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A life of quiet intrigue worth sharing

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in Best-Practices Leadership,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers

Until his death this fall at age 93, Robert Furman’s leadership in building the Pentagon and developing the atomic bomb remained virtually unknown.

“He was the guy who actually handled all this stuff,” writes one historian. “He was extremely young, and he had extraordinary power.”

“Furman was like a man with a million dollars in diamonds in his pocket,” says another. “If people only knew.”

Here’s what this one guy accomplished:

In 1940, the Army Reserve activated the civil engineer in his mid-20s and assigned him to a captain in charge of building the new War Department offices. Furman supervised everything, walking the entire Pentagon every five days. In 17 months, with 13,000 laborers working around the clock, he finished the job.

For his next assignment in 1943, Furman had to find out what the Germans were doing with atomic weapons. When Nobel physicist Niels Bohr was smuggled out of Denmark, Furman became his personal handler. He also managed top spies and often went to Europe undercover.

After the war in Europe ended in 1945, Furman rounded up Germany’s top scientists and parked them in England, where they couldn’t defect.

Back in the States, Furman traveled to Los Alamos
and personally took more than half the U.S. supply of enriched uranium to San Francisco, then to a Pacific island where scientists were building the first atomic bomb. On Aug. 6, 1945, he watched the Enola Gay take off to bomb Hiroshima.

A year later, Furman went home, opened a construction company, married and raised a family. On his war experiences, he remained silent.

“We all went to war,” he said last year. “We all went back to our dreams and ambitions. We lived through the war to get life going again.”

— Adapted from “Builder’s Life Masked WWII Achievements,” Matt Schudel, The Washington Post.

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