White Sands Missile Range Archaeologist Wins Top Army Award for Preserving History in Complex Installation Environment

By Tom Milligan (USAEC)
Original article posted 24 April 2023.

At White Sands Missile Range – the birthplace of America’s rocket program, playing a significant role in our nation’s history, and continuing to be a significant military installation today – Bill Godby has stood out as a champion of historic preservation within a complex environment of both archaeological sites and historic structures. Godby, an archaeologist with the Environmental Division at WSMR, was selected as the recipient of the 2023 Secretary of the Army Environmental Award for his achievements in cultural resource management.

“It is an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity the leadership and the contract support to preserve, interpret and manage the incredible history at WSMR. The historic landscape here is truly world class that includes the prehistoric archaeology, the ranches and mines and the Cold War era resources. There’s never been a day of coming to work that I didn’t feel blessed to have this job,” said Godby.

He has led efforts to preserve and manage two National Historic Landmarks: The Trinity site, location of the first atomic explosion; and the V-2 Launch Complex, site of the first generation of rocket testing in the United States.

In commenting on Bill’s achievements, Brian Knight, Environmental Division Chief, stated “Bill has proven to be one of the finest cultural resource managers in the Army with his innovative approaches to how we manage historic resources and his support of our critical test/evaluation mission. Bill has done an outstanding job to preserve the unique history of WSMR and tell our story and its importance to our nation.”

While WSMR has an undeniably important role in history, the installation today continues to have an exceptionally large and complex environment, consisting of thousands of structures, many historic, that support the most instrumented test range in the world. Godby has been lauded for leading efforts to secure funding and support to facilitate public interpretation and education through restoration and adaptive reuse of these historic facilities.

In 2020, Godby spearheaded the creation of the WSMR Cold War Tour, utilizing significant historic facilities to share the stories and history of this critical period in our nation’s history. Godby’s tour, created to support internal outreach, STEM programs and VIP visits, has contributed significantly to the Commanding General’s Heritage Immersion Program, teaching WSMR employees about the rich history of the installation. Godby has also partnered with the WSMR Museum’s curator in supporting museum outreach education, in addition to identifying materials to accession in the archives collection.

Part of Godby’s role is to support and facilitate the necessary modernization at WSMR, while simultaneously meeting requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act. Godby has secured funding and contracting for National Register of Historic Places evaluations of launch complexes and facilities that have included NRHP eligible historic districts encompassing 384 historic properties during the award period. Ongoing NRHP efforts also resulted in the Cultural Resource Program being awarded the Heritage Organization award in 2018 by the State of New Mexico’s Cultural Properties Review Committee for exceptional Cold War historic context development.

Godby has been proactive in utilizing funding to maintain and repair historic structures supporting WSMR missions. In 2020 he led an effort to resolve a long-standing water penetration issue with the historic Navy Blockhouse –built in 1945, one of the oldest structures of its kind. He helped identify a specialized contractor who was able to complete the necessary work to allow it to return to supporting mission activities for the U.S. Navy.

Applying the same dedication to historic preservation, and reuse, Godby helped lead efforts to restore the Schmidt/McDonald Ranch house at the Trinity site. The 1913 ranch house is where the plutonium core of “The Gadget” – the world’s first atomic bomb – was assembled and transported to Ground Zero for the first-ever detonation. Godby coordinated an exceptional and complex long-term repair, following the Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation and preventing the collapse of a portion of the structure.

More than 8,300 archaeological sites are contained within WSMR’s 3,200 square mile boundary. In his role as archaeologist, Godby, working with the University of New Mexico’s Office of Contract Archaeology, coordinated and secured funding for a noteworthy study of prehistoric pottery found at the installation, just one of several scientifically significant contributions he has executed with environmental funding. This study helped to identify subtypes of El Paso Polychrome pottery. This is an important step in helping to more accurately identify when sites on WSMR were occupied, based on the subtypes of pottery. This level of precision will help archaeologists narrow down whether sites were continuously occupied or periodically re-occupied, using relative dating along with absolute dates.

2 thoughts on “White Sands Missile Range Archaeologist Wins Top Army Award for Preserving History in Complex Installation Environment

  1. Heartiest congratulations to you, Bill Godby! It was indeed a privilege to work with you on recovering historical information, documentation, and pictures to help reconstruct some of the Cold War history that was created by the USAF ABRES Athena program at WSMR. Your passion for capturing history and archeology within WSMR was contagious. You are truly a professional and it was an honor to work with you. Again, Congratulations!

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