Defense Media Network

The Pentagon in Peace and War

At its peak in the spring of 1942, the Pentagon construction project employed about 15,000 workers. Somervell’s team had dredged its own lagoon in a Potomac channel to build its own concrete batching plant next to the site. Vogel’s book describes barges delivering sand, gravel, and cement 24 hours a day at the plant, which used around 115,000 gallons of water daily to produce as much as 3,500 cubic yards of concrete. Over a 17-week period beginning in September 1942, utility workers installed more than 68,000 miles of telephone cabling throughout the building to connect 27,000 telephones.

Such was the urgency of the war effort that there was no dedication ceremony when the building was finally completed in January 1943; the first War Department employees, in fact, had moved in to the partially completed building – contending with drafts, dust, mud, and field mice – the preceding May.

In February, the Army’s chief of public relations sent a memorandum to the office of Gen. George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, in which he described the building as the “permanent home of the War Department,” and recommended the building officially be designated by the name it had been called informally, almost since its inception: The Pentagon. Marshall signed the general order to do this on Feb. 19, 1943.

Gates and JCS

Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates poses with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including CJCS Nathan Twining, CSA Lyman Lemnitzer, CNO Arleigh Burke, and CMC Randolph McPate. Photo by K.L. Vantran

The memo was the first time the Pentagon had been mentioned in official correspondence as a “permanent” home for the War Department; many, including Roosevelt, still considered it temporary. As late as January 1945, a month before he traveled to Yalta for his final conference with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, the president sent a memo to his budget director telling him he thought all the armed forces’ personnel records ought to be moved into the building after the war. The War Department, Roosevelt thought, could return to an expanded headquarters in Foggy Bottom.

Roosevelt, who died four months later, wouldn’t see what was to become of the Pentagon. As much as the world had changed while he was in office, it seems unlikely he could have imagined the changes yet to come: In just over two years, there would be no U.S. War Department, and the nation and its allies would be locked in a mortal struggle against an adversary determined to dominate the globe.


A Command Center

World War II promptly morphed into the Cold War as the alliance with the Soviet Union quickly disintegrated into a rivalry fueled by the nuclear arms race. The United States suddenly had numerous security commitments around the world. The National Security Act of 1947 overhauled the American military, combining all the armed forces – the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps – into a single National Military Establishment (NME) led by a civilian secretary of defense. The act was amended in 1949 to change the NME’s name to the Department of Defense (DOD).

Prev Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Next Page


Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...