the problem was solved."
Retired Col. Jim Henderson, now a local defense contractor, first met McDaniel in 1954 while growing up on Priceville Mountain.
Henderson was 12 at the time. McDaniel and his wife, who had relatives in the area, raised their five children on the mountain.
"He was a good neighbor and always tried to help his neighbors. He was always friendly," Henderson said. "People said he had a big job with the Army, but we didn't know what that meant."
For about 10 years, McDaniel worked with the German rocket team as Von Braun's technical director at the Army Rocket and Guided Missile Agency.
But when the von Braun team and much of the Army's missile research and development talent shifted to NASA management in 1960 by presidential order, McDaniel was given the opportunity to help direct the rebuilding of the Army's research and development team.
"My charter was to reconstitute for the Army what the Army had lost to space, to NASA. That was eight laboratories, all the people and about $100,000,000 worth of facilities. That's what the Army lost," McDaniel said in a recorded Army history interview. "We only lost all the people, and all the facilities, to do R&D and ballistic missiles.
"Remember now, that the Army Rocket and Guided Missile Agency, which had the air defense missiles, was still going on, but they have now moved over to where the ballistic missiles mission is located -- the Pershing, the Jupiter, the Redstone and systems of that nature."
McDaniel and his boss at the time, Dr. Arthur Rudolph, set up the new Army Ballistic Missile Agency, and McDaniel was its technical director. While the agency's facilities -- quonset huts -- were less then ideal, the new team made major strides in missile work. In 1962, the Army Rocket and Guided Missile Agency and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency were combined into the Army Missile Command, going from 16 to eight laboratories.
It was about this time that Henderson initiated a working relationship with McDaniel. After spending his high school years doing farm work and construction, Henderson, then a college freshman studying math and chemistry, went to McDaniel in search of a summer job.
"We knew he was successful with the Army and I needed a job desperately," he said. "He was real friendly and gracious, and told me he would see what he could do."
It wasn't long before Henderson was informed that he had a summer job in missile research with the Army.
"That ended up being a big step for me. I was thrown into a big office in the wing of building 5250 where I worked with a bunch of great guys," Henderson said.
"Dr. McDaniel was a really impressive guy and very encouraging. He'd stop in and check on me every once in a while. I knew that I owed him. So, I made sure I worked hard and succeeded."
In 1963-64, McDaniel worked with Col. Daniel Shepherd, director of research and development at the Army Missile Command to establish the Francis J. McMorrow Laboratories, which were dedicated in March 1964. The new facility centralized four laboratories in the Directorate of Research and Development, which had been housed in temporary World War II buildings (quonset huts) and scattered across the Arsenal. The modern $4.2 million facility provided much-needed office and laboratory space.
"One of Dad's favorite stories was about the time he was trying to get money to build the McMorrow Laboratory," son Mark McDaniel recalled.
"He kept being told that there just was not enough money. Dad, as he did so many times, called Congressman (Bob) Jones and (local defense contractor) Milton Cummings. They went to Washington. Milton Cummings called Bobby Kennedy and said, 'We need to see Jack (President Kennedy) in the morning. He owes me a few favors.' The next morning President Kennedy called Mr. Cummings at the hotel and told him a meeting wasn't necessary, that the Arsenal would get the money for the lab."
McDaniel went on to serve for several years as the director of the Missile Research Development and Engineering Laboratories for the Missile Command. He became Redstone's highest ranking civilian, with his last assignment as deputy of the Missile Research and Development Command, where he served until his retirement in 1977. His many contributions to national defense brought him several honors, including the highest that can be awarded by the secretary of defense, the Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award. He died June 28, 1988.
"As stated previously, the number one quality my dad looked for in a man was loyalty," Mark McDaniel wrote. "Dad always said when a person died, he would be real lucky to count those loyal to him on one hand. He always wanted the people he worked for to count him as one of those.
"You never heard Dad make any off-color remark about his boss. Dad was very goal oriented. He would point his finger off into the distance and remark, 'Always set your sights way ahead. Shoot for the stars.' He would be quick to remind you to think positive. … Dad was a can-do person, an action person. If he was told to get a job done, he never asked how, he did it. He, in turn, expected those that worked for him to be action people."
Henderson, who went on to serve as an Army officer after three summers of interning under McDaniel's tutelage and graduation from college, kept in touch with his mentor throughout his Army career, which included a tour to Vietnam and assignments to Germany and Korea. Toward the end of his Army career, Henderson was stationed at Redstone as a missile defense program manager, and deputy of the Missile and Space Intelligence Center.
"I remember a lot of what Dr. McDaniel said and how he operated and who he was," Henderson said. "It was a little like having a family member because he had done so much to help me and encourage me. He kept track of me during my Army career and he showed a lot of interest in what I was doing.
"He was dedicated to the demands of his job with the Army. He expected his employees to work hard, to be responsible and to be loyal. He was a colorful guy and demanding manager. But he was probably more demanding of himself, from what I saw. He had a heart of gold."
Editor's note: This story was compiled with the addition of historical information from the Aviation and Missile Command Historical Office, the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center Historical Office and the memoirs of Dr. John McDaniel.
AMRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command or RDECOM, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness--technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment--to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC delivers it.