Fort Lewis, Part 4: 1927-2010

By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
Posted 6/21/18

Fort Lewis in World War IIIn 1939 additional 3rd Infantry Division troops of the 15th “Can Do” Infantry Regiment arrived, and then the national Protective Mobilization of 1940 brought more …

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Fort Lewis, Part 4: 1927-2010


Fort Lewis in World War II

In 1939 additional 3rd Infantry Division troops of the 15th “Can Do” Infantry Regiment arrived, and then the national Protective Mobilization of 1940 brought more expansion. The 15th would receive intensive training. Fort Lewis would welcome other units as well, as the world situation worsened. By July 1940 the post population reached 7,000 men. In four more months it would double. In September 1940 the 41st Infantry Division of the National Guard was federalized and moved into tents at nearby Camp Murray. They would remain there until completion of their divisional cantonment. This installation comprising 1,000 temporary wood-frame buildings went up on prairie land two miles north of Fort Lewis, and was named North Fort Lewis. The 41st Division moved into their barracks in March-April 1941. At this time Fort Lewis and North Fort Lewis housed 37,000 soldiers.

To accommodate the 37,000 soldiers and planned additional troops, new temporary construction would add another 800 buildings. Two additional temporary wood frame compounds would be South Fort Lewis, to the south of the Command Circle, and Northeast Fort Lewis on prairie land east of Camp Murray. All the Fort Lewis temporary buildings were painted in ivory with warm gray trim. In the 1960s white asbestos siding covered these buildings. Today few survive.

Many outstanding officers honed their leadership skills at the post. One went on to become a great general and president. Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower  reported for duty here in February 1940. Ike joined the 15th Infantry Regiment as 1st Battalion commander and regimental executive officer. He worked long hours to introduce new strategies. His troops responded to the tough but fair demands and Eisenhower gained much popularity among them. His management skills in organizing troop movements from Fort Lewis to California for maneuvers and training skills received considerable attention among his superiors.

The Eisenhower family lived in a Broadmoor house, Quarters 160 and today 2310 Clark Road (a plaque in the sidewalk identifies this as the Eisenhower House). Although he was extremely busy, Ike found time to plant a vegetable garden behind the quarters, with son John S. D. Eisenhower (b. 1922) providing labor. Dwight and Mamie (1896-1979) also entertained, having guests over for barbeques and card games, and they took active roles in the Officer’s Club. Mamie served on the renovation committee, and Ike became the club president. Mamie so liked the Fort Lewis Officer’s Club china (decorated with a Liberty Gate drawing) that she ordered a set from the manufacturer. This china is now on exhibit in the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kansas.

John Eisenhower attended and graduated from Tacoma’s Stadium High School. Following graduation he attended West Point, and went on to achieve the rank of Brigadier General. General John S. D. Eisenhower has written a number of distinguished history books, including General Ike, which includes a chapter dealing with the Eisenhowers’ Fort Lewis experience.

In early 1941 Ike was selected as the 3rd Infantry Division Chief of Staff. On March 4, 1941, he was promoted to Colonel, a great moment for him. At the time, career officer promotions came so slowly that tremendous accomplishment came with achieving that rank. He then assumed the Chief of Staff position in IX Corps, which was responsible for the defense of the entire Pacific coast. Believing that America would become involved in the war, Ike took his duties very seriously. Observing the two divisions then training at Fort Lewis, the 3rd Infantry Division and 41st Infantry Division, he found serious shortcomings in the later. A number of the officers lacked the necessary skills and leadership qualities. They would be replaced and many of the deficiencies corrected by the time Colonel Eisenhower left for Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in June 1941.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the post immediately assumed battle conditions. The 115th Cavalry Regiment established defenses on the Puget Sound shores and beaches. The 3rd Infantry Division set up defenses on post and the 41st Infantry Division created defensive positions around Fort Lewis, Camp Murray, and McChord Field.

The 41st Infantry Division trained hard, corrected shortcomings, and departed in March 1942 ready for battle. They fought in New Guinea and experienced more jungle combat than any other army division, and earned their nickname “the Jungleers.” The 3rd Infantry Division saw battle in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, spending 531 days in combat with 16 of its soldiers earning the Medal of Honor. The 40th Infantry Division arrived in April 1942 and went overseas in August, fighting in the Pacific Theater. The 44th Infantry Division reported to post in April 1942 and arrived overseas in September 1944 serving in France and Central Europe. Two additional Fort Lewis trained divisions, the 33rd Infantry Division and the 96th Infantry Divisions fought in the Pacific Theater.

World War II Expansion

During the war, the Fort Lewis Station Hospital grew dramatically. In 1941 the hospital comprised four areas: Post Hospital, Main Gate site, North Fort Lewis, and on the east side of the NCO housing area. In July 1943 construction begin on a semi-permanent hospital located on the Fourth Division Prairie near Northeast Fort Lewis. The first completed buildings opened in February 1944. This hospital included 60-some interconnected brick, one-story buildings, accommodating 1,567 hospital beds with an emergency rating of 2,500 beds. In addition to the wards, the complex included a two-story administration, staff and nurses quarters buildings. This new complex became the headquarters of the Fort Lewis Station Hospital with a staff of 1,500 medical personnel and an inventory of 296 buildings. On Sept. 22, 1944, the station hospital was named Madigan General Hospital in honor of Colonel Patrick Sarsfield Madigan (1887-1944), a distinguished medical doctor known as the father of army neuropsychiatry. As the end of the war neared in 1945, Madigan shifted to a convalescent hospital, caring for thousands of returning wounded soldiers. A portion of this hospital survives as Old Madigan.

The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC, later WAC) formed in May 1942, providing women for clerical and medical roles, often relating a popular WAC slogan, “free a man to fight.” The first WAC detachment reported to Fort Lewis in December 1943 and took on various duties such as motor pool dispatchers, finance office clerks, and gate guards. With the acute nursing shortage in 1944, WACs started training as Medical Technicians to work in military hospitals. They would become pharmacists and optometrists, and enter other technical occupations. In June 1945, a WAC Medical Technician detachment reported for duty at Madigan General Hospital.

Fort Lewis, like the rest of society, remained segregated until after President Truman’s Executive Order, issued in July 1948, to desegregate. Until the Korean War, separate facilities existed at North Fort Lewis and on main post. Here some early progress was made in integration. For example, the post hired a black woman, Marie Lindsey (b. 1924), in 1945 as a librarian in a library that served whites, unheard of at the time. In 1951 she became the post’s Chief Librarian, and whose legacy also includes designing a most pleasant library.

In early 1942, the Fort Lewis motor-repair base expanded as vehicle maintenance needs grew. The repair facility, located to the north of Northeast Fort Lewis and Fourth Division Prairie, received new shops and housing. On May 6, 1942, Colonel Marmion Mills (1890-1964) assumed command. The shops took on the responsibility for rebuilding vehicles from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, where tough conditions quickly wore out even sturdy military trucks. A heavy influx of vehicles led to a facility upgrade to become the Mount Rainier Ordnance Depot on Dec. 26, 1942. Overhaul shops had factory lines to disassemble vehicles and replace worn out systems. Women occupied 40 percent of the jobs. Since most of them had no mechanical experience, a vocational school was established at the Clover Park High School to teach mechanics. By war’s end the depot had 2,300 employees and 190 buildings.

The creation of German and Italian Prisoner of War compounds on Fort Lewis in July 1943 drew considerable local and post interest. The prisoners worked around the post, and at Mount Rainier Ordnance Depot. The main German POW camp was to the west of Gray Army Airfield in temporary barracks that had previously housed soldiers in combat training who had left for overseas duty.

Near the end of the war, on June 24, 1945, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) attended services in the main post chapel. Attending with the president in the front pew were Major General Joseph D. Patch (1893-1977), commanding general, Governor Mon Wallgren (1891-1961) and Senator Warren D. Magnuson (1905-1989). The church was packed with soldiers and family members. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) had visited Fort Lewis on September 22, 1942.

Korean War to Afghanistan and Iraq

In 1945 the post shifted gears and established separation centers to quickly discharge returning soldiers. Northeast Fort Lewis functioned as a separation center discharging 200,000 servicemen between November 1945 and February 1946.

Fort Lewis and Tacoma enthusiastically welcomed the 2nd Infantry Division following the war. The division with its impressive World War II record would train and ready for any future conflict. It was not long in coming. With the North Korean invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950, and the American response, the 2nd Infantry “Indianhead” Division was provided more equipment and sent to Korea, arriving at Pusan on August 3, 1950. The “Second to None” division warriors fought until the end of the war.

Two regimental barracks areas were constructed during the 1950s, with permanent concrete buildings. Following the Korean War, the 2nd Infantry Division returned for a short stay and then 4th Infantry “Famous Fourth” Division called the fort home. In 1966 the 4th Infantry Division deployed to Vietnam. The post became an Army Training Center, and Replacement Center, training soldiers, sending and receiving them from the Pacific.

On May 26, 1972, the 9th Infantry Division reactivated in official ceremonies. The division launched a campaign to attract volunteers and earned distinction by being the first all-volunteer division. The division trained in fast attack and mobile infantry movement. Fort Lewis gained increasing relevance in the Pacific with the activation of I Corps on October 1, 1981. I Corps and Fort Lewis contributed substantially to Desert Shield and Desert Storm (the Gulf War) in 1990-1991.

In the 1980s and to the present the installation has undergone a massive building program. A new Madigan hospital opened in 1992. Attractive barracks have replaced the World War II temporary buildings. However, the historic buildings from the 1920s and 1930s construction have been well-preserved.

Following September 11, 2001, I Corps and Fort Lewis units assumed a significant role in the “Global War on Terrorism.” Stryker Brigades, equipped with Stryker armored vehicles (named for Medal of Honor recipients Private First Class Stuart Stryker [1924-1945] and Specialist Four Robert F. Stryker [1944-1967]), demonstrated rapid deployment and effectiveness. I Corps also drew upon other Fort Lewis assets such as the Special Forces, Ranger units, Special Operations, and National Guard and Reserve units.

The 2005 Base Realignment Commission directed that Fort Lewis and the adjacent McChord Air Force Base merge. The merger was part of a nationwide movement toward joint basing, the culmination of an effort beginning in the mid-1980s to unify the separate military services and bring about more effective inter-service operations. On Oct. 1, 2010, Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base became Joint Base Lewis-McChord or JBLM.


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