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The start of something great

Camp Lewis was a gift from the people of Pierce County

The camp rose up from the 19th century farms that existed before the Army rolled in to town. Photo credit: Bill Wood Collection

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The first soldier of any influence to recommend the construction of an Army post at American Lake was Maj. Gen. Arthur Murray. On a visit in 1912 to inspect National Guard training, Murray, who at the time was chief of the United States Army Board, delegated to inspect possible sites for building a training and mobilization camp, said, "There is no finer Army post site anywhere in the U.S. ... in this area there is every physical condition desirable for Army training and maneuvers."

Five years later, Murray's vision came to fruition.  It was a banker in Tacoma, Stephen Appleby (National Bank of Tacoma) - who knew the Army needed a mobilization for our potential foray into World War I - that convinced Maj. Gen. J. Frank Bell, commander of the West Department of the U.S. Army headquartered in San Francisco to appoint Capt. Richard Parks to check out the South Sound.  Bell later visited and sent his endorsement to his superiors.

The next steps were the toughest - convincing the people of Pierce County to give 70,000 acres to the Army.  Appleby and his committee that included J.T. Lyle; former assistant attorney general of the state, Jesse O. Thomas; Frank Baker, publisher of the Tacoma News Tribune; and his father Elbert Baker campaigned for both local votes as well as to the Secretary of War Newton D. Baker (no relation to Frank and Elbert).  At the end of December 1916, Secretary Baker promised, " ... as soon as and as long as the appropriations made by Congress and the military demands upon the mobile forces of the United States permit, I will establish and maintain upon said reservation a division of mobile troops with such improvements as are provided for in said appropriation."

Notice the agreement states "as long as."  To this day, if the Defense Department ceases to use Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the land returns to Pierce County.  On January 6, 1917, 86 percent of the 29,199 Pierce County voters who turned out to the polls approved bonding themselves for $2 million to purchase 104 square miles of land to donate to the Army for the future Camp Lewis.

A city is built

With the flag waving enthusiasm, which pervaded the entire nation as the United States entered World War I in April 1917, thousands of laborers poured onto the once quiet Nisqually plain to build Camp Lewis, a city of 60,000.  Under the leadership of Capt. David L. Stone, who later commanded Fort Lewis' Third Division from 1936-1937, the site went from weeds and trees on May 26 to 1,757 buildings and 422 other structures 90 days later.  Eleven barracks and six stables were built per eight-hour shift.  Supplies to build the post included 53.9 million feet of lumber, 14,567 doors, 65.9 miles of pipe and 373 street lamps.  The cost was $7 million, included 10,000 laborers, and included the $4,000 main gate built of field stone and squared logs with block houses still standing today at Liberty Gate. (see next story)

Lewis' first recruit

On September 1, 1917, Herbert W. Hauck, who drove Col. Peter Davison from Seattle, spent the next three days as the only recruit at Camp Lewis.  He was also the first soldier to arrive who would belong to the 91st Division, known as Washington's Own, even though the majority of division soldiers were from California.  By the end of the week, however, 1,500 new recruits arrived from all over the western states to train, and before October, 10,000 recruits were digging trenches and pulling KP across the base.

In all, 60,000 men trained at and deployed from Camp Lewis during WW I. The first commander of the camp, an 1879 West Point graduate and veteran of the Santiago and Manilla campaigns was Maj. Gen. Henry Greene.  Of course, technically, Lt. Fred Neville was the first commander of Lewis since his unit, Motor Truck Company No. 355 arrived early in May 1917, and was the only unit at the camp until late summer.

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