- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Housing the nations military headquarters, the Pentagon symbolizes the countrys strength and its resolve in times of crisis. The Pentagon is home to the Department of Defense and its four military branches Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.

Construction on this unusual five-sided building began in September 1941 as a solution to the War Department´s critical shortage of space. Three shifts of 14,000 construction workers and tradesmen, working 24 hours a day, constructed the building in 16 months at an approximate cost of $83 million.

The Pentagon building sits on 34 acres, including a 5-acre center court, and contains 6.5 million square feet of space and 17.5 miles of corridors. Pentagon telephone wires would wrap around the globe about 4.5 times. But despite its size, workers can travel between any two points of the building in seven minutes because of the building´s design.

These are just some of the interesting tidbits that can be gleaned from a tour of the Pentagon. Airman First Class Eric Rafko of Cumberland, Wis., is one of 28 tour guides.

"It is quite an honor to be selected as a tour guide," says Senior Airman Cortney Howard. Airman Howard is a squad leader from New Windsor, Md.

Tour guides must complete a two-week training period, memorize a 15-page script and complete 30 tours before they become an official guide. Airman Rafko earned his pin after a recent tour. These two young airmen were smartly attired in Air Force blues and certainly did their service proud. All the tour guides are selected from their service honor guard and serve for one year.

The tours were initiated in 1976 to celebrate the nation´s bicentennial and were planned to be disbanded after July 4, 1976. Twenty years later, the Pentagon celebrated its 2 millionth visitor. More than 100,000 visitors tour the Pentagon annually.

The Pentagon is the world´s largest federal office building employing about 23,000 personnel, military and civilian. It is a virtual city with medical and dental facilities, a post office, bank, credit union and more. The main corridor of the Pentagon is a shopping mall.

The Pentagon contains a number of corridors, and the tour begins with the Air Force corridor. Airman Rafko pointed out that the Air Force is the youngest service (50 years old) but the first to have a female secretary Sheila Windall.

One interesting display is "Air Force Heritage." Here, model airplanes depict the variety of Air Force aircraft, including the unique B-2, commonly known as the stealth bomber that ran 29-hour nonstop missions in Kosovo.

Another alcove is dedicated to the prisoners of war and those missing in action from the Vietnam and Korean wars. Here, a collection called "Faces of War" depicts scenes from those wars.

The Air Force corridor also pays tribute to the 12 outstanding airmen for 2000 with a photo and brief commentary about each.

And not to be forgotten, one wall contains a display dedicated to the Tuskegee airmen, a group of African-American pilots who served during World War II.

On to the Marine corridor, with its wall of the Marine commandants and the significant events that took place during their terms. The Marines´ longest-serving commandant was Gen. Archibald Henderson, who served for 39 years. In 1829, President Andrew Jackson tried to abolish the Marines but was unsuccessful thanks to the efforts of the general.

Airman Rafko asked if anyone knew another name for the Marines, then explained that the term "leathernecks" was derived from the two strips of leather the general wore around his neck. These leather strips were part of the Marine uniform until the 1890s.

The Navy corridor displays portraits of the secretaries. Virginia Sen. John W. Warner served as secretary of the Navy from 1972 to 1974. And Airman Rafko challenged the group to see if anyone knew the names of the six former presidents who served in the Navy. Give up? They were: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford and George Bush.

Airman Rafko then pointed out a replica of the USS Tennessee submarine. The sleek sub was 170 meters long and carried a crew of 173. Standing on its end, the sub would be 5 feet longer than the Washington monument. A replica of the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier is also on display. This ship carries more than 5,000 personnel and 80 aircraft. There are 13 of these carriers, the newest is named after former President Reagan.

Going from sea back to land, the Army executive corridor is dedicated to five-star Gen. George C. Marshall, with displays depicting his life. Gen. Marshall dedicated 50 of his 79 years in service to his country.

Gen. Marshall is best remembered for the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after the devastation of World War II and earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.

Airman Rafko pointed out that the Army is one year older than the country. It was established in 1775 to fight the Revolutionary War. The Army has fought 174 battles, and a display case has a colored ribbon naming each of them.

Visitors can´t leave the Army corridor without hearing about Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the five-star general who was the Allied commander in the Southwest Pacific during World War II.

Gen. MacArthur served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. He served under nine presidents and also received the Medal of Honor, which is presented by Congress. The names of the 3,436 recipients who have received this medal are engraved in the Hall of Heroes. The tour stops here to allow visitors to scan the names of these heroic soldiers from the Civil War through the Somalia campaign in 1993.

Airman Rafko informs visitors that 157 Medal of Honor recipients are living and that one, an Army colonel, is still on active duty.

A Military Women´s Memorial corridor pays tribute to Navy Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, who retired at age 80. She was instrumental in developing cobalt language for computers. Adm. Hopper coined the term "debugging" the computer after taking hers apart one day and finding a moth inside.

As the tour winds down, visitors encounter an interesting exhibit on the "Navajo Code Talkers." An engineer from California who had been raised on a Navajo reservation came up with the idea to use the Navajo language incorporated with military code. During World War II, the Japanese were unable to break the language´s code. There were about 500 Navajo involved in the operation.

Last but not least is the NATO corridor with its 19 member countries represented. NATO celebrated its 50 anniversary in 1999 with the largest gathering of world leaders in the District´s history.

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