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First in the gate

Three soldiers lay claim to be the first to enter Camp Lewis

Thousands of conscripts during World War I passed through the Liberty Arch Monument Gate after January 1918. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Everything in history has a beginning, and sometimes that has to do with the first person to arrive. So who was the first person to enter the newly constructed Camp Lewis 100 years ago?

The year 1917 had been a busy year. In January, Pierce County voters had approved a bond to buy the land on which the camp would be built. In June, construction began, and by September, the newly named Camp Lewis was ready to begin training many of the draftees who would serve in World War I.

The first draftees were to arrive Sept. 5, 1917, but some question remains as to who was the first to arrive. Herbert Hauck, Arthur Halder and Arthur Goff are three individuals who have laid claim to the honor.

For a while, Hauck received credit as the camp's first draftee to arrive.

In an article entitled "First Conscripts Enter Camp Lewis as the US Army Post Officially Opens on September 5, 1917," Dr. Duane Denfeld wrote that Alice Henderson, the author of the book The Ninety-first, the First at Camp Lewis, described Hauck -- serving as a chauffeur for Col. Peter Davison -- as entering in early September.

While Henderson's work was thorough and the first history of the camp, later research of Army records showed that Davison's earliest arrival to the area was actually Sept. 16 and that Hauck was not inducted until Sept. 20 -- the day he actually arrived at Lewis.

On the other hand, Halder did arrive at the camp Sept. 5.

Newspapers had reported that the first conscripts would come from King County, most notably Seattle, wrote Denfeld, noting that The Seattle Times reported "Ten Million and ninety-two Seattle men ... reported at Camp Lewis that afternoon."

In actuality, 93 draftees reported -- 74 from Seattle and 19 from other areas of King County. One of the conscripts, Ten Million, was the name of a well-known University of Washington athlete.

The soon-to-be-soldiers from King County were expected to be the first to enter Camp Lewis, and at the top of the list was Arthur Halder, an immigrant from Switzerland via Canada. As indicated, the men arrived at the camp in the afternoon of the 5th.  

As it turns out, Arthur Goff beat everyone by three to five hours.

A farmer from eastern Oregon, Goff had been instructed to report to his draft board for travel. Not clear as to what to do, he took the initiative of spending several days traveling by car and rail to get to Camp Lewis. He showed up at 8:45 a.m. the morning of Sept. 5, thus becoming the first draftee to report for duty.  

Ironically, as many newspaper writers noted at the time, Goff was a pacifist who opposed the war.

All three men -- Hauck, Halder and Goff -- served honorably.

Hauck trained with the 361st Infantry Regiment and served in France. He earned the rank of corporal and was discharged in 1919.  After the war, he worked in Seattle at a Pierce Arrow dealership and later took up photography.

Halder never deployed. For reasons unknown, he was discharged in January 1918. He later worked as a milk inspector for the state of Washington.

As to Goff, he completed his training at Lewis and served in France with the 316th Supply Train, a unit that brought rations, equipment and other supplies to frontline soldiers. During World War II, he worked at McClellan Field, an Army Air Corps base.

As Denfeld noted, the thousands of men who reported to Camp Lewis in 1917 did not pass through Joint Base Lewis-McChord's iconic Liberty Arch Monument Gate -- that was not completed until January 1918.

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