Back to Online Newspapers

Cowan Stadium

Stadium bears the name of WWII hero

Cowan Field and Memorial Stadium were named in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. Richard Cowan. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

There is a connection between sports and military service.

After defeating Napoleon at Waterloo in June 1815, the 1st Duke of Wellington allegedly said that the battle was won on the playing fields of Eton.

Today, American service academies place a high value on sports - especially football - because they instill leadership, toughness and teamwork under pressure.

Toward the end of 1917, the War Department appointed Capt. Trevanion Cook to be the first athletic program director at Camp Lewis. He soon put together a robust sports program, which included an intramural football league of a dozen teams.

As the 91st Infantry Division grew at Camp Lewis, so too did the number of men who played football, and a Camp Lewis team formed. Cook arranged for the Camp Lewis 91st Division team to play at Tacoma Stadium, which is today's Stadium Bowl next to Stadium High School.  

In 1918, the team played in the Rose Bowl, losing to the Mare Island Marines, 19-7.

Over the years, there were a number of proposed stadiums for Camp Lewis.  

In 1927, Brig. Gen. Robert Alexander, commander, considered the construction of a stadium built along the lines of the Doughboy Stadium at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Other long-gone stadiums include several baseball fields built during the 1930s and 1940s.

But one remains, and that is Cowan Stadium, named in honor of Pfc. Richard E. Cowan, a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Of note, the Army had on several occasions turned Cowan away before allowing him to enlist. His enlistment eventually led to Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Cowan Stadium.  

Near Krinkelter Wald, Belgium Dec. 17, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, Cowan, a heavy machine gunner assigned to the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, engaged a numerically superior force of German infantry and tanks.

Six waves of German infantry attacked and were repulsed by Cowan. The seventh attack, however, broke the American lines.

Cowan held his position, holding off the Germans until a new line of defense was established.  Then, unaided and under direct fire, he moved his weapon and ammunition to a second position.

As a German Tiger tank approached, Cowan held his fire until about 80 German soldiers appeared.  His first burst killed or wounded about half of their number. Gun and tank fire enveloped his position, but Cowan held his ground and continued to pour deadly fire into the advancing German force.

An order to pull back was given; Cowan was the last man to leave the battlefield, covering the withdrawal of his comrades into the village of Krinkelt.  Cowan had killed more than 100 enemy soldiers.

The following day, Cowan was killed in action.

President Harry Truman later presented Pfc. Cowan's Medal of Honor to his parents in a ceremony on the White House lawn.

Following the war, veterans' groups associated with Fort Lewis began a campaign to raise money to build football and baseball stadiums.

Completed on May 26, 1949, the football and baseball stadiums were named in honor of Pfc. Cowan. That year marked the first football games, and the 2nd ID Fort Lewis team compiled a 16-0 record.

During the 1950s, college teams used the stadium, and it hosted the Scottish Games in the 1970s. Over the years, Cowan Stadium has hosted rugby games, track meets and soccer games.

About 1967, Cowan baseball stadium was renamed Memorial Stadium.

Beginning in 1975, the Special Olympics began holding an annual competition in the stadium.

On the south side of both stadiums - a historic connection to the playing fields of Eton - is a plaque that honors the sacrifices of soldiers like Pfc. Richard Cowan.

Credits:  Dr. Duane Denfeld, JBLM Cultural Resources Program, contributed to this article.

comments powered by Disqus