Hidden History: Looking back at Fort Lee during its centennial year

PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — World War I has been raging overseas for a couple of years when the National Defense Act of 1916 mobilized the United States for participation.

In response, 43 cantonments to train new army recruits opened across the country, including one on a 9,000 acre tract in Prince George County, Virginia.

“That was the start of Camp Lee,” explains Brig. Gen. David Wilson, the Chief of Ordnance at Fort Lee. “Over the years, over the past 100 years, it has evolved and provided trained soldiers to every conflict since World War I to the current global War on Terrorism.”

About 25,000 men from Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania trained initially before deploying to France.

Camp Lee then maintained a daily population of 40,000 replacement troops during the earliest days.

“Many went overseas, some did not,” says Karl Rubis, Ordnance Historian at Fort Lee. “After the war, Camp Lee was unnecessary, and it was basically kind of shuttered, closed down only to be reopened in World War II and given permanent status as Fort Lee.”

(Photo Courtesy: US Army)

In the 1950’s, Fort Lee was home to the Women’s Army Corps Training Center. It also developed into a growing center for logistics.

“So a long-storied tradition in producing trained soldiers for the fight in the defense of the nation’s freedom,” describes Brig. Gen. Wilson.

Today Fort Lee is home to two of the three largest branches with the Army: Quartermaster and Ordnance.

It also maintains ideals from its founding in 1917.

“To defeat any foe, defend any friend and to secure liberty,” says Brig. Gen. Wilson.

Adds Rubis, “You see the pictures of these soldiers, and you’re wondering what happened to these soldiers after the army who went home, had a family and you don’t know. But for us now, that soldier is definitely a mark of what we did and how we came to be here at Fort Lee.”

Fort Lee will hold several centennial celebrations the week of July 10, 2017. Stay with 8News for updates.

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