A decade of change

Units moved, war and more

By Ken Swarner on January 20, 2017

Servicemembers that served at Fort Lewis in the 1950s might look back wondering with whom they served. Was it the 2nd or the 71st, and what was Gyroscope and STRAC?

The period between 1950 and 1959 was a time of adjustment and perpetual change for the Army and the Evergreen Post.  

Alerted July 8, 1950, and put to sea July 24, the 2nd Division was the first combat unit to arrive in Korea from a U.S. base.  The Indianheads were also the first United Nations force to cross the Naktong River and push the North Koreans back across the 38th Parallel.  The division slipped quietly from Fort Lewis to the ports of Tacoma and Olympia where they boarded C-4 vessels.  They hoped for a quick end, but dreams were dashed when China joined the North that same year.  For some 2nd Division soldiers, going home was postponed for four years, others never made it - they died in places like Punchbowl and Bloody Ridge.

After the 2nd departed, the post received its first wave of reservists for a refresher course before heading to Korea.  By January 1951, 12,000 men had each received 15 days of instruction before deployment, made possible by the 6219th Reception Center, the first processing center reactivated on the west coast since WWII.  The center processed 4,594 soldiers in the first eight days of the war.  Canadian Army Special Forces arrived here in October 1950 also, becoming the first complete foreign unit to train at an American post.  

The 44th Division from Camp Cooke, California, also took up residency while the 2nd was gone.  As part of an extensive building campaign in early 1952, concrete barracks along 2nd Division Drive covering 100 acres of rangeland popped up on the landscape.

The decision to move the 44th here was music to the local business community who threw a welcome party in their honor as they arrived at the Port of Tacoma.

While at Lewis, the 18,000 soldiers of the 44th trained continuously here and at Yakima.

When the war in Korea ended, the 2nd Division returned to find the 44th here.  To make things simple, the Army combined the troops under the 2nd Division.  Then, in 1955, the 30,000 2nd Division troops were in for another surprise known as Gyroscope.  In the summer of 1956,  the division switched places with the 71st Division, Redcatchers, in Alaska.   Eight shiploads carrying the 71st Division arrived in Tacoma between July 21 and Sept. 9.  The Redcatchers, the third oldest division in the U.S. Army, were then dismantled weeks after their arrival, reflagging as the 4th Division (Ivy Division).  

The plan then was to have the 2nd and 4th divisions switch places every three years, however, that plan never materialized.  The 4th therefore joined the Pentomic Division Plan to meet the demands of nuclear warfare.  Instead of three regiments, the 4th had five - each regiment designed to operate independently of each other.  That plan lasted a year.  In 1958, while here at Fort Lewis, the 4th was designated to the XVIII Airborne Corps as a rapidly deployable force, known as STRAC (Strategic Army Corps).  


McChord Air Force Base was to see more construction during the 1950s.   Additional land was purchase which increased the size of McChord to 4,616 acres.   The runway was dramatically increased 9,000 feet, buildings were either replaced or upgraded.  McChord was now home to the 325th Fighter All Weather Group (a historic unit with over 500 victories).  The 317th and the 318th All Weather Fighter Groups were assigned to the 325th Fighter All Weather Wing.  The 319th was then transferred to McChord and was known to be the first "jet" units (F-94A Starfighter). 

McChord was to become part of the air defense network and Radar and Command and Control organizations (the 25th Air Division) were headquartered at McChord where they remained until 1990.  This air defense network was an essential part of the Cold War and resulted in the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, a chain of radar systems.  This chain was used to detect threats from the Soviet Union including missiles, bombers and to give the U.S. enough time to carry out counter attacks.  The DEW stations were kept occupied by the military until 1969.   McChord consistently provided provisions to these stations. McChord's involvement in this network resulted in the construction of several alert hangars.

(U.S. Air Force contributed to this report).