Fort Worden 100 Years Ago

In January 1918, America had been at war for nine months (Congress declared war on Germany April 6, 1917). At the start of the new year Fort Worden was in the midst of a dramatic transformation from a bastion of defense for Puget Sound to an embarkation point for young recruits on their way to Europe. Because of frigid temperatures in the east, thousands of men were sent west to receive training. They also came west to cut timber. The Leader’s January 2nd edition announced “Signal Corps men arrive. Form the vanguard of force placed in logging camps of the peninsula.” The airplane industry’s demand for spruce required troops to assist private logging concerns in harvesting the wood.

Timber was also needed for the construction trades. All the forts in the area were experiencing building booms. Fort Worden alone had more than 75 buildings constructed during the first year of the war. Captain Henry J. Neumann, C.A.C., noted in his daily journal that his company was ordered from its barracks (Building 203) and into camp on Artillery Hill (near present day building #409) to make room for the influx of new recruits. Troops arriving from the east were countered somewhat by the transfer of veteran soldiers stationed at Fort Worden to new assignments. The Leader dedicated a section of the paper to the comings and goings of the county’s native sons and daughters. Reviewing the Leader’s early 1918 editions revealed two names of note. The first one was my grandfather. The Leader’s January 3rd edition (it was a daily back then) with the headline, “Local Man Promoted,” reported that John Caldwell, formally a sergeant, was made a lieutenant and ordered to Maryland, leaving behind his pregnant wife Caroline (Sofie) Caldwell. The second referred to the current namesake of Fort Worden’s balloon hanger. The February 21st edition reported that Horace W. McCurdy, son of Mr. and Mrs. James McCurdy, was home on leave from the Navy for a short visit before heading to a ship in the Atlantic Fleet. In addition to the travels of locals, the Leader also kept tabs on the weekend wonderings of the recruits.

When the recruits were given weekend liberty, many of the young men headed downtown to catch a ship heading up sound. The steamers Sol Duc and Kulshan often ran close to capacity on Saturday night carrying artillerymen out of town for the big cities of Seattle and Tacoma. The Leader reported that on the Sunday 3am return trip down sound, the steamers’ decks would be covered with recruits catching a short nap before trudging back to the fort in time for reveille.

A century ago, thousands of young men were passing through Fort Worden on their way to war. The need to train, house, and victual the troops changed the role of the fort from an armed fortress to a learning center for soldiering. The change would be permanent. The big guns would never return and the fort would grow again to train the next generation of recruits for the next war.

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