Colonel Harold Turner
1st White Sands Proving Ground Commander
09 July 1945 – 03 August 1947
COL Harold R. Turner (then Lieutenant Colonel) was the first commander of White Sands Proving Ground. He is quoted as having said, “I had arrived in Las Cruces, NM, two days before the explosion [16 June 1945]. When the bomb went off, I was asleep in the Amador Hotel in Las Cruces. The first I knew of it was on reading the morning paper although it was on the property I was supposed to command.” Turner had the task of getting the proving ground ready to test rockets. There were no buildings, potable water or transport facilities in the area. Not only was there nothing at the site, it was still called “that place in the desert.” Turner is credited with naming it White Sands Proving Ground so personnel would have a mailing address. Through his efforts water was found and a reservoir and pumping system built. Working with the Corps of Engineers in Albuquerque, housing, dining and sanitary facilities were built. It was Turner’s decision to put the administration area at the foot of the Organ Mountains, two miles from the first rocket firing station.
After the war ended, Turner was informed 300 railroad carloads of captured German V-2 components were in Las Cruces. He was told to get the Proving Ground ready to fire them. Though he started with no transport facilities and little money, he moved the components by truck to the proving ground over the San Andres Mountains and developed a shop to put them together. The first 28 V-2’s were fired during his tenure.
After Turner left the proving ground, and soon after his promotion to Colonel, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. The award was presented for his work both in the New Mexico desert and the almost equally difficult one of preparing a precision range for aerial rocket firing on marsh land near Dover, Delaware, from June 1944 to June 1945.
The award citation read in part:
“Lieutenant Colonel Turner performed exceptionally meritorious services as commanding officer, White Sands Proving Ground, Las Cruces, New Mexico, from June 1945 to July 1947. Colonel Turner assumed responsibility for the planning, building and operation of the White Sands Proving Ground for controlled missiles, and under his personal direction this proving ground was built in a remarkably short time in a remote and uninhabited desert area and was completed in time for the first scheduled test firing of important rocket missiles.”
In 1974, the Nuclear Weapons Effects Laboratory was named for Turner. During the dedication ceremony, MG Arthur H. Sweeney Jr., Range Commander, said, “Colonel Turner was an educator, innovator and above all leader. We must remember there were no precedents or policies for him to follow. This great pioneer did what no one had ever done before he established an installation that would be the birthplace of America’s missile and space activity.”