Army Bases

Fort Lewis, Washington

On 6 January 1917, 86 percent of the Pierce County Electorate voted to bond themselves for 20 years for $2,000,000 to purchase 70,000 acres to be donated to the federal government for use as a military base. Before the County could actually acquire the land in question, the United States entered World War I. An arrangement was made with the owners of the land that the County would take possession and the landowners would be paid after completion of the negotiations.

Construction of the new Camp Lewis was begun before legal action started, and these proceedings were not completed until after the end of the war. The people worked night and day for two weeks to get title to 6,000 acres so the Army could begin construction on the cantonment. Camp Lewis was the first military installation in the history of our nation to be created as the direct result of an outright gift of land by citizens themselves.

Camp Lewis officially passed out of the hands of Pierce County and the State of Washington on 15 November 1919. It became the property of the United States Government when the deed for 62,432 acres was recorded in the County Auditor's Office in Tacoma. The deed provided that in the event the United States should ever cease to maintain the tract for the uses named, title to the land would revert to Pierce County without further act.

Camp Lewis was built for the lowest cost and in the shortest space of time of any cantonment in the country. The original construction cost was $7,000,723.51, an estimated per capita cost of $158. A Congressional subcommittee investigating war expenditures said that Camp Lewis "was the cheapest, best, and most rapidly constructed of any of the cantonments and was the only construction carried on during the war that came through with a clean record, according to evidence submitted."

General Orders Number 95, 18 July 1917, declared the National Army Camp at American Lake, Washington, to be named Lewis, in honor of Captain Merriwether Lewis, Commander of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Camp Lewis was the first National Army cantonment for draftee training to be opened. The first recruits arrived at Camp Lewis on 5 September 1917 and 37,000 officers, cadre, garrison, and trainees were on post by 31 December. Camp Lewis was the largest military post in the USA at the time.

Camp Lewis was a scene of building construction and road scraping, amidst the tumult of recruits learning close-order drill and machine gun training; the sound of hammers and of 1903 Springfields being fired on a 200-point rifle range; the laying of a spur line for support trains; and of horse-drawn field artillery training in columns.

A race for time ensued--the Army had only 25,000 regulars in 1917 and needed thousands more to fight in France. The "Draft" was revived and many men, levied from Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming and Montana, would have to be inprocessed, clothed, armed, and trained.

The 91st Infantry Division ("Wild West" Division - battle cry: "Powder River! Let'er Buck!") trained at Camp Lewis from 5 September 1917 until it shipped out, on 21-24 June 1918, for France, where it served with distinction. The 13th Infantry Division was organized at Camp Lewis in 1918 and was training in trench warfare when the Armistice was signed, 11 November 1918. The "war to end all wars" was over but the construction at Camp Lewis would continue until November 1919.

When Major General Henry A. Greene, the first Camp Lewis Commander, was reassigned, he left a bustling cantonment to Brigadier General James A. Irons. With the Armistice, activity at Camp Lewis slowed. With peace, military appropriations were sharply reduced and Camp Lewis fell into neglect. The 400-acre cavalry remount area, called the "corral," returned to scrub; and the hastily built barracks, without maintenance, started to fall apart. The main drill field, today's Watkins Field, was reclaimed by fir seedlings.

A contract was let to dismantle some of the wooden buildings. The United States was returning to its traditional isolationist stance in world affairs, and the high cost of World War I caused the Congress to slash military spending. The Army was authorized 150,000 men and was allowed to maintain three combat-ready divisions. Although Secretary Baker publicly stated that Camp Lewis had been instrumental in the war effort and was an excellent training area, economy and priority were forcing him to use his men and funds elsewhere.

As the buildings fell to contractors and decay, Tacoma civic groups and newspapers demanded that the War Department return the land. The hastily acquired lands had resulted in much bitterness and litigation, and the Camp was not popular in all quarters.

As the workers tore down more barracks, rumors spread through the County that Camp Lewis was being abandoned. The clamor to "keep faith or return" the lands grew, this time led by the Rotary Club and The Tacoma News and Tribune. Local groups demanded that a division be stationed at the Camp. Although many thought that the agreement between the County and the government called for a division, the agreement actually called for the post to remain in government hands as long as it was used for the purposes named, chiefly a training area.

On 23 September 1921, Camp Lewis became Headquarters for the 3d Infantry Division, one of the three remaining divisions; but most of its units were scattered throughout the western states. Although the 3d Infantry Division would remain at Fort Lewis until 1942, it was never up to strength until the late thirties. The Camp Lewis garrison from 1920 to 1925 would number as few as 850 men and no more than 1,000. Many of the local groups considered this a mere sop. There were no troops or money to spare for Camp Lewis; and although War Secretary Baker and Army Chief of Staff General Peyton C. Marsh had wanted to develop the Camp's potential, they stood no chance against the formidable Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon. Secretary Mellon was a fiscal conservative who viewed military appropriations as money down the drain; and during his tenure from 1921 to 1932, his fiscal policies were largely accepted by Congress.

The year 1925 almost saw Camp Lewis revert to civilian ownership. In June, civic groups urged the county commissioners to begin proceedings to reclaim 26,000 acres of Camp Lewis lands. Eight hundred forty-seven of the remaining buildings and incidental structures were torn down and sold for scrap. Then fire struck. Almost nightly in the spring, summer, and autumn, fires advanced in a straight line and destroyed or damaged 250 structures. National Guardsmen training at Camp Lewis that summer were housed in tents. Many permanent personnel slept with their belongings packed. The camp was ringed with guards and roving patrols, but the fires kept on and no suspect was ever found.

The scrapping of the buildings and the fires added new fuel to the "keep faith or give back the land" groups. The Tacoma News and Tribune, in an editorial, accused the federal government of "breaking its promise."

In 1926, Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis asked Congress to approve a ten-year building plan to rebuild and revitalize three army posts. Camp Lewis was one of the three. Congress, in March 1926, authorized $4,518,000, raised from the sale of Army lands, for this purpose. In May, Camp Lewis received $800,000 to begin construction on permanent red brick barracks on main post. Camp Lewis was to have a new lease on life. Its worst years were over.

In January 1938, construction of an airfield (later named "Gray," after an Army balloonist who died in an air crash in Tennessee) was started on Fort Lewis; and by June 1939, two rough airfields were in existence in Pierce County. The other airfield, built partly on Fort Lewis land, was called McChord, and was constructed by 2,100 Works Progress Administration laborers. In August 1938, a large airpower demonstration was held on a Fort Lewis training range. Fifteen B-18 bombers and twenty-one A-17-A fighters gave a civilian and military audience of 3,000 a vivid demonstration of the destructive capabilities of modern airpower. Using live ordnance, the warplanes dropped over 400 bombs on a mock city, completely destroying it. No cameras were allowed at the demonstration. The demonstration was of popular local interest since in the summer of 1938, Japanese bombers were prowling over large areas of China and Korea; and fascist bombers were laying waste to several Spanish cities in that nation's civil war.

By May 1938, the 3d Infantry Division and Fort Lewis boasted 5,000 men in garrison. Intensive infantry training and frequent field maneuvers were becoming the norm on post. A final prewar (1938-1940) spurt of construction gave Fort Lewis 455 permanent and temporary structures worth fifteen million dollars.

On 1 July 1940, the post garrison numbered 7,000 men with the arrival of the IX Army Corps from the Presidio of San Francisco; and the troop level would increase dramatically after September, when the one-year Selective Service Act came into being. With 26,000 regulars, guardsmen, and draftees on post by Christmas, living space became scarce.

Before the end of World War II, the post had trained and sent off some of the War's outstanding fighting units, including the 3d, 33d, 40th, 41st, 44th, and 96th Infantry Divisions, plus many brigades and smaller size units.

A camp for prisoners of war was established in July 1943 and was continued for three years.

The need for increased hospital facilities in the Northwest was growing, and once again the War Department looked toward Fort Lewis. Plans were announced in 1943 for the construction of a $3,000,000-addition to the Fort Lewis Hospital, which would make the center one of the largest in the nation. The hospital was dedicated in 1945 to Colonel Patrick S. Madigan, a distinguished neuro-psychiatrist. The hospital had eight miles of corridors and hundreds of wards spread throughout the reservation in various sections.

Also in 1943, action was taken to enlarge the installation's training space. Condemnation proceedings began in March on over 18,000 acres south of the Nisqually River, which became known as Rainier Training Area.

In July 1944 Fort Lewis was redesignated as an Army Service Forces Training Center. In a few months, Fort Lewis became the largest Service Forces Training Center in the nation, training medics and engineers exclusively.

In World War II, after training at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, and undergoing maneuvers in northern Michigan for a projected invasion of Norway, the Division went to England in September 1943 and landed in Normandy on 7 June 1944--D-plus-one. After Normandy, the Division helped capture Brest, took a prominent part in stemming the German drive through the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge, fought through Germany, and ended the war in Czechoslovakia.

In the coming months and years, the Division's large Indianhead shoulder patch was to become a familiar emblem to Tacoma and Pierce County. It represented two states--the Indianhead for Oklahoma, and the star for Texas, since during World War I the Division was originally activated with men from those two states.

Although World War II was over, 11,000 youthful inductees were receiving intensive training at Fort Lewis Basic Training Section in May 1946, prior to being sent overseas for occupational duty.

The 2d Division returned to Fort Lewis in 1955, but its stay was to be short. In 1956 there was a three-way divisional switch. The 2d was moved to Alaska to replace the 71st, which arrived at Fort Lewis only to be deactivated. In September, the 4th Infantry Division arrived for a permanent stay after five years in Germany. It trained several cycles of recruits; and then, in April 1957, the 4th was reorganized as a Pentomic Combat Division.

Meanwhile, Fort Lewis continued to expand its area of responsibility. Vancouver Barracks, once the military capital of the Pacific Northwest, became a Fort Lewis subpost in 1958. The 62-acre post faced on the Columbia River across from Portland, Oregon, and was historically important during Hudson Bay Company days and when the Oregon Territory was being settled. Nearby Camp Bonneville, a 3,800-acre primitive training area, was frequently used by Fort Lewis troops.

As a result of the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the 32nd Infantry Division was called to active duty. It was a post resident on into 1962.

In September 1964, Sixth Army established its NCO Academy at Fort Lewis. Teaching nine classes a year, the Academy graduated about 400 students annually.

Fort Lawton, on Magnolia Bluff in Seattle, constructed in 1897, became a subpost in 1965. It was a busy processing and overseas shipment point during World War II and the Korean War, but has now reverted to a Reserve Center, effective 1981.

n July 1966 the first elements of the 4th Division began to deploy to the rapidly escalating conflict in Vietnam. By September the last elements of the Division were gone.

The United States Army Personnel Center, Fort Lewis, was established on 15 March 1966 to relieve the overload at the U.S. Army Personnel Center, Oakland, California. The Center consisted of an Overseas Replacement Station, a Returnee-Reassignment Station, and a Transfer Station.

The United States Army Training Center, Infantry, Fort Lewis, was activated on 2 May 1966; and three basic training companies started the first basic combat training cycle on 11 July of that year. On 19 September, the first eight-week training cycle of advanced infantry training was begun.

A Drill Sergeant's School was established in August 1966 to produce qualified personnel to man the Training Center. It graduated 350 to 400 qualified drill instructors yearly.

On 15 January 1968, the installation became officially the United States Army Training Center, Infantry and Fort Lewis.

The Center's three brigades graduated up to 1,900 men a week from Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training; and by 24 June 1972, when it officially closed, the Center had trained over 302,000 men.

In June 1968 the 62nd Medical Group was transferred to Fort Lewis from Germany. The unit had a long and distinguished history throughout World War II. Since then, it has participated in Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia, and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in the 1990’s.

Fort Lewis was redesignated Headquarters, 9th Infantry Division and Fort Lewis on 21 April 1972. On 26 May 1972, Army Chief of Staff General William C. Westmoreland unfurled the 9th Infantry Division colors during a day-long activation ceremony held at Gray Army Airfield and presented them to Major General William B. Fulton, signifying the reactivation of the "Old Reliables."

The activation was phased over a 12-month period. During this period, the 9th recruited over 8,000 men, including many from the Pacific Northwest. It became the first "all volunteer" division in the U.S. Army.

Once reactivated at Fort Lewis, the 9th was deeply involved in training for future conflicts. It participated in exercises from Alaska to California and east to North Carolina.

In 1980, Fort Lewis was notified of another major change of structure. A corps headquarters was to be activated in March 1982. I Corps was formally activated on 1 October 1981, much earlier than expected. It became a primary contingency planner for U.S. interests in the Pacific region, with a rapidly expanding role in Army affairs. On 1 August 1983, the Corps expanded its operational control of active Army units outside Fort Lewis, to include the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord, California, and the 172nd Infantry Brigade (Light) in Alaska, which then became the 6th Infantry Division (Light).

Fort Lewis itself continued to grow and modernize. The 1st Special Forces Group was activated on 4 September 1984, and the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade on 1 June 1985, both on North Fort Lewis. On 18 January 1985, ground was broken for a new Madigan Army Medical Center, which began to receive its first patients in March 1992.

Three child care centers, new facilities for the 1st Special Forces Group, a new commissary, and more hangar space on Gray Army Airfield were constructed. Occupation of the new facilities began in 1988.

During 1989-90, it became obvious that the "cold war" had been won. That, combined with national budgetary problems, dictated a careful restructuring of national priorities and of the defense establishment. As these actions evolved, it became evident that Fort Lewis was ideally located to act as a base for mobilization and power projections into the Pacific region. Thus, while most of the Army was downsizing, Fort Lewis began to grow. Most of the changes described in the paragraphs that follow were driven by these considerations.

A residual of the 9th Division inactivation was that its 3rd Brigade became the 199th Motorized Infantry Brigade. This one-of-a-kind unit was a I Corps unit until its redesignation as the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment (Light), and its departure for Fort Polk, Louisiana, which occurred in 1993.

On 13 September 1990, the 1st Personnel Group was activated at Fort Lewis. The Group Commander was dual-hatted as I Corps Adjutant General and 1st Personnel Group Commander.

In 1990 Fort Lewis received word that it would likely become the home of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) if Congress approved the closure of Fort Ord, California. This approval occurred in 1991. The 7th Division began its move in 1992. After the move began, in March 1993, the decision was made to allow the 1st Brigade of the 7th (the 9th Infantry Regiment) to complete its move to Fort Lewis, but to inactivate the rest of the division. Later in 1993, the post was alerted to expect to receive at least one armored brigade from Europe.