(This essay was originally published by the Newport Daily News on September 10, 2016.)
September 11 marks the 75th anniversary of the ground-breaking for the Pentagon, the home of the U.S. Department of Defense. It is also the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on it.
The need for such a building to house the War Department, then scattered among many buildings in Washington, DC, was underlined by the eruption of World War II in Europe in 1939. The original site chosen was a 67-acre plot of land called Arlington Farms. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to move the site to a location known as Hell’s Bottom to remove it farther from Arlington Cemetery. Construction began on September 11, 1941.
Millions of cubic yards of soil were transported to the site to level it. Since steel was in short supply and because of the sogginess of the site, concrete pilings were poured in place. Concrete was also used for the ramps between floors.
Even though about 4,000 workers were on site day and night, by December the project was behind schedule. Then came Pearl Harbor on December 7. The original design was expanded to include five concentric rings and a fifth floor, and the workforce expanded to 6,000 people. At its height, the operation produced 3500 yards of concrete daily.
The first tenants moved in April 1942, and the building was declared finished on January 15, 1943, at a cost of $83 million.
At 9:37 AM, September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 77, commandeered by five terrorists, crashed into the Pentagon, penetrating 310 feet as it pierced the outer three rings (E, D, and C rings). This attack killed the 64 people aboard the plane and 125 people in the building.
The Phoenix Project, the name for the rebuilding plan, envisioned a three-year project; however, construction workers vowed to complete it in one, a feat they accomplished at a cost of $5 billion.
This largest office building in the world contains 17.5 miles of corridor, 6.5 million square feet of floor area, and holds 26,000 employees who engage in 200,000 phone calls each day. Each outside wall is 921 feet long and 77 feet high. The area encompasses 200 acres of lawn and 8770 parking spaces. It includes medical and dental facilities, a post office, a bank, a pharmacy, gift and floral shops, a DMV service center, a fitness facility, and 17 different types of food places. In the center is an open area with trees and benches. At the very center of this area is a small structure which the Soviets during the Cold War assumed housed something malicious. However, the structure has always been a simple food stand.
(Getty Images, thehill.com)
Of all my assignments during my Army career, the two years at the Pentagon (1982-84), where I served on the Army Staff, were especially challenging and rewarding. It was quite intimidating at first with so many high-ranking officers and officials. This was before personnel computers; “Word-processing” stations at certain locations had just been established. Therefore, all work had to be hand-drafted and given to the office typists. My major duties included preparing briefing papers and giving briefings to Army leaders, accompanying Army leaders on trips to European countries, drafting letters for Army leaders to send to their foreign counterparts, and interacting with military attaches of other countries who were posted at embassies in Washington DC. As my regional specialty was Europe, probably the most interesting issue I monitored was the deployment of the intermediate range nuclear weapons into several allied European countries. The assignment was such a change from my preceding assignment in the Republic of Korea where I served on the De-Militarized Zone in a troop unit. It was such a stark contrast to come from an overseas assignment in a troop unit in a developing country to the fast-paced, high-level, political-military world of Washington, DC and the Pentagon. And the traffic was horrible.
A retired Army officer, Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com) teaches history and politics at Salve Regina University.