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Gunfire in Centralia

Two Camp Lewis soldiers died

Members of the Washington Army Guard bury Wesley Everest. Photo credit: The Centralia Daily Chronicle

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The Nov. 11, 1919, Armistice Day celebration in Centralia, Washington, is known as the Centralia Massacre.

Fueled by unionization, a fear of communism and mob mentality, the day ended with the deaths of World War I veterans Warren Grimm, Dale Hubbard, Wesley Everest, Ben Cassagranda and Arthur McElfresh.

Cassagranda and McElfresh had served in the 91st Infantry Division, which was headquartered at Camp Lewis.

A fear of communism led to the massacre.

Since 1914, the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, had worked to organize workers in a variety of trades and industries. An international labor union founded in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois, the IWW championed philosophies and tactics described as "revolutionary industrial unionism" with ties to socialist and anarchist labor movements.

In the 1910s and early 1920s, the IWW achieved a degree of success in unionizing workers, particularly on the West coast. At its peak in August 1917, the IWW -- whose members were often referred to as "Wobblies" -- had more than 150,000 members.

With its emphasis on revolution for the working person, the Wobblies initiated the first general strike in Seattle.

They also initiated fear.

While this first strike ended peacefully, other strikes led to bombings and riots.

Wobblies had been active in Centralia since 1914.  At the Great War's end in 1918, they opened a union hall in the Roderick Hotel in downtown Centralia.

This did not sit well with other segments of the community.

Shortly after the creation of the American Legion in 1919, a number of local veterans in Centralia organized and formed American Legion Post 17.

One of the tenets of the American Legion was "to maintain law and order; to foster and perpetuate 100 percent Americanism."

The differences between the Wobblies and the Legionnaires were crystal clear. They soon led to violence.

In honor of the first celebration of Armistice Day, the American Legion led a parade down Centralia's Tower Avenue. WWI veteran Warren Grimm, a former officer and the American Legion post commander, led the Legionnaires.

Not far away in the Roderick Hotel was Wesley Everest, another veteran and the leader of the local Wobblies.

With emotions running high, the Wobblies had armed themselves with pistols and rifles and taken defensive positions both in and around the hotel.

A number of the Legionnaires were seen carrying rubber hoses and pieces of pipe.

As the parade neared the hotel, shots rang out, and Grimm and McElfresh were killed.

The rest of the Legionnaires scattered for cover. Cassagranda was killed in a side street as he ran.

Other Legionnaires headed toward the gunfire from the union hall.

As they broke in, Everest escaped out a back door and headed toward the Skookumchuck River. Veteran Dale Hubbard pursued and soon caught him. Pointing a non-functioning revolver at Everest, Hubbard ordered him to stop.  Everest turned and fired, killing Hubbard.

Moments later, Everest was subdued, beaten to a pulp and thrown into a jail cell.

As darkness fell on an already dark day, a mob of about 100 formed outside the jail. It entered the jail, grabbed Everest, took him to the Skookumchuck River Bridge and lynched him.

The next morning, Governor Louis Hart ordered Company F of the 3rd Washington Infantry, stationed at Camp Murray, to Centralia to restore order.

Five veterans died that day.

All had served during WWI.  Four of the five received well-publicized military funerals. The fifth was quietly buried.

Two of them, Cassagranda and McElfresh, had served at Camp Lewis.  

As the history of Camp Lewis to Fort Lewis to Joint Base Lewis-McChord unfolded, there were some hard times experienced in American history.

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