Lewis Army Museum

Tacoma has a large military presence in the form of JBLM (Joint Base Lewis-McChord), a combination of the former Army’s Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base. Visible from I 5, which runs through JBLM, is the Lewis Army Museum, housed in a distinctive historical building. Every time I drive by the museum I think that we should visit, but we hadn’t yet made it there. So when a Franke Tobey Jones outing to the museum came up, we signed up.

There was so much information at the museum that, to avoid getting overwhelmed, I focused on two areas: military history of the Pacific Northwest and women in the military.

I apologize for the quality of some of the photos here. The artifacts were well lighted, and it was impossible to photograph many of them without the glare of a light off the reflective surface of the protective cases and picture frames.

Click on any photo to see a larger version.

Military History of the Pacific Northwest

A significant part of this history is the Corps of Discovery, also known as the Lewis & Clark expedition (1804–1806). According to a sign at the museum:

Contrary to popular belief, the Lewis and Clark Expedition was a military mission. Lewis and Clark were both officers in the United States Army and most of the men were soldiers who volunteered for the journey.

The figure in the photo wears a replica of the uniform worn by the infantry privates of the Corps of Discovery:

Replica Uniform: Corps of Discovery

Here are replicas of the trade coins Lewis and Clark exchanged with the Native Americans they met along the way:

Replica trading coins from Lewis & Clark Expedition

In August 1849 the U.S. Army established Fort Steilacoom, a short distance away from current JBLM, at the request of settlers in the Puget Sound region who feared both the Native Americans and the British. The post protected local settlers during the Puget Sound Indian War of 1855–1856. When the Civil War began in 1861, most of the regular troops left Fort Steilacoom and were replaced by volunteers from Washington, Oregon, and California. In 1868 the land was turned over to Washington Territory.

In 1904 the Army held training maneuvers, known as the American Lake Maneuvers, in an area near Tacoma. The maneuvers were so successful that a group of Tacoma businessmen offered to donate 140 square miles of land if the Army would build a permanent installation. On January 6, 1917, Pierce County voters approved a bond to purchase appropriate land. The land had not yet been legally acquired when the United States entered World War I on April 1917. The landowners agreed to let the County “borrow” the land so that building of the military post could proceed. Pierce County officially transferred title to the land to the U.S. government in November 1919.

Construction of the camp, originally known as Camp American Lake, began in July 1917. The name was changed to Camp Lewis to honor Captain Meriwether Lewis later that month.

Circular Emblem: Fort Lewis, WashingtonAfter World War I ended, the number of troops at Camp Lewis began to dwindle. By 1925, Pierce County residents began to feel that the U.S. Army had not kept up its end of the bargain through which it had received the land. Public sentiment developed that the Army should keep up the military installation or return the land. In 1926 Congress approved money for a 10-year building program at Camp Lewis. In 1927 the War Department announced that Camp Lewis would become a permanent installation thereafter designated Fort Lewis.

Today, it’s obvious that the military is a large part of the local economy. But I had no idea that Fort Lewis had started out as a business deal as much as a military one.

History of Women in the Military

Not surprisingly, the museum contains a lot on the history of women in the military. Here’s a display about women in WW I:

Women in World War I

On the left is a 1918 Red Cross nurse’s uniform from Camp Lewis. On the right is the uniform of a telephone switchboard operator with the U.S. Signal Corps, also from Camp Lewis in 1918.

And here’s a display about women at Fort Lewis during WW II:

Women at Fort Lewis 1941-1945

The Woman’s Army Corps (WAC) adopted Pallas Athene, the Greek goddess of victory and womanly virtue, as their emblem:

W.A.C. Crest: Pallas Athene

Here are more photos attesting to women in military history:

scroll divider

Finally, I cannot leave out this beautiful piece of artwork:

Artwork: Statue of Liberty

The note on the bottom left corner reads as follows:

This artwork was crocheted by the mother of a soldier missing in action in Vietnam. It is decicated to all our service members who are “Missing in Action.”

Presented to Fort Lewis, May 1991

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