White Sands Missile Range Hall of Fame

COL Dan Duggan
Served 1963 – 2006
Inducted 2012

Colonel Dan Duggan attended the University of Oklahoma and studied business management. In 1961, as a young Army captain, he joined White Sands as the liaison officer between the missile range and Bell Laboratories, one of the prime contractors for the Nike Zeus missile system.

In Duggan’s first position at WSMR with Nike Zeus, he frequently gave briefings on the system. He was good at it. He was soon added as a command group briefer which quickly turned into a long stint as the chief briefer.

When President Kennedy visited White Sands on June 5, 1963 Duggan was tasked to prepare the LC-37 viewing area for the president’s party, provide the Zeus shot-of-the-day briefing and then give a private, 20-minute classified briefing for JFK. It all went off without a hitch except Kennedy balked at the 20-minute formal briefing and suggested they just sit and talk about the Nike Zeus. Duggan demonstrated his adaptability by jettisoning his canned briefing and simply answering the president’s questions.

He was praised for his “tactful initiative and tenaciousness” as he left Nike Zeus to take on management of the Anti-Tank Test Branch. There he quickly saved the test schedule and a wad of money for the SHILLELAGH program. When safety requirements called for a barricade, instead of wasting weeks going through the bureaucratic and costly process of building one, Duggan led an effort where his soldiers erected a barricade made of sandbags in a matter of days. There was little cost and no delay in the program.

In 1980 Duggan found himself with orders for Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Maj. Gen. Duard Ball, then WSMR commander, found out about his assignment and requested Duggan come to White Sands to be Ball’s deputy instead.

When Duggan arrived he was immediately tasked with resetting the range’s commitment to the equal employment opportunity program. He was so successful that in 1985 he was named WSMR’s EEO Manager of the Year.

In 1982, as deputy commander, Duggan found himself in charge of the “plan” for the landing and public viewing of the Space Shuttle Columbia on March 30. This was bigger than the president’s visit as well over 1,000 WSMR personnel were involved in the shuttle landing preparation and execution.

One thing Duggan did in the pressure cooker days leading up to the landing was to look out for other people’s interests as well as WSMR’s. For instance with the public driving through the little village of Tularosa to get to the range’s viewing area, he was concerned about the possibility of thousands of vehicles mobbing the community. He pushed the NM State Police and others to support the village.

Afterward, instead of blaming White Sands for the crowds, the Tularosa Village mayor thanked Duggan saying, “I don’t know how I and my community will ever be able to pay you back for being so outstanding to us.”

For his efforts, Duggan was awarded the Legion of Merit which is given in peacetime for service “in the nature of a special requirement or of an extremely difficult duty performed in an unprecedented and clearly exceptional manner.”

When Maj. Gen. Niles Fulwyler assumed command of WSMR in Sept. 1982, he insisted Duggan stay on as his deputy. In this phase of Duggan’s tenure he dealt with many rancher issues.

Ranchers were complaining about Air Force pilots buzzing their ranches and spooking cattle and horses. When the Air Force failed to respond to command complaints, Duggan invited himself to Holloman to brief pilots on the rules. In response the Air Force quickly tightened up their training and stressed the flight restrictions already in place.

Then, on Oct. 16, 1982, rancher Dave McDonald snuck onto WSMR to camp at his old ranch house. Duggan was the official who made contact with McDonald and his gun-toting niece and set the tone for a non-violent resolution to the event that made international news.

Duggan moved on to be Director of National Range Operation in 1984 and then retired from active duty in Nov. 1985. At retirement he was awarded his second Legion of Merit for his work at White Sands.

He and his wife Wilba live in Las Cruces.