The Fort Lewis Pet Cemetery, located on Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Pierce County, was established in 1918 as a mascot cemetery. The U.S. Army's Camp Lewis, forerunner to JBLM, had opened the year before. As draftees arrived and military units formed, many units acquired animal mascots. While dogs were most popular, other animals -- including bear cubs, a goat, bald eagles, monkeys, and cats -- also became mascots. Bonds formed between soldiers and mascots. All too often mascots died, hit by horses or trucks or victims of poor diet and care. Given a mascot's importance, with death came appropriate honors and burial, leading to development of a mascot cemetery in a serene forest on a bluff above the camp. In 1927 the base became a permanent post named Fort Lewis and received family housing. With families came pets and the desire for proper burial of deceased-but-loved companions, leading to the cemetery's expansion into a pet cemetery. The site's oldest surviving grave marker is that of Bud, a cocker spaniel who died in 1936. Since then, military families have laid to rest hundreds of pets in the Fort Lewis Pet Cemetery.
Men and Their Mascots
From the time Camp Lewis opened on September 5, 1917, numerous pets, many smuggled aboard troop trains, accompanied their drafted owners to the base. Most of these pets were dogs. Army officials, however, prohibited draftees from having pets, so the new soldiers had to turn their pets loose, and most became strays living off mess-hall scraps.
In a few cases an animal might be adopted by a unit as its mascot. One example was Happy, an Airedale pup brought to camp by a recruit and then adopted by a signal company. Happy became quite the trooper; if a soldier came into the barracks late, after taps, and tried to sneak in, the dog let out a howl. Another mascot, Chum of Mine, reportedly learned the difference between officers and enlisted men -- the dog was said to "stand at attention" when officers went by ("Bull Mascot ...").
More often mascots were selected by units and then obtained from outside the camp. They were to be special and unique. While dogs were popular, Camp Lewis had a wide range of animal mascots. There were cats, bear cubs, bald eagles, a goat (Sammie), a rooster, parrots, bantam fowls, raccoons, an opossum, a monkey, and a rattlesnake. One unit wanting a bear cub requested help from civic groups in Centralia, in Lewis County south of the base, to capture one. Another unit believed that a young doe would be a prized mascot and obtained one named Lauraan from a Beverly Hills, California, estate.
Need for a Resting Place
Soldiers developed close connections to their mascots, but unfortunately a number of mascots died -- some run over by horses or trucks, others victims of poor diet and care. When mascots died, troops honored them and gave them proper burials. Soldiers seeking a place to bury their beloved mascots found a quiet forest location on Engineer Bluff, above the camp and alongside the main road to the training areas. The site began to be used as a mascot cemetery in 1918.
Among the first burials were one "Turk" (of unknown species), a bald eagle, a monkey, and a bear cub. By the mid-1920s the pet cemetery comprised about 30 graves. No grave markers from this period survive. The number of burials grew little in the 1920s, when the camp population dropped to only 1,000 troops. With the establishment of Fort Lewis as a permanent facility in 1927 and the construction of family housing, the cemetery evolved as more army families began burying their pets at the site.
The oldest surviving marker (as of 2018) was erected for Bud, the pet of Major Otho Humphries (1891-1959) and Josephine Humphries (1895-1968). The wood marker read: "Bud a faithful cocker spaniel for 8 years, Died Sept. 23[,] 1936. Owned by Major and Mrs. O. W. Humphries." Throughout Major Humphries's military career and retirement, dogs were part of the family. For daughter Jo Ellen (1920-1999), the family pet helped her emotionally with the regular moves that her father's career required. During the family's time at Fort Lewis, Jo Ellen graduated from Tacoma's Stadium High School. In February 1942, the Humphries were stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco when Jo Ellen announced her engagement to be married. In her newspaper photograph she held a puppy. Bud's weathered wood grave marker survived many years, but over time the letters faded to illegibility.
A Major Animal Lover
During World War II, Major General Joseph D. Patch (1885-1966), commander of the Fort Lewis Army Service Forces training center, buried two pets in the Fort Lewis Pet Cemetery. The wood marker for one, inscribed "Tahdy, Maj. Gen. J. D. Patch, 1945," still survived in 2018, resting against a tree. Patch served only a short time at Fort Lewis, in 1944 and 1945, but was involved in some significant activities.
General Patch greeted and escorted President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) during his June 24, 1945, visit to the post, and joined him at Sunday Protestant services in the main chapel. Chaplain Daniel W. Stevens (1895-1989) gave a sermon titled "God Can Help You." No one present knew that Truman was considering at the time the use of the atomic bomb (which he would order dropped on two Japanese cities some six weeks later). Patch knew only that the commander-in-chief standing alongside him, sharing a hymnal to sing "This is My Father's World," had heavy responsibilities.
On other occasions Patch displayed innovation and leadership skills. Breaking with longstanding army formal rules, Patch did away with the time-consuming courtesy calls that newly arrived officers had to make to their commanding officer and his wife. Instead, Patch had a large party in Jensen Gym, with 3,000 attending, where new officers could meet their commanders. There was an onstage introduction of the commanding officers, with retired Major General David L. Stone (1876-1959) and Anita Thorne Stone (1895-1994) first in line. Stone, known as the father of Fort Lewis, had directed the construction of Camp Lewis in 1917 and later commanded Fort Lewis for several years, in 1936 and 1937.
More colorfully, General Patch became involved in a dognapping case. In October 1944 a troop train stopped in Pocatello, Idaho, and local volunteers came aboard with snacks and reading material. One of the volunteers was 12-year-old Patsy Watson, accompanied by her cocker spaniel. A soldier on the Fort Lewis-bound train took her dog. A distraught Patsy wrote a letter to the commanding general of Fort Lewis. General Patch received the letter and put a request in the post newspaper asking the soldier with her dog to return it. Soon soldiers were sending her dogs. The Fort Lewis post office had shipped two dogs -- and had two more waiting -- when the mail clerk halted shipments, awaiting word from Patsy Watson that she had her dog back. Patsy wrote that her dog was home and happy.
A Permanent Fixture
By 1945 the Fort Lewis Pet Cemetery was well established, with maintained paths and graves. The site's burials numbered more than 100. Dogs were most common, but over the years many different animals were laid to rest on the grounds. There were cats, birds, hamsters, raccoons, rabbits, horses, and at least one pig, guinea pig, and pony. The cemetery took on a more permanent look as people begin to install marble and other lasting stone monuments.
Not all of these had dates imprinted, so identifying the oldest is difficult. The oldest dated stone monument visible in 2018, an inscribed granite headstone, honored "Scraps, true friend of Col. & Mrs. R. E. Goolrick, 1928-1941." At the time of the headstone's installation, Colonel Robert E. Goolrick (1886-1946) commanded an Army Air Corps unit at Fort Lewis, but he soon left to command Keesler Field in Mississippi.
Fifteen years later in 1956 a marble headstone was placed at the grave of "Jo Jo, faithful and beloved pet of W.O. and Mrs. J. J. Klappsa." Warrant Officer Joseph J. Klappsa (1909-1978) was a Washington resident who served at Fort Lewis. Beginning that year one to two permanent markers were installed each year through 2006. No permanent markers were installed between 2006 and 2016.
Remembering Loved Companions
February 1950 saw the death of Mike, a Kerry Blue Irish dog of Fort Lewis commander Brigadier General John Joseph Burns (1898-1987) and his wife Hattie Simpson Burns (1916-1967). They buried Mike in the pet cemetery. In 1953 General Burns retired and the couple moved to Tacoma. Hattie Burns passed away in 1967 and was buried in the Camp Lewis Cemetery, a short distance from the Fort Lewis Pet Cemetery. In 1987 John Joseph Burns joined her in death. Mike's grave marker has since disappeared.
A number of markers demonstrated how often military families move. The wooden headboard of Taffy indicated that the "Beloved Cocker of the Maj. Dan McGrew Family" lived with the family in "Edmonds, Wash.; Wurzburg and Bamberg Germany; Camp Hanford, Wash.; Tokyo, Japan; and Columbus, Ga." These moves took place during Taffy's 15 years of life: October 8, 1954, to October 20, 1969.
A large granite marker for Bingo (Highly), a dog who lived from January 1957 to May 30, 1973, notes that the family was at Fort Kobbie, Canal Zone, and Fort Lewis. The marker also says:
"The morning bark will be missing. The love and duty has been done in God's name. You're getting on, so like soldiers we have to be brave, so sleep and rest. Amen. I will try to do the same. I loved you the best my pet."
Other families have left meaningful messages. The family of Michette recorded the following inscription: "Our Toy Pom, One of God's finest gifts, A beloved member of the George Lane family, 17 Dec. 1963 -- 25 April 1977, 'Rest Well Little Precious.'" Joyce and April said of their pet Tigger Caron: "You were a better person than most people." A marker for a pet guinea pig said: "Of all the pets I've had, she was the most loyal, loveable and trustworthy friend."
One of the most impressive monuments honored both a series of pets and their owners. Two large stone markers were joined, the first in memory of Helga M. Sanders (1928-1995) and Ernest D. Sanders (b. 1928), the pet owners. A second headstone, resting on the first, records the Sanders's pets -- Cindy (1957-1972), Bijou (1966-1982), Chou Chou (1961-1976), Bijou 2 (1987-2002), Fifi (1971-1986), and Fifi 2 (1985-2003) -- followed by the message: "Love Helga & Erny Sanders."
One can imagine the death of the cat Tabby, whose message reads: "May God spare others the death you had."
The most common epitaphs are positive, mentioning love, devotion, companionship, and friendship. Inscriptions indicate there were many beloved poodles, cocker spaniels, German shepherds, dachshunds, and cats, and at least one beloved rabbit.
A Unique Location
The Fort Lewis Pet Cemetery is unique, serving as the final resting place for mascots, pets, and also several military working dogs. One working-dog gravesite is marked with a wood headstone: "Fritz (N100), Apr 74 -- Jun 83, Proudly served his country as a military explosive detector dog." "N100" was Fritz's serial number, which would have been tattooed in an ear. Following the Vietnam War, explosive-detection dogs became especially valuable in protecting American bases. Fritz's grave is surrounded with concrete blocks and has been decorated with stuffed animals and American flags. Two more military working dog graves were identified by strips of cloth with the animals' serial numbers written in ink.
The pet cemetery includes animals of a great range of sizes, with burials for those as small as parakeets and hamsters to those as large as ponies and horses. One large marble grave cover noted in 2005 and 2016 surveys has been identified as a horse burial. The marker contains inscriptions reading "Windsong's Yetty, Quarterhorse Thoroughbreed, 1963-1988" and also "In Memory of Honey Joe, Cuddles and Shela and Flash, Michele's Wonder Pony, Shetland Paint, The Morgan Family." During World War II, Colonel Harold J. Guernsey (1893-1950) and his wife Erva Guernsey (1899-1980) buried their horse Molly, but the grave's large white headstone was subsequently lost. A concrete slab was used as the cover for the grave of a pony named Brandy.
Many owners and visitors left mementoes and objects on graves in the cemetery. Rosco's Frisbee was attached to a wooden cross. Shadow had a favorite ball nailed to his cross. The collar of Milo, the "Greatest Dane," was on the cross at his grave. At the door to Charlie S.'s doghouse sat a dog dish. Several dog and cat sculptures were used to adorn graves. A wooden cupid decorated the grave of one dog.
Over the years the cemetery became rundown. Care and maintenance was neglected, leaving the cemetery overgrown much of the time. In November 2016 an Eagle Scout leadership project cleaned up the cemetery, removing overgrowth and clearing grave sites. A 2016 estimate placed the total number of burials in the Fort Lewis Pet Cemetery between 600 and 800.