Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Pentagon- The War Era and Beyond

This is the Pentagon, located in Arlington, Virginia. The 5-sided building sits less than a mile away from Washington, D.C. I live about 20 -25 minutes (depending on traffic) west of the Pentagon and I often pass it by as I drive into D.C. for shows, dinner, or shopping. The part of the building faces Interstate 395 and it is literally across the road from Reagan National Airport and the Potomac River.

In mid 1941, the number of War Department employees, both military and civilian, rose to 24,000 in the Washington, D.C. Area alone. Personnel worked in seventeen different buildings and the number of workers was expected to reach 30,000 by 1942. The Quartermaster Corps’ Construction Division, was responsible for creating office space for the workers. Now, bare in mind, all of this was taking place before the United States declared war in December 1941, after it the US Navy Fleet was attacked in Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii on the 7th of that month.

The government considered designing temporary facilities, but Brigadier General Brehon B. Somervell from the US Army Corps of Engineers had other plans. In July 1941, General Somervell contacted Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Casey and civilian architect George E. Bergstrom. He told the men that he wanted designs for an air-conditioned building that could hold 40,000 employees in a space of 4 million square feet. Due to the height limits specified in the Washington, D.C. building codes, the building could not be higher than four stories. Lieutenant Colonel Casey and his team presented a design that detailed a creation of a five-sided building. The War Department and the Secretary of War approved the building’s design. Eventually, President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress passed a defense appropriation bill that contained a 35 million dollar proposal for the new War Department headquarters.

During the months after the the Pentagon's plans were approved, the building's designs went through several changes, including the proper location for it. Lieutenant Colonel Casey and Mr. Bergstrom initially proposed that the new facility be placed between Arlington National Cemetery and the Memorial Bridge (the bridge spans the Potomac River and connects Arlington National Cemetery with the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.)

However, a few federal agencies and citizens felt the proposed location would block the view between the Lincoln Memorial and the Cemetery. After considering the public's negative response, President Roosevelt selected the building's current location.

Mr. Bergstrom along with fellow architect David J. Witmer created plans that featured reinforced concrete and five inner “rings” of connected rows that were separated by light wells and connected by radiating corridors. The final design had five stories, instead of the proposed four and it also had a six-acre, open courtyard in the middle of the facility. The architects' plans also boasted several ramps, escalators, a shopping area in the first floor, taxi and bus areas, and parking areas large enough to hold 8,000 cars. The ground of the Pentagon was broken on September 11, 1941 and construction began in October of that year. General contractor John McShain oversaw construction work. Most of the building was completed in July 1942 and it was officially dedicated in 1943.

After the war ended, the War Department eventually was changed to the Department of Defense. After 60 plus years, the Pentagon still remains as the “epicenter” of the military and its defense operations.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, exactly 60 years to the day after the Pentagon's ground-breaking ceremony, American Airlines Flight 77 left Washington Dulles airport bound for Los Angeles and then it was highjacked by terrorists. At 9:37 a.m., Flight 77 slammed into the western side of the building. 64 passengers on board the plane and 125 Pentagon employees were killed.

In August 2002, the repairs to fix the damaged section of the Pentagon were completed. Despite the years and the trauma of the September 11th attacks, the Pentagon still stands strong. It is truly a testament to the dedicated workers who built her and the American military that houses her. May the Pentagon ever thrive the ages.

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