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In 1957 the original Main Gate to Fort Lewis was relocated stone by stone to its current location next to the visitor center.

Fort Lewis Military Museum

The jolt of hearing booming artillery fire was a reminder that we were camping just miles from one of the largest Army bases in the country … Fort Lewis. With our curiosity peaked, we decided to visit the Fort Lewis Military Museum. We knew that a visitor’s pass would probably be required to enter the base. What we didn’t expect was the hassle of a full blown security check … our driver licenses were run through the computer, truck registration and insurance papers verified, and the truck thoroughly searched (including the use of mirrors under the truck frame). During the lengthy process, Danny joked that a strip search would definitely diminish his desire to see the museum. In the end it was all worth it. The base is beautiful (complete with lakes and dense wooded areas) and the military museum fascinating and educational.

Upon arriving at the museum, we were surprised to see a Swiss-chalet style building. We learned that the structure was constructed in 1918 by the Salvation Army to serve as an inn during World War I (known as the Red Shield Inn … the symbol of the Salvation Army). It was eventually deeded to the Army and continued to serve as a lodge and social center until 1972 when it was converted into a museum.

Covering the period of 1804 to the present, the museum has extensive displays of beautifully restored Army uniforms and artifacts pertaining to Fort Lewis, the Army’s presence in the Pacific Northwest, and the units which served at the post. We spent two and half hours pouring over the exhibits and dioramas in the four primary galleries … history of the Army’s presence in the Pacific Northwest starting with the Corp of Discovery; history of Fort Lewis and its role during WW I through the War on Terror; the history of the I Corps (relocated here in 1981) and the Army family gallery (depicts the service and sacrifice of the Army wife and children).

One exhibit that generated a lot of excitement, especially with the uniformed boy scouts touring the museum, was the bronze hand and sword from a statue of Saddam Hussein that had been toppled in Tikrit. We learned some interesting things during our visit, such as … 4,000 German POWs were confined at Fort Lewis during World War II … a Vietnamese village complete with tunnels was constructed for training purposes during the Vietnam War … and the movie To Hell and Back with Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy was filmed here.

One oddity was Gen Norman Schwarzkopf’s jeep (he was Garrison Commander at Fort Lewis for one year in the 1980s). The display made sense once we read that this was the last of the old style jeeps driven by a Garrison Commander before the Humvee was introduced.

In addition to the interior displays there are 2 acres of exterior exhibits such as Sherman tanks and patriot missiles. We were amazed by the diminutive size of the Sherman tank.

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