Headstone history

Fort Lewis cemetery revisited

By J.M. Simpson on February 10, 2017

The weathered headstone is just about a century old.

On the aged stone is chiseled the name of Lee Whalen, and that he had been assigned to Company B, 347th Machine Gun Company.

The Seattle Daily Times reported that he had died after a brief illness in October 1917, a month after the construction of Camp Lewis had ended.

Outside of this information, there is no other recorded memory of the man.


Except for the fact that he was the first man to be buried in the Camp Lewis Cemetery.

Since then, a bit over 900 soldiers, sailors, airmen, wives and children have joined Whalen in quiet repose.

One of the most recent headstones marks the final resting place of Capt. Philip Indovina, a Vietnam veteran who passed last year.

A snow-covered bouquet of cellophane wrapped roses lay in front of his headstone.

The grayish white tombstones stand at quiet attention on the snow-covered and green ground.   

Standing in the gently falling snow added to the sense of reverence to those who are a part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord's history.

Comprised of four quadrants, the cemetery is surrounded by an iron fence.  Outside the fence, Douglas Firs stand guard.

In the center of the cemetery is a circle wherein are two markers.

One marker honors all of the unknown American soldiers who gave their lives in defense of their country; the other marker pays tribute to Maj. Gen. David Stone, the officer who oversaw the construction of then Camp Lewis in 1917.

He arrived on May 26 of that year to begin construction of Camp Lewis, named in honor of Captain Meriwether Lewis, the officer who along with William Clark led the Corps of Discovery in 1804 thru 1806.

Three months later, Stone and his team had completed the construction of over 1,500 wooden buildings and 105 miles of road - along with one cemetery - that comprised Camp Lewis.

Stone later returned in 1936 to the then-named Fort Lewis as its commanding general.

His headstone stands nearby.

Upon his passing in 1959, Stone was buried in the cemetery.

By that time, headstones included the deceased's religion, rank, and birth and death dates.

Tucked in a corner of the cemetery are the gravesites of three World War II German prisoners of war, Kurt Nessner, Leo Paluczkiewicz and Karl Simon.

Between 1942 and 1946, about 4,000 German soldiers were held at three separate camps at Fort Lewis.

All of the German POWs who died while being held at Fort Lewis are also buried in the cemetery.  After the war, most were posthumously repatriated back to Germany.

Not far away are a significant number of headstones of a number of children who passed away in the early 1950s.

The history surrounding their passing is shrouded in mystery; perhaps their passing reflects back on the polio epidemic of the time.

On some of these headstones, only the word "Infant" and a date appear.

Local groups occasionally visit the cemetery to clean and - on Memorial Day - decorate the headstones with flags.

From Whalen to Indovina, each headstone represents and honors a piece of the century-old history of JBLM.