Exploring JBLM museums

Preserving history, honoring servicemembers and educating the community

By Kristi Berry on January 28, 2019

Explore the rich military history of Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) at McChord Air Museum and Lewis Army Museum. Both museums are open to the public and admission is free.

McChord Air Museum

Classified as a Heritage Center, the McChord Air Museum includes a gallery in the tower building on Barnes Blvd, Heritage Hill Airpark and a restoration center.

"The museum shows how aviation has changed so quickly over the decades as technology boomed," said Museum Administrator Raymond Jordan. "We hope to preserve the Air Force heritage and remind the younger troops what (troops) had to go through back in their day."

The gallery houses an extensive collection of models, photographs, paintings, uniforms and memorabilia. See the nose of a B-25 Bomber and sit in the cockpit of a F-106 simulator. Learn about the units and people who made history with exhibits such as Enlisted Pilots: 1912-1957 and Doolittle's Tokyo Raiders.

If you don't mind heights, you can climb to the top of McChord's first free-standing control tower. Built in 1952 and deactivated in 1995, today it's one of the few authentic freestanding control towers open to the public.

Next, head to Heritage Hill to see 15 beautifully restored aircraft dating back to the 1940s. The impressive collection includes fighter jets, bombers, troop carriers and even a plane used to help set the speed record.

A few gems you'll see are an A-10A Thunderbolt II attack plane known as the "Warthog," a F86D Sabre called "Sabre Dog," a T-33A Shooting Star, a B-23 Dragon bomber and a C-82A Packet troop carrier. In the upper lot, check out the two largest planes -- a C-124C Globemaster II known as "Old Shakey" and a C-141B Starlifter.

You can't touch or climb on the planes, but you do get to see them close up. Walk around them, stroll under the wings and look up into the wheel wells. You can't help but marvel at how these machines get airborne and think of the brave pilots and crew who flew these pieces of McChord's aeronautical history.

McChord Air Museum, noon-4 p.m., Wednesday-Friday, 517 Barnes Blvd., McChord Field, 253.982.2485, mcchordairmuseum.org

Lewis Army Museum

You've probably seen the large white building off Interstate 5 between exits 119 and 120. That beautiful, historical building is the Lewis Army Museum. Built in 1918 by the Salvation Army, it was originally the 150-room Red Shield Inn. The U.S. Army bought the inn in 1921 for just one dollar. It became Camp Lewis Inn and later Fort Lewis Inn. In 1972, the building was saved to become the Fort Lewis Military Museum.

The museum is divided into two main galleries -- The Army in the Pacific Gallery and the newly opened Hall of Valor. Exhibits tell the story of units that served with a collection of uniforms, weapons, vehicles, photographs and memorabilia from 1804 to present day.

As you enter, you'll be greeted by friendly volunteers who are available to answer questions or even take you on a guided tour. To keep the kids engaged, a scavenger hunt and coloring pages are available.

From the entrance, head left to The Army in the Pacific Gallery, which takes you from the discoveries of Lewis and Clark to modern day JBLM. To the right and up the stairs is the newly opened Hall of Valor. This interactive exhibit is divided into 10 military engagements from JBLM's history. Head outside to walk through the self-guided Vehicle Park where you'll see over 30 military vehicles and weapons.

"We hope visitors leave with a greater appreciation of the history and sacrifices of America's soldiers, especially as that history pertains to the units that served at Camp Lewis/Fort Lewis/JBLM." said Museum Director Erik Flint.

The museum is primarily run by volunteers. The Friends of the Fort Lewis Military Museum runs the gift shop and provides volunteer docents.

"The Lewis Army Museum is my sanctuary," said Volunteer Coordinator Dawn Dailey. "It gives me an opportunity to learn a whole range of public history skills like archiving, event-planning and artifact preservation. All of this allows people to connect with their ancestors that served here, and it's satisfying to be a part of that."

Lewis Army Museum, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday, 4320 Main St. and Constitution Dr., 253.967.7206, lewisarmymuseum.com