Notable and Historic US Military Bases

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii is Attacked

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii is Attacked, December 7, 1941.

by Jackie Edwards

Over 80 years since the Japanese bombed the prominent military base of Pearl Harbour during the Second World War, the last known survivor of the attack on the USS Arizona has recently died at the age of 102. Lou Conter, a quartermaster, was standing on the main deck when the bombs were dropped and despite the ship being lifted 30 to 40 feet out of the sea, he survived. The assault on Pearl Harbour was a turning point in the Second World War and highlighted the strategic importance of the Hawaiian base for American defense in the Pacific. Interest in establishing a permanent presence in the area grew during the nineteenth century and a naval base was fully established by 1919. There are now between 450 and 500 military bases located throughout all 50 states in the US, however some, like Pearl Harbour, are more notable for the significant part they played in history.  Several cities across the US are home to the remains of vital barracks and fortifications from the Second World War, while other historic sites are still training the country’s military elite almost 250 years since they were first established during the War of Independence.


Mobilizing The Nation for World War II

Although troops were only deployed overseas for active duty in the Second World War after the assault on Pearl Harbor, from as early as 1939, the government agreed to ship food, equipment and vehicles for military personnel to Europe, and men from all over the country started reporting for military duty a year later. All these incoming and relocating troops would require thousands of new buildings for accommodation and training for at least the duration of the war. Temporary constructions were quickly built, often within hours, starting with the basic, standardized plans for barracks known as the 700 series design, and later the updated and improved 800 series plans. From Fort Barry in California to Fort Edward in Massachusetts, barracks sprang up across the country. Many of these buildings were demolished after the war but, despite being built for temporary use, some are still standing today. These include Fort Des Moines which, because it was originally designated as a barracks for women, was built out of higher quality brick and tile instead of wood. The site has now been repurposed for several uses including housing, a gym and a museum, and the Provisional Army Officer Training School has now been designated as a national historic landmark.

West Point Military Acadamy, New York courtesy

West Point Military Acadamy, New York courtesy

The Strategic Importance of the Oldest Fortifications

While the majority of US bases were built during the early years of the 20th century to prepare for world wars, some garrisons date back to the 1800s when they were established as barracks, training grounds and storage depots for the permanent US army which was created after the Revolutionary War.  The earliest of these military bases is West Point, New York which, as the oldest army garrison recognized by the US Army, has been continuously inhabited and in use for military purposes for almost 250 years. At the time of its conception, the site along the Hudson River was considered by George Washington to be the most strategic position in the country and designs for the base were first drawn up in 1778. As well as forts, a huge 150-ton chain made of iron was extended across the river to Constitution Island and this prevented the British from ever capturing West Point.

Exponential Expansion of the Largest Military Base

Covering over 250 square miles and currently home to almost 60,000 personnel, the largest military base in the US, and indeed one of the largest in the world, is Fort Bragg, recently renamed Fort Liberty. Originally established in 1918 as an artillery training ground, it was one of three training camps in North Carolina but the only one to remain operational after the First World War and become a permanent military base. Since then, it has continued to expand exponentially and has been used as a base for training soldiers during the Second World War. It became known as Home of the Airborne when the 82nd Airborne division was stationed there permanently and was also the headquarters for Special Forces Soldiers when it grew further during the 1950s. During WWII, personnel numbers reached a peak of almost 160,000. While it is smaller in area, Fort Campbell in Kentucky, established in 1942 as an armor training and mobilization camp, now houses over 250,000 service members and civilians and is considered to be the second-largest base in the US.

Big guns at Fort Mott, New Jersey.

Big guns at Fort Mott, New Jersey.

From early fortresses built during the War of Independence to prominent naval posts that played a vital part in the Second World War, there are a number of particularly large and historically significant military bases that all stand out for their strategic importance. Temporary barracks were built quickly to house mobilized troops at the start of the Second World War, while other renowned bases such as West Point have grown slowly over decades to become well established as some of the most important in the world.

©Jackie Edwards, for Legends of America, April 2024.

About the Author – Jackie Edwards was a mining engineer before becoming a semi-retired freelance writer.

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Also See: 

National Battlefields &  Military Parks

Forts & Presidios Across America