By Rick WoodJune 4, 2010
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - This base is home to monuments, memorials and statues, but the one honoring the Army's 91st Division just past the northwest end of Watkins Field might be the most impressive.
Dedicated on May 30, 1930, the monument recently celebrated its 80th anniversary.
JBLM historian Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D., said the monument, featuring six statues and a 40-foot tall shaft, recalls the division's wartime contributions and honors its war dead, and stands as a focal point for Soldiers and visitors alike.
"Since its dedication, the monument has become a prominent Joint Base Lewis-McChord symbol, where it continues to honor national sacrifice," Denfeld said.
Sculptor Avard Fairbanks designed the statues and noted Seattle architect John Graham Sr. designed the monument. Frank McDermott, president of the Bon Marche department store, donated the funds to build it.
Soon after their return home in 1919, the Wild West Division veterans organized an association and discussed memorial plans, he said.
"During the September 1926 reunion, the committee proposed an arch over the Pacific Highway - today's Interstate 5 - but the $100,000 cost and anticipated maintenance issues led to dropping this proposal," Denfeld said.
Brigadier General Robert Alexander, the Camp Lewis commander, recommended a memorial stadium that included an arch entrance, with sections of the stadium named in honor of division units, but the veterans were more impressed by young Fairbanks' presentation outlining war monument designs, he said.
"They decided that a monument with sculptures would best honor the fallen," Denfeld said. "The association then sought War Department approval to build at Camp Lewis."
The association would pay for the monument and donate it to the War Department, he said. On Aug. 24, 1928, the monument plan received approval from the federal government.
"A groundbreaking at the monument location took place on September 26, 1926, with former lieutenant governor and 91st Division veteran William J. "Wee" Coyle officiating," Denfeld said.
Reverend John W. Beard, 91st Division chaplain, spoke of "the boys we left over there," he said.
On May 30, 1930, a large crowd, including many Wild West Division veterans, gathered at the monument, at the northwest end of the parade grounds.
"Every Armistice Day from 1930 into the 1970s had a group of 91st Division veterans conducting a ceremony and placing a wreath at the memorial," Denfeld said.
In 1967 400 Wild West Division veterans attended, he said. By 1974 attendance had dropped to 10.
"Although few veterans attended, the ceremony remained a moving event," Denfeld said. "A 21-gun salute and playing of 'Taps' recalled Soldier sacrifices."
The monument survives as one of the most impressive on any military installation and continues to recall Soldier sacrifice and duty to country, he said.
Rick Wood is a reporter with Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.