War was raging in Europe 100 years ago today and everyone willing to ponder the realities of war already knew it was only a matter of time before the United States would have feet in foreign trenches.
Patriotism was on the rise as the nation prepared for war but so was the need for a more stable local economy, one that wasn’t so dependent on the swings of international trade, currency rates and crop prices. Local visionaries found a way to aid both causes.
Pierce County voters headed to the ballot box in 1917 to tax themselves to raise money that would be used to buy a large swath of land and simply donate it to the war effort. Farms, settlements and even towns were bought out entirely to make way for Camp Lewis, what is now Joint Base Lewis- McChord.
The vote passed and work began almost immediately. Within just two months, the former prairie land had 1,757 buildings and 422 facilities dotted around the installation, thanks to thousands of carpenters, bricklayers and day laborers working around the clock. Camp Lewis was home to 37,000 newly enlisted soldiers and their trainers by the time the year ended.
The famed 91st Division trained at Camp Lewis’ freshly minted rifle ranges, artillery fields and forests before finding itself in France, part of the American infusion of new troops, supplies and tactics that helped end the war.
The Puget Sound’s largest military installation has played major roles in military and humanitarian efforts around the globe ever since, whether hospitalizing wounded soldiers with state-of-the-art medical care at Madigan Army Medical Center, training soldiers on the latest vehicles before they deploy to protect American interests abroad or serving as a hub of activity to bring needed supplies to areas hit by natural disasters around the world.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord is the largest employer in the county, with approximately 57,000 full-time direct employees and a total economic impact of more than $6 billion. Washington ranks in the top 10 states for military spending, with 2,000 companies doing business with the Department of Defense and supporting a workforce of 112,000 people.
With that depth of history, national importance to this day and local impact to Pierce County wallets, it only seems fitting that the Lewis Army Museum has been renovated. It reopened Aug. 31 and provides visitors with snapshots of how the installation has changed and benefited the world, the nation and their neighborhoods. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday and accessible from the DuPont exit from Interstate 5 to anyone with valid identification. Visit lewisarmymuseum.com for details.