The creation of the Pentagon in seventeen whirlwind months during World War II is one of the great construction feats in American history, involving a tremendous mobilization of manpower, resources, and minds. In astonishingly short order, Brigadier General Brehon B. Somervell conceived and built an institution that ranks with the White House, the Vatican, and a handful of other structures as symbols recognized around the world. Now veteran military reporter Steve Vogel reveals for the first time the remarkable story of the Pentagon’s construction, from it’s dramatic birth to its rebuilding after the September 11 attack.
At the center of the story is the tempestuous but courtly Somervell–“dynamite in a Tiffany box,” as he was once described. In July 1941, the Army construction chief sprang the idea of building a single, huge headquarters that could house the entire War Department, then scattered in seventeen buildings around Washington. Somervell ordered drawings produced in one weekend and, despite a firestorm of opposition, broke ground two months later, vowing that the building would be finished in little more than a year. Thousands of workers descended on the site, a raffish Virginia neighborhood known as Hell’s Bottom, while an army of draftsmen churned out designs barely one step ahead of their execution. Seven months later the first Pentagon employees skirted seas of mud to move into the building and went to work even as construction roared around them. The colossal Army headquarters helped recast Washington from a sleepy southern town into the bustling center of a reluctant empire.
Vivid portraits are drawn of other key figures in the drama, among them Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president who fancied himself an architect; Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, both desperate for a home for the War Department as the country prepared for battle; Colonel Leslie R. Groves, the ruthless force of nature who oversaw the Pentagon’s construction (as well as the Manhattan Project to create an atomic bomb); and John McShain, the charming and dapper builder who used his relationship with FDR to help land himself the contract for the biggest office building in the world.
The Pentagon’s post-World War II history is told through its critical moments, including the troubled birth of the Department of Defense during the Cold War, the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the tumultuous 1967 protest against the Vietnam War. The pivotal attack on September 11 is related with chilling new detail, as is the race to rebuild the damaged Pentagon, a restoration that echoed the spirit of its creation.
This study of a single enigmatic building tells a broader story of modern American history, from the eve of World War II to the new wars of the twenty-first century. Steve Vogel has crafted a dazzling work of military social history that merits comparison with the best works of David Halberstam or David McCullough. Like its namesake, The Pentagon is a true landmark.
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|Title of Business & Economics eBook: The Pentagon|
|Release Date: 05-27-2008|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group|
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|Parent title||The Pentagon|
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DYNAMITE IN A TIFFANY BOX
Stimson looks for the right man
Henry Stimson was agitated. At age seventy-three, the secretary of war was the elder statesman of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cabinet in both age and demeanor, known for his dignity, wisdom, and Yankee reserve. To his staff at the War Department, Stimson seemed “like the Rock of Ages.” But he also was imbued with a deep streak of Old Testament temper, and an agitated Stimson was a fearsome thing. “Everybody always seemed to think of Stimson as a wonderful old gentleman,” one officer later said. “He was old all right, but he was a tough guy. If he had to, he knew how and when to use profanity.”
Stimson was swearing regularly in the fall of 1940. The largest peacetime military mobilization in American history had begun that spring, and it was bogged down. France had fallen in May, the Low Countries were overrun, and Britain was in grave danger. Roosevelt responded with a call to dramatically build the armed forces, and Congress answered with legislation raising the authorized strength of the Army eightfold, from 174,000 to 1.4 million. But before this great Army could be raised, it needed a roof.
Dozens of military camps had to be built immediately around the country to house and train hundreds of thousands of draftees. Work was flowing into the Army Quartermaster Corps’s once-sleepy Construction Division at unprecedented levels; the division’s monthly budget of less than $10 million soared to a figure eventually seventy times that amount. Orders to construct camps, munitions plants, housing projects, airfields, and ports were piling up. Co