By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneJuly 19, 2010
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- There were 120 of them.
Dr. Wernher von Braun wanted more. But, in the end, he settled for 120 German specialists in rocket metals and propulsion to join him in an American project that would forever change the nation's view of space exploration and transform Huntsville into a center for missile and space technology.
Now, those 120 are forever remembered in a memorial at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center that includes a plaque in their honor and 120 bricks, each inscribed with the name of a German rocket team member. The memorial is located in the center's Apollo Court and, at certain times of the day, is shadowed by one of the German team's greatest accomplishments -- the Saturn V rocket that first took man to the moon.
"We are honored that you chose this location to honor these pioneers," said retired Brig. Gen. Larry Capps, director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, during a Wernher von Braun Team Tribute unveiling of the brick memorial July 3.
Those 120 specialists will forever be the founding members of America's space program and Huntsville's modern day growth, he said.
"The members of the Dr. Wernher von Braun team transformed Huntsville from a sleepy farming town and a mill town to a global leader in technology," Capps said. "They were a great team of pioneers who put the nation into space and accomplished one of the greatest technological achievements of all mankind."
Capps spoke in the shadow of the Saturn V during the tribute, which was part of a daylong reunion celebration for members of the German rocket team, their families and friends, and the American engineers who joined the Germans in developing rocket technology. Hans Fichtner, 92, was the only one of the seven remaining members of the German rocket team who was able to attend the tribute.
The reunion, which is an event held every even year, actually celebrated two key milestones in the history of the nation's space program - the 1950 move of the German rocket team from Fort Bliss, Texas, to Redstone Arsenal and the 1960 move of the rocket team from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
Describing Huntsville as a city that "rock and rolled to the best of test engines" in the 1950s and '60s, Capps said the memorial is a "permanent record of leadership, dedication and just plain hard work."
Capps thanked two relatives of the German rocket team - Heidi Weber Collier, daughter of the deceased Fritz Weber, and Jackie Dannenberg, widow of Konrad Dannenberg - for their efforts in remembering the legacy of the German rocket team.
The plaque at the memorial site, dedicated in January 2008, was sponsored and funded by the Marshall Retirees Association under the direction of then association president Jim Splawn and members Brooks Moore and Ellery May. The bricks were then made possible after a fund-raising effort led by Jackie Dannenberg and largely funded by a donation from wealthy German businessman Karlheinz Rohrwild.
"I want to thank the von Braun team, the U.S. Army and NASA," Jackie Dannenberg said. "I wanted a big brick for Konrad. But he would have told me that's not what it's all about. This is not just about keeping it to Konrad, but about the entire team."
The unveiling of the brick memorial would not have been complete without the presence of the Army, which brought the German rocket team to the U.S. and then to Redstone Arsenal. Representing the Army at the tribute was Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco, program executive officer for missiles and space.
"There is a Redstone rocket outside my window at work. It represents the lineage of the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space that can be traced back to (Maj. Gen. John) Medaris (commander of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency) and (Maj. Gen. Holger) Toftoy (deputy commander of the Army Ordnance Missile Command at Redstone)."
Toftoy worked closely with the German rocket team during their move to the U.S. - known as Operation Paperclip -- and during their early years of rocket development. The Redstone rocket, first launched in 1953, was a direct descendant of the German V-2 and was used both as an Army field artillery theater ballistic missile and to launch four sub-orbital missions of the Project Mercury manned space program.
In his comments, Dellarocco mentioned the transfer of the space mission from the Army to NASA in 1958. Civilian leadership of the nation's space program was important in a nation known as a "democracy led by civilians," he said.
"NASA was born and it was born for the right reasons ... Medaris handed off an Army agency that actually had its roots in missile defense. He handed off an Army element that went into a different direction ... NASA offered an atmosphere and environment for the achievements of the von Braun team."
He also touched on the tremendous impact the German rocket team and its achievements had and continue to have on the American economy.
"This team propelled an economic engine to the moon," Dellarocco said. "The space race drove our economy and was the beginning for numerous inventions and many companies. The German rocket team laid the foundation to accomplish a lot in space and it all started with the transfer of an Army program to a civilian agency."
Dellarocco and Jackie Dannenberg unveiled the bricks. Afterward, Fichtner, and family and friends of the German rocket team crowded around the memorial, reaching down to touch the bricks that are special to them.
"This brings back so many memories," Fichtner said, pointing to the bricks. "I can't see. But (Dellarocco) showed me my brick. He led my hand to it and I touched it."
Inge Kuberg, daughter of deceased German rocket team member Will Kuberg, said her father would be proud of the memorial.
"He was always proud to be part of the team," she said. "But it's not only the German team. It's also the Americans who contributed a lot to the team and the whole project, and that's how most of the Germans felt. It was a collaboration and a team effort with the Germans and the Americans to develop the rockets that put man in space. That's how my dad would like it to be remembered."