History of Fort Meade, Maryland
Today we know Fort Meade houses thousands of armed forces workers and their families, but Fort Meade has a rich history that takes us all the way back to World War I. Since it’s so close to Washington, D.C., the location has always been a hotbed of military activity, and has homed some of the finest members of military.
In 1917 the United States entered the first World War, and needed new facilities for recruits from the selective service. In May 1917, the US Army had contracted a new facility to be built in the city of Admiral, Maryland. This site was chosen due to its proximity to rail lines, the coast, and Washington, D.C. The site was named after George G. Meade, who served as commander for the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. In its first month of being open, Fort Meade took in about 23,000 men who were reporting for duty, and formed the 79th Infantry Division. Overall, over 400,000 men were processed through the facility over the course of World War I, and hosted the “Hello Girls”, who served as bilingual telephone-switchboard operators. In 1928 the name was briefly changed to Fort Leonard Wood, but was changed back by 1929 due to the campaign of a Pennsylvania congressman.
As the United States settled into a new routine following the war, Fort Meade became known for being a tank school, with the tank units of the regular army from France being housed there. The tank riding dog, Old Joe, even became the official pet of the 66th Infantry, and was treated with respect and honor by the entire facility for his entire life, and buried with military honors. Both future President Dwight D. Eisenhower and then Lieutenant Colonel George Patton attended tank school, and served with the Tank Corps. Fort Meade continued to grow, adding new buildings and hospitals to better serve the armed forces, and by World War II they were again ready to bring in more men.
Fort Meade was a training center during the second World War, and about 3.5 million men came through its facilities over the course of the war. The facility was well equipped to deal with the large influx of new soldiers, as it had plenty of services to get them ready and shipped out to the front lines. In 1942 the Special Services Unit Training Center was opened so soldiers could learn all parts of entertainment, and acts such as Glenn Miller, Joe Lewis, and Jack Benny were all trained here. Women also helped out during the war, and over 150,000 women were involved in the Women’s Army Corps who served as everything from mechanics to switchboard operators.
After World War II Fort Meade was still used to process and house members of the military, and in 1966 the First and Second U.S. Army Recruiting Districts were joined and headquartered at Fort Meade. In 1990 the facility processed units from the Army Reserve and National Guard from different states to support Operation Desert Shield. Although the tanks may no longer be at Fort Meade, it’s rich and proud history makes it a vital part of the United States Army history.