Many may not make it down to the darker depths of the Pentagon basement where only footsteps can be heard from a hallway or two away. Miscellaneous departments — some that require a higher security clearance — reside in the close quarters. And of course, there's a 24-hour sandwich shop.

If those lollygagging around take the proper path, they may see a hidden gem that belongs to the Air Force.

No it's not a myth — it's a legend. A tribute some only hear of, but never know the exact origins or great tales.

It is the "Purple Water Fountain," now elevated and encased behind glass for no one to touch.

"As all legends go, no one is quite sure of the origin of this 'Purple Miracle'," the plaque behind the fountain reads. "However, one fact is certain. Of the 685 water fountains in the Pentagon only one is purple."

The fountain is said to bring "enlightenment" to those whose lips touch its water, the description continues. It stands outside the Air Force Council room "as testament to war-fighting common sense."

Airmen past and present have come to see it, either in its prime or as a monument. But mostly, its legendary existence is all that seems to remain.

"I think we tend to think of artifacts like when you go to the National Museum of the Air Force and you see...artifacts dating back to World War II, and nose art and more," Brian Laslie, an Air Force historian and former officer, told Air Force Times. "This is such a unique military artifact, wrapped up in war, in history and in the Pentagon, and it has its own cultural history to it."

Redditt users and bloggers who've seen it (or at least heard of it) say a Pentagon tour guide or two has said the fountain — placed in the building in the 1940s, they claim — was purple by mistake. The other hundreds of ceramic-style fountains were all blue (some say white) — the lone fountain may have been as a result of a color mix up, or perhaps a prank.

Another theory suggests the purple water fountain was part of a small set as a "color drinking fountain only" during racial segregation; however, no one can confirm other purple water fountains existed, or that this anecdotal history bodes true. Based on the plaque's description, it seems the Air Force wanted all to drink from the fountain to achieve "enlightened status" to prevent rash decision making that could cripple war plans.

For the misplaced, it served as a functional landmark.

"For years, [it was] used as a navigational aid ("If you're looking for (blank) office, go to the purple water fountain, turn left, and go down the corridor until you find it)," @Doctrine_Man, a respected military satirist who often lampoons military culture, told us. Although, "people from the [50s or 60s] era could probably entertain you with theories," he said.

Neither the program manager nor the historical exhibits curator in the Office of the Secretary of Defense could describe hard-fact origins or stories about its antiquity; Spokespeople for the Air Force said their knowledge of it today exists as short mention in Dick Anderegg's book, 'Sierra Hotel', and also in Steve Vogel's, 'Pentagon: A History.' The Air Force Historical Research Agency, a repository archive out of Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, had heard it existed, but nothing else.

Service members, Pentagon badge holders and some tourists may be the only ones to create their own fond memories for the history books.

Back in 2003, Laslie visited the Pentagon for a professional development program as a 1st lieutenant. The logistics airman out of Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, was sure he'd seen everything.

"We put this PowerPoint together on all that we saw, learned and all the people we met for our chief back at Holloman, and all he asked was, 'Did you see the purple water fountain?'" Laslie recounted. "We played it off as a joke, but some of the [lieutenant colonels and colonels] in the room came back with, 'What was the purpose of sending you to D.C. if you weren't going to visit the fountain?'" It became Laslie's 'gotcha' moment in his Air Force career. He later visited the fountain in 2007.

As the plaque reads, "Whatever myth we believe, the purple water fountain was a guide to all those who traversed the catacombs of the Pentagon."

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East, Europe and Pacific for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at

Follow her on Twitter @Oriana0214.

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