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A familiar pattern at Fort Lewis

War is over, new division shows up

A Chinook helicopter carries a howitzer over Fort Lewis in the 1970s. U.S. Army photo

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The war in Vietnam had a diminishing effect on Fort Lewis as we entered the 1970s.  Although the post recognized the 250,000th soldier to process through the North Fort Transfer Station February 20, 1970, the Army was already making plans to close both the basic training and personnel center here. Due to the reduction in men entering the Army, all personnel processing operations on the west coast were realigned into one station in Oakland, California, in late 1971.  The last class of basic trainees ended here February 4, 1972.

While we stopped sending soldiers from here to Vietnam, in 1975, several planeloads of orphaned children were met at McChord, where they were screened at Madigan before continuing on to their new adopted families here in the United States, some of those growing up right here in the South Sound.

Octofoils arrive

When the 9th Division moved onto post, activating here May 26, 1972, Fort Lewis hadn't had a division homestationed since the 4th left in 1966.  The division was a "Unit of Choice," meaning it filled its ranks completely with volunteers to the Army - no draftees were assigned.  

Roughly 2,600 career soldiers formed the base of the unit, but then the 9th Division had to build itself through a rigorous recruiting system.  High school seniors were asked which of 300 job specialities they would like to learn.  The first enlisted female volunteer was assigned to Headquarters, 2-77th Armor, in July 1972 as the Women's Army Corps (WAC) began to dismantle.  By the end of 1972, 8,000 soldiers were assigned and training as the 9th Division.  It would be in the 1980s, however, when the 9th would find its place in history as a test bed for the Army.

Other names and places

The 1970s also saw a number of units arrive here that are still on post after 30-plus years in one form or another, as well as a number of building projects found their way to the landscape.  The 593rd Area Support Group formed in 1973 as the only unit of its kind in the Army.  The group brought many logistics elements together under one command.  The 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, arrived in 1974, and has been deploying to serve our nation ever since.  

Also in the 70s the Fort Lewis Museum opened in 1972 in the old Fort Lewis Inn building where it is still today.  Also constructed in the 70s were the Nelson Rec Center, Evergreen Library, Crittenberger Library, the barracks closest to the Fort Lewis Cemetary, and the Sheridan Gym.  

McChord goes on the chase

On November 21, 1971, two McChord fighters (the 318 Fighter Interceptor Squadron F-106s) were sent to track the flight that D.B.Cooper (Dan Cooper) hijacked.  Unfortunately, these fighters were not able to fly slowly enough to tail the Boeing 727.  D.B. Cooper as the newspapers named him, still remains an unsolved mystery.

Then, tragedy struck the local areas in March, 1975 when a C-141A crashed killing 16 crew members in the Olympic Peninsula. Many lives were touched by this tragedy as the families of the fallen lived, worked and went to schools in our community.

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

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