The history of Fort Leonard Wood dates back to the dark days just before World War II. By 1940, war had engulfed Europe and much of Asia. By then, many Americans believed that it was only a matter of time before the country would be drawn into what was rapidly becoming a global conflict.
The nation’s leaders worked to increase the size of the armed forces, procure modern equipment and merge the two into an effective fighting force. One of the major challenges was finding suitable training areas for the expanding Army. In 1940, the War Department decided to establish a major training facility in the Seventh Corps area. This command comprised most of the states of the central plains. The site for the new training center was south-central Missouri. On Dec. 3, 1940, military and state officials broke ground for what was known as the Seventh Corps Area Training Center. In early January 1941, the War Department designated the installation as Fort Leonard Wood.
Gen. Leonard Wood
The post is named for Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, a distinguished American Soldier whose service to his country spanned 40 years. A warrior and a surgeon, Wood graduated from Harvard University and began his military service as a contract surgeon during the Apache Indian Wars in the 1880s, winning the Medal of Honor for valor. At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Wood commanded the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, better known as the Rough Riders. His second in command, Theodore Roosevelt, took over the regiment when Wood was promoted.
Wood served as the Army’s Chief of Staff from 1910 to 1914. His last position of service was as governor general of the Philippine Islands, which Spain had ceded to the U.S. after the Spanish-American War. Wood held this position until his death in 1927.
Building the Fort
Building a major training center in the rugged terrain of the Ozarks presented a formidable challenge. The nearest rail service was several miles away. There was no housing for the thousands of workers who would build the post. Fort Leonard Wood had to be built quickly, because the first troops were scheduled to arrive in only a matter of weeks after the initial groundbreaking. First to train at Fort Leonard Wood were elements of the 6th Infantry Division.
Inclement weather complicated construction; bulldozers often were needed to drag lumber trucks through the mud. But through sheer determination and hard work, construction crews completed their task by June 1941. They had built nearly 1,600 buildings, comprising more than 5 million square feet of floor space, at a cost of $37 million and had done the job in six months.
Original Training Mission
Fort Leonard Wood was to be the home of the 6th Infantry Division. In time, four other infantry divisions — the 8th, the 70th, the 75th and the 97th — trained at the installation. In addition, a number of nondivisional units, ranging from field artillery battalions to quartermaster companies, also trained on the post. During World War II, more than 300,000 Soldiers passed through Fort Leonard Wood on their way to service in every theater of operation.
While the post was initially designated as an infantry division training area, Fort Leonard Wood quickly took on an engineer training mission. In March 1941, the first elements of an Engineer Replacement Training Center arrived in south-central Missouri. The growing size of the engineer force and limited training facilities at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, prompted the chief of engineers to look for additional training locations. Initially, engineer training focused on the training of individual replacements for established units. Soldiers went through a program that included both basic and engineer Soldier skills. The training schedule varied from eight to 14 weeks, depending on the need for engineer replacements. In time, engineer units were formed on the post and completed their training prior to movement overseas.