February 11, 2017

1968. The Pentagon Turns Twenty-Five

The Pentagon After Twenty-Five Years
The Pentagon under construction in 1941 (Thomas D. McAvoy - source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

January 16, 1968

It was twenty-five years ago this week that official Washington opened the new War Department building in a brief, unimpressive ceremony—because on that mid-January day of 1943, the nation was heavily engaged in World War II, and no one really cared.

Actually, construction on this big building began five months before Pearl Harbor. And had the Japanese and the Nazis stayed home, there probably would have been great public protests against spending $83 million on what's still the biggest office building in the world.

But when the huge five-sided structure was completed a record eighteen months later, $83 million was only a drop in the American battle budget. In January of 1943, people were cheering the Marines fighting for Guadalcanal. In Europe, the US warplanes were helping the RAF gain control of the air over France, and the US and Allied troops were fighting their way up the Italian boot.

When the top brass began moving into the big building on the Virginia side of the Potomac, a special group of scientific advisers moved in with them; because a month earlier in Chicago they had successfully harnessed nuclear energy, and the Manhattan atom bomb project got underway. Washington and the world waited for the outcome of the crucial battle then raging around Stalingrad.

Those were exciting, tragic, and sometimes glorious days when they dedicated the new War Department building here in Washington. And probably only that day was the building called by its proper name.

The 30,000 or so people who went to work there began calling it the Pentagon—and so it has been known ever since.

It's the central command post of the most powerful nation on earth, and therefore a prime target on every foreign missile list in the world.

Lately, the Pentagon has also been the target of the nation's peripatetic peacenik set, its windows broken and its granite smeared with graffiti.

The sprawling structure seems to shrug off the insults. After all, the Pentagon is twenty-five years old this week—more mature now than most of her detractors.

This is Bill Downs in Washington for Information Reports.