Ft. Lewis Museum: Exhibits From Lewis And Clark To Schwarzkopf

What do Manuel Noriega, Lewis and Clark, Norman Schwarzkopf, the Pig War, Sherman tanks and Manila Bay have in common?

They're all featured in the fascinating Fort Lewis Military Museum, the largest such museum in the Pacific Northwest.

The impressive museum tells the history of Fort Lewis and its units, and of the U.S. Army in the Pacific Northwest, with colorful displays of weapons, uniforms, military gear and historical exhibits.

Northwest military exhibits cover the early exploration of U.S. Army Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; military forts in the Northwest; local Indian Wars; the so-called Pig War with Great Britain in the San Juan Islands; and the Spanish-American War. The displays include original and reproduction uniforms, from the reconstructed dress of a private in Lewis and Clark's 1804 expedition to the uniform of a Coast Artilleryman of 1916.

Muskets, rifles, bayonets, swords and sabers from the territorial and early statehood era are alongside yellow-plumed cavalry dress helmets. Also on hand are a 24-foot, 18th century Indian canoe, of the type used by Lewis and Clark, a 1775 Brown Bess musket and Civil War uniforms.

The museum has the Northwest's only Desert Storm exhibit, which features captured Iraqi gear and U.S. uniforms and arms used in the Persian Gulf War, including a Stinger rocket launcher and an AK-47 assault rifle. Captured Iraqi heavy artillery will be displayed later this year, Curator Alan Archambault said.

Other exhibits chronicle local units involved in both world wars, Korea, Vietnam and the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the Sinai Desert during the 1980s. Also on hand is the jeep driven by Schwarzkopf, Fort Lewis Commander General from 1986 to 1987.

The museum has an extensive collection of captured weapons, uniforms and gear from Japan, Nazi Germany, Korea and Vietnam, including samurai swords, machine guns, Mauser rifles, a (German) Luger pistol and a Chinese sniper's rifle. The museum's weapons collection is meant to educate soldiers and the public in the development of weapons, Archambault said.

Life-size tableaus depict doughboys in a WWI trench in the Argonne Forest of France (complete with rats and gas masks), and a 1943 bivouac and a 1966 barracks scene at Ft. Lewis.

A uniform belonging to Noriega is the star of an exhibit about the U.S. invasion of Panama, which also features captured weapons and uniforms of elite Panamanian forces. The museum yard is filled with 29 military vehicles, including WWII Sherman and Stuart tanks, a WWII halftrack and scout car and a Korean War-vintage self-propelled howitzer.

Museum tours can be arranged for all age levels in groups of at least 10, and the museum is staffed with soldiers ready to answer questions about the collection. The museum's popular living-history program provides military history presentations to groups on topics ranging from the life of a soldier on Lewis and Clark's expedition to the ordeals of the American doughboy in WWI. The appearances include museum staffers in correct period costume, speaking in character as a historical figure.

A nature trail and environmental exhibits will be added in 1993, showcasing the wetlands and wildlife of the fort. The environmental gallery and trail will be the first natural gallery or exhibit at any U.S. military installation.

Got a great idea for a local getaway? Give us a call at 946-3970 or write to us at South County Life, 31620 23rd Ave. S., Suite 312, Federal Way, WA 98003. --------------------------------------------------------------- -- If you go: The Fort Lewis Military Museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays, noon to 4 p.m.; closed holidays. Free admission. Mostly wheelchair-accessible. Drivers must get a pass from the Fort Lewis main gate (exit 120 off Interstate 5). Take the left fork and turn left at the first stop light. Turn left again and continue 1.6 miles on the curving road that leads to the museum. Musuem Parking is to the left just past the outdoor tank and artillery display. For information, call (206) 967-7206.