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A gate, trees and generals

Unique JBLM tradition spans a century

An Oregon White Oak honors the contributions of Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, former JBLM commander. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Trees are Mother Nature's generals.

Despite their differing sizes and shapes, they fight to keep a foothold in the most extreme conditions.

Their roots provide a solid base within their environment; their trunks provide strength to not only the tree but to those who use them; their branches hold the leaves that draw and give energy to their surroundings.

For over a half century, the planting of trees at Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been a way of honoring commanding generals for their service.

This past April, a Western Red Cedar was planted in honor of Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Stephen Lanza, former I Corps commander.

His was the 32nd tree to be planted in the Commanding General's Arboretum and Walking Trail just outside of present-day Liberty Gate.

The construction of Camp Lewis' first main gate, known then as the Liberty Arch Monument Gate and located near today's DuPont Gate - began the tree planting tradition.

Construction on the gate began in September 1917.  Crafted by many of the workers who had just completed building Camp Lewis, they had donated 25 cents a stone to cover the cost of materials.  Their contributions totaled about $4,000, and they did the labor for free.

Designed by architect Kirtland Kelsey Cutter, the structure featured two 30-foot high stone columns topped with timber bastions, and wood cross beams spanned the 24-foot wide Lewis Drive.

Completed in January 1918, the gate's appearance recalled the early blockhouses built in the Pacific Northwest.

In February 1922, Brig. Gen. Charles Muir, commander, Camp Lewis, ordered the planting of two Lawson Cypress trees, one at each of the stone columns.  During his remarks, Muir prophetically stated that the trees' spreading branches might suggest the spread of permanent improvements to the camp.

Not long after in May 1923, the Washington State Historical Society donated three granite stones.

The first stone honored the work of Muir; the second and third stones paid homage to Maj. Gen. Robert Alexander and Maj. Gen. Joseph Leitch, both of whom would command Camp Lewis.

These three monuments stood at the gate's northeast corner and were shaded by three oak trees.

After World War II, the country's economy and infrastructure expanded.  In 1955, the Washington Department of Transportation drew up plans for a four-mile, northbound section of Interstate 5 to cross through then Fort Lewis.

The Liberty Gate, the five cypress and oak trees and three granite stone monuments stood in the way.

Col. Benjamin Bush, post engineer, ordered a feasibility study, which recommended the building of a replica gate two miles to the north.

In 1957, the three granite monuments and the Liberty Gate were moved to the new current site.

But the trees had to be destroyed.

The following year, the tradition and history of today's Commanders' Grove began with the planting of three oak trees at the monuments of Muir, Alexander and Leitch.

Soon thereafter, Maj. Gen. Louis Truman and Maj. Gen. William Quinn were honored in such a manner.

Over the years, other trees were added.  A tree was planted to honor Maj. Gen. David Stone, the officer who oversaw the construction of Camp Lewis.    

Other notable honorees are Lt. Gen. William Harrison, Lt. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Lt. Gen. Calvin Waller, Lt. Gen. James Hill and Lt. Gen. James Dubik.

Since 1991, an honorary gold "General's Shovel" was made for the event.  The names of each of the departing generals have been added to the arm of the shovel.

Today, the original Liberty Gate and the Commanders' Grove stand near new Liberty Gate near the Meriwether Lewis monument just off of I-5.

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