New Documentary Focuses on Pentagon Planning, Construction, Renovation
By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2007 Planning, constructing and renovating the world’s largest-capacity office building is the focus of a new Pentagon Channel documentary.
“The Pentagon has become more than a symbol of the United States’ military might,” Air Force Master Sgt. Daniela Marchus, host of the documentary said. “It’s also an example of what American determination and ingenuity can achieve.”
“Recon: An American Icon” debuts tomorrow at noon Eastern Time on the Pentagon Channel and will encore throughout October. It also will be available via podcast and video on demand at www.PentagonChannel.mil
Combining interviews with those who witnessed the Pentagon’s historic construction with observations of people who work in the building today, the documentary paints a comprehensive picture of how one of the most iconic buildings on the planet came to fruition and how it continues to serve today’s modern military.
“It was built in a rush to meet a looming crisis. Its shape was determined by circumstance. It was supposed to be a temporary quarters for the Army,” Marchus explained.
But as the documentary shows, the Pentagon became much more than a central location for thousands of soldiers once scattered in offices throughout Washington, D.C., it became a nerve center for defending the free world. And it began with the orders of one man: Army Gen. Brehon Burke.
“He brought his staff together one Thursday night in July of 1941,” said Steve Vogel, a Pentagon historian. “He just gave them instructions: ‘I want a building big enough to house 40,000 people with parking for 10,000 cars, 4 million square feet, and I want the plans on my desk Monday morning.’”
Those plans were drawn up as ordered, and the world’s largest building went from groundbreaking to completion in just 16 months.
“At the peak there were about 15,000 people working on the building, 24 hours, day and night,” explained Alfred Goldberg, chief historian for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “They were working so fast, they were getting ahead of the plans.”
Such hasty work, as the documentary demonstrates, resulted in some quirky irregularities, such as pockets of the building that were unintentionally completely sealed in.
“There were stories about cement cave-ins where people had to jump out of the way to avoid cement coming down on them,” Goldberg said.
Pentagon trivia such as why the building has five sides, why 284 rest rooms were initially required, and how many miles of Defense Department corridors truly exist in the mammoth facility, are revealed in the documentary.
“It really was a small city,” said Helen McShane Bailey, one of thousands of women who moved to Washington for a Defense Department job during World War II. “Some cities didn’t have any more people than we had in the Pentagon, I’m sure.”
Some of those who endured the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon and the arduous task of rebuilding shared their emotional stories for the documentary, as well.
“I may leave the Pentagon physically, but the Pentagon never leaves me,” said Steve Carter, who’s served 24 years on the building’s management team. “When you see the nightly news and it says: ‘The Pentagon says …,’ everybody here knows exactly what that means. We’re one of the few buildings in the world that speaks. And she speaks volumes.”