For Guardian of History, the End of an Era

Michael B. Donley, center, the Pentagon's director of administration and management, presented Al Goldberg with a
Michael B. Donley, center, the Pentagon's director of administration and management, presented Al Goldberg with a "key" to the Pentagon at last week's ceremony to mark Goldberg's 60 years of work there, most recently as chief historian for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. At right is Michael L. Rhodes, director of Washington Headquarters Services. Goldberg, 88, served as historian to 11 secretaries of defense. (By David Arthur -- Washington Headquarters Services)

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By Steve Vogel
Thursday, December 6, 2007

Al Goldberg was at work in his office on the fifth floor of the Pentagon when the Department of Defense was created 60 years ago.

After six decades as a witness, participant and chronicler of Pentagon history, Goldberg is retiring as chief historian for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

"These were an exciting 60 years," Goldberg noted at a ceremony last week at the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, marking his retirement from 57 years of government service, including the past 34 as chief historian.

"Cardinals have less tenure, and comets don't come around as often," noted Stuart Rochester, the deputy historian.

Goldberg, who is 88, served as historian to 11 secretaries of defense, from Elliot L. Richardson to Robert M. Gates, and has long been regarded as the "institutional memory and historical authority for this department," Michael B. Donley, director of administration and management at the Pentagon, said at the ceremony.

Or, as Rochester has put it: "Before Google, there was Goldberg."

Goldberg, who first saw the Pentagon in 1943 while driving by on the highway, served with U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe during World War II. After the war, he was senior historian for the Air Force Historical Division from 1946 to 1965. "I was present up on the fifth floor at the creation of the Department of Defense" on Sept. 17, 1947, when James V. Forrestal was sworn in as secretary, in accordance with the landmark National Security Act, Goldberg recalled.

Goldberg was a co-author and co-editor of the 1964 Warren Commission report examining the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. After a stint as a senior staff member with the Rand Corp., Goldberg returned to the Pentagon in 1973 as chief historian, a position he held until his retirement.

"If there was an individual who was enmeshed in the fabric of this institution, I think the case could be made it was Dr. Goldberg," said Michael L. Rhodes, director of the Pentagon's Washington Headquarters Services.

During his tenure, Goldberg oversaw the publication of 20 books, including a series still underway that will provide a comprehensive history of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The OSD histories are "the gold standard for governmental history," said retired Army Brig. Gen. David A. Armstrong, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff historical office. "These books are the model of what government history can be."

Goldberg also wrote a history of the Pentagon's first 50 years. Most recently, he led a team of Defense Department historians in writing "Pentagon 9/11," an account of the 2001 terrorist attack on the building. It was a book he was determined to see published before stepping down.


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