Next week, we honor a group of special Americans — our veterans. On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, we honor their service, achievements, sacrifices and commitment.
As a veteran myself, I’m proud to serve with the more than 40,000 active-duty, reserve and national guard Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Perhaps you don’t know it, but we serve at a base that’s played a prominent role in our nation’s defense since World War I. Built on 70,000 acres donated by Pierce County residents to the government, Camp Lewis opened to its first recruits in August 1917. It was one of 16 Army training centers that rapidly mobilized the Army for World War I.
One of these units, the 91st “Wild West Division” mobilized at Camp Lewis. Its 25,000 men served with distinction during the decisive Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France and the Flanders Field Offensive in Belgium in the fall of 1918. These campaigns led to Germany signing the Nov. 11, 1918, Armistice Agreement and the June 28, 1919, Treaty of Versailles that ended the war.
The monument on the northwest end of Watkins Field on Lewis Main is dedicated to the Soldiers of the 91st Division.
A presidential proclamation established the first U.S. Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, to celebrate the war’s end. Congress made Armistice Day a legal holiday in 1938, and the legislation made honoring the war’s 4 million American veterans its focus.
Three years later, the United States entered World War II. Once again, JBLM-based Soldiers and Airmen answered the call.
These Soldiers included Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower. He later become a five-star general, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe and president of the United States.
The 3rd and 41st division Soldiers, among the first U.S. units to engage in offensive operations during World War II, trained at Fort Lewis before deploying to the European and Pacific theaters.
Nine McChord Field Airmen served on the April 1942 Doolittle Raid on Japan in which the Army Air Corps launched B-25s from a Navy aircraft carrier. They bombed Tokyo and other targets forcing Japan to pull back air and naval forces to defend its home islands.
McChord Field was a principal Army Air Corps training base for B-17, B-24 and B-29 heavy bombardment groups.
When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, Fort Lewis’ 2nd Division became the first U.S.-based division to deploy there. It led the Pusan Perimeter breakout and the Eighth Army drive to the Manchurian Border.
Between 1952 and 1953, the 62nd Troop Carrier Wing — today’s 62nd Airlift Wing — airlifted troops and war materiel to the Far East to support combat operations in Korea.
To honor all U.S. veterans, Congress and President Eisenhower changed the holiday’s name to Veterans Day in 1954. About 18 million service members served in World War II and in the Korean theaters.
Fort Lewis’ mobilization role continued during Vietnam. From 1961 to 1971, more than 2.5 million Soldiers deployed to Vietnam from Fort Lewis.
This power projection capability was again demonstrated in late-1990 when McChord C-141s airlifted 210,000 troops, supplies and equipment to Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Fort Lewis deployed 34 active-duty and 25 Army Reserve units.
Between late 2003 and spring 2012, various JBLM units fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. At its peak, more than 18,000 JBLM service members were deployed. Hundreds of thousands of JBLM service members have supported combat and humanitarian relief operations worldwide since 9-11.
During 2017, JBLM Soldiers and Airmen continued to serve at home and abroad. Soldiers provided fire support for the Iraqi Army in Iraq; conducted counter-terrorism and training operations in Afghanistan; and protected U.S. and allied forces from rocket and mortar attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq.
From Aug. 1 to 11, McChord Field Airmen hosted Air Mobility Command’s Mobility Guardian exercise. Fifty-four aircraft and more than 3,500 service members from 25 countries participated.
Most recently, JBLM Soldiers battled wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. Airmen and Soldiers supported hurricane relief operations in Texas, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Martinique
As you can see, today’s Soldiers and Airmen — who we proudly call veterans — are upholding the tradition of distinguished service to our nation. They’ve proven they’re ready to “Deploy, Fight and Win” decisively anytime, anywhere.