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Pentagon Dedicates Corridor To Honor Civil Servants

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2004 – If "Doc" Cooke could be here, he would have been proud.

Civilian employees of "The Building," as he fondly called it, finally got their due, as Pentagon officials unveiled a special corridor honoring career civil servants May 25.

Cooke, often referred to as the "Mayor of the Pentagon," spent 45 years at the building, serving under 15 defense secretaries.

He was the Pentagon's director of administration and management and director of Washington Headquarters Services, and the Defense Department's highest-ranking career civil servant. David O. "Doc" Cooke, 82, died June 22, 2002 from injuries suffered in a car accident two weeks earlier.

During Tuesday's ceremony, Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, said the creation of the new corridor highlights the significant accomplishments of civil servants over the last 225 years.

He also said the corridor was an effort to remember the remarkable career of Cooke.

DuBois pointed out that many of the Pentagon's corridors are dedicated to those who have given their lives for freedom, including exhibits honoring the Navajo Code Talkers, Women in the Military and the Buffalo Soldiers.

He also noted that until now, none of the Pentagon's many corridors paid tribute to the more than 673,000 career civil servants he said are an "integral part of the department history and success."

"Their work often unheralded, these career civil servants provide continuity to an ever-changing work force," he said. "They provide technical, managerial, financial, professional expertise to America's oldest, largest, and arguably busiest and most successful government enterprise, the Department of Defense."

Lewis Ernest Meyer, a civilian firefighter and 43-year civil service employee, traveled to Arlington, Va., from San Diego. He said coming to see the exhibit was a "moving" experience.

"I was honored being selected (to represent) the fire service, because the federal fire department serves to protect those who defend," he said. "We go where they go."

Meyer started his civil service career at age 21, working at the naval air station at North Island, Calif., though he spent most of his civil service career at NAS Miramar, now a Marine Corps Base.

He later volunteered to go to Vietnam, serving as a federal firefighter there for 60 months, until his capture by the Viet Cong.

He said he was taken along with other U.S. service members and prisoners of war to Hanoi. There, he said, his North Vietnamese interrogators asked him, "What in the hell is a fireman doing in the war zone?" he recalled with a laugh. "But we were there."

Meyer said his captors released him in 1973, along with 25 other civilians, during Operation Homecoming, where diplomatic negotiation led to the release of American prisoners of war from Indochina. In all, 591 American were returned to the United States between Feb. 12 and April 1, 1973.

Meyer will now be honored for his federal service along with other civil servants whose photos and biographies will adorn the corridor's walls, adorned with pictures, artifacts and relics that tell the history of DoD's civil servants.

At the May 25 unveiling, however, nine of the corridor's exhibits stood out. Displayed on black and gold panels are the biographies of civil servants Dubois described as the "exemplars" of public service.

"They are by virtue of their dedication of an entire career, ideal models of the best tradition of the DoD civil service," he said.

Among those "exemplars" attending the corridor's opening and whose portraits are on display:

  • Judith Gilliom, a disabled worker DuBois called a "champion" of the DoD's affirmative-action program for people with disabilities.

  • Dr. Jerome Carl, who spent 57 years with DoD as a scientist and winner of every major federal service award and professional honor, including the 1985 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

  • Charlie Nemfakos, who served more than 30 years with the Department of the Navy, eventually becoming the Navy's undersecretary. Nemfakos was recognized twice with the Presidential Distinguished Rank award, and was honored an unprecedented three times with the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Medal.

Afterward, Meyer -- whose portrait also is enshrined in the corridor -- said he felt privileged "just to be mentioned" among those honored.

"I've had a wonderful career," he said. "I decided in third grade that I wanted to be a fireman, and lucky for me I followed those dreams."

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