It was 1941, the month of May and with the anticipation of the United States increasing the participation in the war raging in Europe, preparations around the Capital City of Washington DC continued. Across the Potomac river, the Arlington Farms acreage had provided a place for the Agricultural Department to raise experimental crops – now was converted into Arlington Cantonment with more troops arriving and activity increasing.
On the 4th of May, wielding a shovel, COL Oswald Saunders broke ground for what would become the first chapel within these acres. Construction would only take a couple of months and the chapel would be dedicated later in July 1941. As the population grew and more permanent buildings were constructed, Arlington Cantonment would eventually be renamed South Post Fort Myer. The two areas combined would still be less than 500 acres, though their contributions would be tremendous.
The book “Images of America – Fort Myer” with over 200 historical photographs provides an insight to some of the major contributions, events and people who have helped to shape and mold this historic US Army Post and the contributions made over the years.
Few people know the early contributions of General George S. Patton, Jr. He’s known for his robust accomplishments in World War I commanding the US Army’s Light Tank Corps and in World War II commanding the 3d Army.
While at Fort Myer, Patton left his mark on the US Army and the post with some of his contributions continuing until today. Few people know about his involvement in the construction of the Old Post Chapel – the icon of the installation, the tennis courts. But then there’s the “Society Circus” – a concept that began as a way for the Soldiers to continue to hone their skills, demonstrate their talents while raising money for the Army Relief Fund.
It began during the “between the wars” period when Patton returned from his successes in Europe in the US Army Tank Corps. He once again returned to his beloved cavalry where he had earlier distinguished himself by designing “The Patton Sword” – M1913 which was produced by the Springfield Arsenal – some 34,000 swords were produced and the cavalry outfitted. However this time it was “The Society Circus” which some say has evolved into today’s “Spirit of America” which still is produced and performed by Soldiers from Fort Myer as they take the show “on the road”
Back then, for ten weekends during the late Spring and all Summer, the horsemanship skills of the cavalry along with vignettes depicting events or places in history were presented.
This augmented the ceremonial duties which the Soldiers executed which included final honor support at Arlington National Cemetery.
Several historic photographs within the book “Images of America – Fort Myer” provide a small glimpse of this segment of history on this unique US Army Post with origins during the US Civil War when it was known as Fort Whipple. An autographed copy of the book can be purchased here on the website.
When the Custis-Lee’s lived and worked among their 1,100 acres, the flat land near the Potomac River was where they grew their crops in support of the estate – for their own personal use and to also sell in nearby Alexandria City and downtown Washington DC.
Nearly 100 years later as World War II raged in Europe and the Pacific, the land which had been then used by the US Department of Agriculture to raise experimental crops was requisitioned by the War Department. The northern half of the acreage would still be called Arlington Farms, the southern part would initially become Arlington Cantonment, later South Post of Fort Myer.
A major housing complex was constructed for the thousands of women who would work downtown Washington DC were constructed on this northern acreage. It served the needs of the country’s war effort well. After the war, the buildings were raised and later Arlington National Cemetery’s visitor center and administration building would be built within the acreage, while the remainder would be used for final resting places for the military veterans and their spouses. The most northern boundary of the acreage would eventually be marked by the Netherlands Carillon, a gift from the people of the Netherlands for the aid that the United States provided during and after WW II.
The book, “Images of America – Fort Myer” contains over 200 images, some of them aerial photos and diagrams that shows the evolution over time how the landscape of this area changed plus.