Bernard David Gildenberg or "Duke," as he was known in New Mexico and at NASA, died April 2, 2013, of natural causes.
Duke was born in Hazelton, Pa., in 1925. He was brought up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and had lived in La Luz and Tularosa for the last 60 years. He was a graduate of New York University and was in the Air Force during World War II, stationed in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
As a meteorologist at Holloman Air Force Base, Duke worked on many classified government projects and was close friends with many luminaries in the "pre-astronaut world" such as Capt. Joe Kittinger and Col. John Stapp. He wrote and published many papers on his work as well as magazines articles. He also appeared in several television programs on National Geographic, the History channels and in the movie Man High - which chronicled his integral role in the space program.
According to NASA historians, Gildenberg, along with Dr. David Simons and Capt. Kittinger, constituted the first true U.S. space crew. His participation in the early space program was featured in a recent three-part series "This Week in Space History," in the Alamogordo Daily News. Although playing a very prominent role in space history, Duke remained a humble man concerning his many accomplishments.
After a city childhood, Duke became a true New Mexican living on 80 acres outside of Tularosa in his adobe "casa" that he designed himself. He belonged to and frequented the Wellness Center in Alamogordo where he had many good friends. He was an avid Dallas Cowboy fan.
Duke's survivors include his brother Larry, of New Jersey, and his sister Rita, of California, as well as five nieces and nephews who remember him fondly.
According to his wishes, Duke's body was donated to the University of New Mexico Medical School in Albuquerque. He will be greatly missed by neighbors. friends and family.
Published in Alamogordo Daily News from Sep. 7 to Oct. 6, 2013.