Russell C. Coile
We were transferred to the new Pentagon in May, 1942. The fi rst leg of the
Pentagon contained the bus arrival lanes in the basement, a concourse
on the fi rst fl oor and cafeterias on the second fl oor. When the second leg
of the Pentagon was fi nished in April, 1942, Army Ordnance moved in,
with the Offi ce of the Chief Signal Offi cer arriving in May. The Pentagon
was and is such an unusual structure that a few words about it may be of
interest. In the summer of 1941 approximately 24,000 War Department
personnel were working in more than 20 unconnected buildings. The Army
suggested building a single new structure to shelter as many as 40,000
federal workers. Roosevelt agreed and Brig. General Somervell, Chief of
Construction, Quartermaster General contacted the chair of the appropriate
House committee to pave the way for this reorganization.
On July 17, a Thursday, Somervell addressed the House Subcommittee
on Appropriations and was told by its chairman, Virginia Rep. Clifton A.
Woodrum to develop a proposal. On Tuesday, July 22, Somervell presented
the the proposal to Woodrum's committee. The concept was approved by
the House on July 28 and the Senate on August 14. Roosevelt signed
the bill on August 25. The preliminary plans were created in 34 days. To
accomplish this, the chief architect's offi ce grew to 327 architects and
engineers supported by 117 fi eld inspectors. Detail prints came out of at
the rate of 12,000 to 30,000 a week.
From approval by Congress until the ground breaking took only 29
days. And then 15,000 construction workers worked three shifts, seven
days a week with fl oodlights for night work. The construction of the largest
low-rise offi ce building in the world took just 16 months under wartime
conditions of labor and material shortages. There was no steel for elevators
so ramps and stairs were installed between the fi ve fl oors.
I worked for 17 years in the Pentagon -- three years on Army activity duty
from 1942 to 1946 and 14 years more or less as a civilian working for the
Navy Department on Offi ce of Naval Research grants to the Mathematics
Department at MIT.
Another important project of mine in 1944 was with the General
Instrument Company in New Jersey. They were building a radio transmitter
which could be mounted in a bomber aircraft to send up/down, right/
left control signals to a receiver in another aircraft fl ying in formation with
it. The US Navy had a squadron in England of B-24 type aircraft which
the Navy called PB4Y-2. Someone came up with the idea of guiding a