A mass formation of solders in their unit colors filled Watkins Field parade grounds at Joint Base Lewis-McChord this afternoon as dignitaries, commanders and the general public gathered to mark the centennial of Camp Lewis army post, the Northwest’s oldest, still active military installation.

A year-long community campaign begun in 1916 paid for the purchase of about 62,000 acres in the current JBLM location, which was then donated to the federal government to host a permanent military installation. Voters in Pierce County participated by approving a bond to pay the estimated $2 million purchase price.

With World War I raging in Europe at the time, planning and construction of the training installation had begun early in 1917, with the first barracks welcoming troops in early July. By August, some 7,000 workers had completed 500 buildings and conscripted solders (draftees) began to arrive. The camp population had grown to 45,000 by early November of that first year.

A fascinating history for the early years of Camp Lewis is hosted by www.historylink.org

Today’s centennial ceremonies was to include historic vehicles and military displays, a battery salute from 75 mm howitzers, flyover by a World War II B-25 Mitchell bomber, and remarks from state and I Corps leaders.