A century of defense and military tradition in the South Sound
Everyone loves to talk about the Greatest Generation. Many of them were our parents or grandparents.
But 100 years ago, it was the generation that raised the Greatest Generation who forever changed South Puget Sound.
This was the generation born at the turn of the 20th Century. Automobiles had hit the streets, the Wright Brothers and the Boeing Company had taken flight, all forever changing our ways of getting around. Millions of immigrants came to our country in search of a better life.
The generation that came of age during that time was part of the support that brought forth Camp Lewis in Pierce County, Washington.
In January 1917, with U.S. entry in the war looming, the voters of Pierce County approved the sale of 70,000 acres of land to the U.S. government.
Nine months later, the same generation from Utah, North Dakota, and beyond passed through Liberty Gate when our entry into World War I demanded their service. They began their service as the 91st Infantry Division. The “Wild West” Division. The 91st the First!
They were and are often referred to as the Lost Generation, most famously by American veteran and novelist Ernest Hemingway. The Lost Generation were lambasted for their lack of purpose or drive, and viewed as having a disillusionment from growing up and living through the war (then viewed as the war to end all wars).
But as this century-old base proves, that wasn’t quite true.
They were not aimless. They were not directionless. They made this community and country into what it is today.
And Hemingway later acknowledged that. He once specified that this generation wasn’t lost, but battered.
This was a generation profoundly impacted by war. They later lived through the Great Depression and another world war.
President Eisenhower, who was later stationed at Fort Lewis as commander of the 1st Battalion, was a member of the Lost Generation.
Would we call him lost? No, far from it.
He’s often referred to as one of our greatest Presidents.
Imagine the first soldiers to report to Camp Lewis. Imagine the farms and one-room houses they may have came from. Imagine the 91st the first reporting to France less than a year later.
We no longer have any members of the so-called Lost Generation with us. But we have their legacy.
Not just in this base, or in the books they wrote, or the books written about them,
but in the generation they went on to raise.
As the attacks began on U.S. soil at Pearl Harbor — more than 37,000 men were training at Fort Lewis and nearby McChord Field. During World War II, infantry divisions from Fort Lewis fought in North Africa, Italy, France, Central Europe and many locations in the Pacific Theater.
President Eisenhower’s son graduated from West Point on D-Day (June 6, 1944).
The Greatest Generation, the children of the Lost Generation, fought and gave their lives for our country. And we remain grateful to every single one.
Since World War II, hundreds of thousands of soldiers continued that legacy, fighting in the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars, and fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the years following World War II, McChord Air Force Base provided air defense for the West Coast and eventually transformed into a transport and airlift base.
McChord’s cargo planes have transported troops and equipment during every war since World War II, and have participated in numerous humanitarian missions. McChord planes transported orphans from Vietnam during the war. This past decade, they flew relief flights after the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Haiti earthquake.
Today, we still face very real threats:
North Korea. Russia. China. Iran. ISIS.
Our effort to take these on is done below the sea, on land, in the air; and in space and cyberspace.
Five threats and five domains. In three of those five domains, the keystones of those are found at JBLM.
Many say the World War I generation was quick to idealize the past. Everything was better in the good ‘ol days. Had they only known what their impact would be on us today, they would have known that:
JBLM’s best days are ahead of us.
So while we celebrate 100 years of service and sacrifice, we also should celebrate the next 100 years.
Even though none of us (or maybe just a young healthy few) will be here for the bicentennial, we know that on that day this base can be stronger than ever.