From Pershing County to the Pentagon
By May 1941 Europe had been at war for 20 months. War clouds were drifting closer to America. The War Department had 24,000 personnel dispersed in 17 office buildings in Washington, D.C., with the number expected to become 30,000 in 1942.
Architect G. Edwin Bergstrom designed an asymmetrical five-sided building. Pentagon construction began on Sept. 11, 1941, exactly 60 years before American Airline flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon killing a total of 189 persons and severely damaging the building.
Col. Leslie R. Groves hired 15,000 construction workers. They worked 24/7 to complete construction on Jan. 14, 1943. The Pentagon was dedicated on Jan. 25, 1943, 72 years ago. Col. Groves was promoted to general and supervised the Manhattan Project, building three atomic bombs.
Phyllis Lorraine Anker, a second generation Nevadan, was the second baby born in the newly-named Pershing County on March 7, 1919. She graduated from Pershing County High School in 1937 and the University of Nevada in 1941. During the 1941-42 school year, she was the business teacher at Eureka County High School and her next school year was in Yerington at Lyon County High School. Since all her friends had enlisted, in June, 1943 Phyllis enlisted in the US Army Women’s Army Corps, WAC.
Even though Phyllis was a college graduate, there were no openings for officers. She rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant teaching enlisted WACs to type so men could fight. In early 1944 she was assigned to Chief of Staff Gen. George Catlett Marshall’s office at the Pentagon.
Back in 1917 during World War I, Lt. Col. George C. Marshall became a staff member for Gen. John J. “Blackjack” Pershing, Commander of the U.S. Expeditionary Forces in France. When Gen. Marshall became Chief of Staff in 1939, he hung a portrait of Gen. Pershing with his sword on the wall behind his desk. Phyllis was born in Pershing County, named for Gen. Pershing, who asked Gen. Marshall to plan his funeral. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on July 19, 1948.
Staff Sergeant Anker was one of the WACs with Gen. Marshall when he accompanied President Roosevelt to the second Quebec conference with Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Citadel Sept. 12-16, 1944.
At the conference Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and Mrs. Clementine Churchill had a tea for the WACs and Canada’s CWACs, pronounced quacks. The two hostesses engaged each WAC and CWAC in conversation. Phyllis wrote in her Pentagon informational paperback, “I never will forget the day I rode down the elevator with Gen. Marshall in Quebec.”
Phyllis was one of Gen. Marshall’s trusted WACs. She crocheted an afghan using 96 shoulder patches she had collected from officers who had an appointment with Gen. Marshall.
Phyllis said, “During World War II, Gen. Marshall was briefed on the American forces every eight hours, 24/7. I had to pass through several rooms. Each room had its own security clearance to finally enter Gen. Marshall’s office next to Secretary of War Stimson’s office. Almost every file I handled was marked, ‘TOP SECRET, EYES ONLY’ with a red colored tag.”
Phyllis Lorraine Anker Bendure will be 96 years young in 41 days, March 7. Thank you, Greatest Generation, for your service.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.