By Kari Hawkins, Assistant editor, The Redstone RocketFebruary 18, 2014
There's a building on Redstone Arsenal that holds a bit of mystery for passersby who aren't involved in the research and development behind the Army's missile and aviation systems.
Sitting slightly back from the south side of Martin Road and just west of the Sparkman Center is a white building emblazoned with the words "McMorrow Laboratories AMRDEC 5400." The building is the home of the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, which is part of the Research Development and Engineering Command.
AMRDEC is a world-class facility with about 2,500 employees, including more than 1,900 scientists and engineers who provide technical services, and conduct scientific research and development in disciplines that support AMRDEC customer platforms and weapons systems. AMRDEC conducts operations in 1.7 million square feet of facilities with a total investment exceeding $975 million per year. As a result of the vast resources that AMRDEC can bring to bear to support its customers, AMRDEC's annual revenue exceeds $1.5 billion.
But who is McMorrow?
As AMRDEC employees prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this leading research and development organization on March 12, the namesake of the building that is at the heart of its work will be honored for his leadership, vision and determination in the early years of the Army's missile research and development.
Maj. Gen. Francis "Frank" McMorrow came on the scene shortly after the transfer of all Army space-related activities to NASA and its Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone. In July 1960, 4,670 civilian employees, about $100 million worth of buildings and equipment and 1,840 acres of land transferred from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to MSFC. German scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun and most of the members of his German rocket team went on to lead the U.S. space program to put man on the moon.
While all of this was happening, McMorrow was on an Army career path that brought him to Redstone in 1961 as the deputy commander of the Army Ordnance Missile Command.
By 1962, the Army was undergoing a sweeping reorganization. One of the results of this reorganization was the creation of the Army's Missile Command, which was activated on Aug. 1, 1962, at Redstone Arsenal with McMorrow as its first commander. One of the significant changes within MICOM was the establishment of project managers for missile system programs.
Sadly, McMorrow only served as MICOM's first commander for just over a year. On Aug. 24, 1963, he died suddenly. MICOM's new research and development facility (building 5400) was dedicated to his memory as the Francis J. McMorrow Missile Laboratories on March 12, 1964.
Although McMorrow's time as MICOM's commander was short, it was a time filled with plenty of activity as the Army worked to rebuild its missile research capabilities at Redstone. McMorrow successfully led Redstone through two major reorganizations of Army activities and into a period of elevated national interest while ensuring personnel remained secure in their jobs.
During a tour of Redstone on May 18, 1962, President John Kennedy met with McMorrow. During the visit, Kennedy famously delivered an off-the-cuff speech about supporting the spread of freedom, securing first place for America in the international space race, and increasing pay for members of the armed services.
But McMorrow's last years at Redstone were not his first pertaining to the nation's missile defense. A native of New York City, McMorrow's 30-year Army career began with his graduation from West Point in 1933 and commissioning as a second lieutenant in the Army's Coast Artillery Corps.
Anti-aircraft artillery units became more important in the Army with the increased importance of aircraft worldwide. McMorrow welcomed the challenge, and from 1933-37 he served as an anti-aircraft unit commander. During this time, he was also an instructor in the West Point Preparatory School.
This period also included a tour in the Philippine Islands. During this assignment, McMorrow was asked by the chief of Ordnance to take a detail with the Ordnance Corps. Realizing that the Army's job in peacetime was to prepare for possible war, and realizing that good equipment was a part of this preparation, McMorrow accepted a detail in Ordnance, launching a distinguished career as a director of development and a producer of armament for the services.
McMorrow was detailed to the Ordnance Department in 1937 and later transferred to that department in June 1941. To prepare himself for the key assignments that followed his early days in Ordnance work, McMorrow completed training at the Army Ordnance School in 1937 and earned a master's from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1938.
During World War II, McMorrow was an Ordnance staff officer with the Army Air Force Materiel Command and chief of the Ordnance Special Staff Section at Headquarters, 7th Air Force, and Headquarters, Far East Air Forces. He became the Ordnance officer of the 7th Air Force in September 1944. World War II allowed McMorrow to utilized his Army-developed leadership skills in key logistics positions within the rapidly expanding Army Air Corps. He became one of the first colonels in his graduating West Point class, and by the end of the war had established a reputation for success in his assignments.
After the war, McMorrow held key positions with the Department of State Foreign Liquidation Commission in the Pacific during a critical period in 1946. The quick and efficient disposal of war surpluses by the commission in the Pacific area permitted a rapid retrenchment of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's far-flung units into permanent bases and back to the United States.
From 1947-51, McMorrow served as chief of research and development, chief of manufacturing, and as executive officer of Springfield Armory. His next assignment was in the Office of the Chief of Ordnance in Washington as executive to the chief of the Industrial Division, as assistant executive officer and as executive officer to the Chief of Ordnance.
After his tour of duty in the Chief of Ordnance Office, he attended the National War College. McMorrow was assigned to G4, Headquarters, U.S. Army Europe, during 1955 and 1956. After an abbreviated European tour of duty he was recalled to the U.S. to command the Ordnance Training Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and was promoted to brigadier general.
In expediting its efforts in missile research and procurement, the Army moved McMorrow to Washington again to reorganize Ordnance procurement toward this special effort, where he served as the director of Procurement, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics. His successes in this position raised him to another level, to head all Army procurement activities on the Army staff, and those successes brought him to Redstone Arsenal in 1961 and to become the first commander of MICOM in 1962.
At the Missile Command, McMorrow directed research, development, procurement and field service for missiles.
Reorganization of the Army and of his own command took great personal effort, yet McMorrow never lost sight of the important effort with which he was charged. He kept the missile program moving at as rapid a pace as people, facilities and scientific discovery permitted.
In this time of uncertainty, the thousands of civilian personnel at the Missile Command must have had second thoughts about their jobs. They could have left for other employment, but they chose to stay because they knew McMorrow would look after his people. He told them things would turn out all right and because they believed in him, they stayed and the job was accomplished.
McMorrow's sudden death left a void in leadership that was felt through the Redstone Arsenal research community.
"Heavy sadness cast a lone shadow over the free world center of Army missiles and rockets when Maj. Gen. Francis J. McMorrow died at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.," wrote the Birmingham News in expressing the mood at Redstone Arsenal upon the death of the MICOM commander.
McMorrow was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (posthumously), the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal and various campaign medals. On his 53rd birthday, a solemn requiem Mass was said for McMorrow at the Redstone Arsenal chapel. He was interred at the West Point Cemetery at the U.S. Military Academy. He was survived by his wife, Kay, and their three children, son Tom who graduated from West Point in 1959 and served as an Army officer, and daughters, Margaret and Mary, who married military officers.
After his death, McMorrow's efforts to re-establish Redstone as the headquarters for the Army's missile research, development and procurement continued. With the research, development and engineering facilities established at McMorrow Laboratories, Redstone gained the reputation of being the best location for missile research and development through the 1960s and '70s. In 1977, MICOM split into two commands with McMorrow Labs becoming part of the Missile Research and Development Command.