Military Chapels

Every military post or base had a PX, Commissary, Hospital or Clinic, Library, Theater—and a chapel.

“I’m going to the chapel, and I’m gonna get married”

My first experience at a military chapel was when I was 18 months old at Shiroi AFB, Japan. My parents took me every Sunday, and when I was two, they enrolled me in Sunday school.

I was baptized as a child at Chapel 3, Keesler AFB. Some years later I married my first husband in the same chapel.

My younger son was baptized at Sheppard AFB.

I grew up attending military chapels, particularly when overseas.

The chapel at Keesler AFB Had a tradition of performing Handel’s Messiah every Christmas season, with a reception afterward. We attended every year we were at Keesler (My dad was stationed there 3 different times after each overseas assignment, and my first husband did two assignments there).

Military chapels were particularly important overseas because there were no English speaking church services in some places.

I have many base chapel memories. My mom was the Sunday school superintendent at Keesler when I was 4 and 5 years old. We had a Halloween party at Chapel 3 and the kids wore costumes and bobbed for apples, etc. We went caroling at Christmas with hot chocolate and cookies served afterward at the chapel.

When we were in India, there was no chapel, because there was no base.. it was embassy duty. If you wanted to go to church, you had to go on the economy. There were not many churches because the natives were mostly Hindus. Christians are a small minority of the population there.

The wonderful thing about being stationed in England was that you had a choice to attend chapel on base, or go to church off base, because they spoke our language.

In the Azores, nearly everyone went to the chapel, because the churches off base were Portuguese language services, and most Portuguese are Catholic. Lajes is a small base, and since we were all away from “home” (meaning ‘the States”), on Thanksgiving and Christmas we would have big holiday dinners at the chapel. Everyone contributed food. It was like one big family.

As an adult I was a member of the PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel) at several bases we were stationed at. In the Azores, the PWOC baked cookies and made home made lemonade once a month and took them to the women who were in a Portuguese mental asylum. They loved the home made cookies.

The post chapel at Ft Meyer, Arlington, Virginia is an historic and special chapel. The funerals of many of our fallen warriors are held there, because Arlington National Cemetery (where my first husband is buried) is there. It is so inspiring to see the bodies of our fallen being taken in flag draped coffins by horse-drawn caisson to their burial sites.

Speaking of the flag, that is something that is in EVERY military chapel. That is not always true in civilian churches,

When my son graduated from Marine Corps boot camp at Paris Island, I flew from England for his graduation. They had a service on Sunday morning in the chapel. After every hymn and the sermon, the Marine recruits would yell in unison, “OOHRAH!” It was awesome.

I have many happy memories of base and post chapels, both as a child and as a military wife and mom.

 

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4 Comments
  1. When I was 5, midway through the service we would leave for Sunday School.  After the chapel service (Brunswick NAS) was over, we had a gathering where every grade would watch a filmstrip and then have refreshments.  I would go back to my dad’s office after that was over.  The Sunday School classrooms were on one side of the Sanctuary, and the Chaplain’s offices were on the other side, so I cut through the chapel.  It made sense since chapel was over wasn’t it?

    I think I only did that the first two weeks we were there, because at that point my dad said I should stop walking across the chancel during something called Catholic Mass.  😉

    When I was in third and fourth grades I would go with my dad to the evening program at the chapel at USCG TRA-SUP-CEN Alameda.  After a few visits, the adults were asking me where things went and every time they asked who I was.  It didn’t make sense to me as I had just been there 7 weeks earlier.  My dad explained that boot camp was only 6 weeks long, and these were not the same people that were there the last time.

    For fifth – seventh grade we were at the chapel at NAVCOMSTAPHIL- San Miguel.  There was a strong connection between the chapel program and the pastors in the local community.  Our quarters was the gathering place for local Roman Catholic priests that wanted to watch stateside sports on AFRTS.  The protestant clergy and their families would come by on a regular basis.  We went to visit overseas missionaries, as a day trip.

    It was interesting going through Confermation Class at a chapel.  We discussed how the service was an attempt to make every non Roman Catholic Christian feel that the service included a bit of their tradition.  At the same time, if I had to see “my pastor” I had to see the Roman Catholic Chaplain because my dad wouldn’t do double duty. 

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  2. I became a Christian at 15, shortly before moving to Pirmasens, Germany.  My first three pastors were a Methodist, a Baptist, and a Pentecostal chaplains.   As I finished Zweibrucken American HS (1975), little did I know that I would become an Army chaplain.  I have now served since 1984, going back to Augsburg, Germany in 1992, the year before they closed sunny ZAHS.  My son was born there.  I did the wedding for brats Kim Cupp and Jamie Bautista at the Randolph Chapel in March 2008. What a privilege and a joy to see so many ZAHS brats there.  I now am at Fort Gordon, GA, serving as a hospital chaplain to wounded warriors.  Chapels are the best picture of the real church, focusing on inclusion and the basic faith.

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  3. 2 things I remember from my “Army Brat” days – the smell of perfume and aftershave and that were Protestants and Catholics. That the latter had anything to do with differing religions was immaterial. For a long time (until 5th grade) if you had asked me what my religion was. I would have replied “Protestant”. If asked what denomination, I probably would’ve given you a blank stare. If pressed further, I probably would’ve replied “Army”.

    Back in the day, my dad was a Scoutmaster in Bad Tolz, Germany, in the mid to late ’50’s. When the scouts went out on weekend camping trips – Protestant scouts had the Chaplain come out and conduct services. The Catholic scouts had to march to the nearest Village Church.

    My best active duty memory was the Med-IO Cruise on the Saratoga in 1985-86. The Fleet Chaplain was a Lutheran. After the regular Sunday Service, he would do a Lutheran Service. Little boom box with a tape that the liturgy recorded on it. The sermons were uplifting and never long. He said he learned about long sermons from Marines in the field. If he went on too long, they simply “Locked and Loaded”.

    Chapel / Divine Services , whether the old wooden , standard WWII bulding, Quonset Hut in Antarctica, the cleverly disguised space onboard ship, or a spot out in the boonies – it was time and place to stop and reconnect with your God.

     

     

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  4. Before starting to type my very first sentence, I thought with all my rich experiences as an AF depenent living in Morocco and Germany alone, finding enough interesting memories as they pertain to the development of my Catholic Faith proved all too easy. They kept flooding in, and in, and in. Being a Triple B, Baby Boomer Brat, born in 1951, this meant I spent my first years learning not only about the basics of my faith, but also how different it was from other Christian churches. Not to mention how different that made us appear at times in the eyes of our fellow dependents and their parents.

    Our chapels featured the Stations of the Cross, an Eternal Flame, Tabernacle on the altar, especially before Vatican II, altar rails and how could I forget, the ever-lingering smell of incense. We had Bibles and Mass booklets. Back in the pre-Vatican II days, everybody was expected to use his own missal and know how to negotiate all the various readings for this or that week and season … and of course, handle a working knowledge of Latin to comprehend what Father was saying at the altar. Oh yes, how could I also forget that Father faced the altar back then. Father always had plenty of nuns brought in from the local convent to act as “reinforcements.” Did they with their clackers. And nobody, noooohbody wanted to be caught chewing gum during the Family High Mass at Warren AFB during the late Fifties.

    We had to look straight, no eye deviation, and did my mom have a stare that could’ve frozen the entire Kremlin politburo if she caught us daring to rest our tushes on the edge of the seats. In some ways, she was more Puritan Yankee than Catholic.

    The liturgical and cultural aspects of Catholicism certainly set us apart; but not by any means in nearly as many negative ways as “described” by so many stray Catholics in the  “civie-world” would like their fawning readers believe. Trust me, you won’t find an anti-Catholic more anti-Catholic than the smug and cynical lapsed Catholic writer fancying himself the fountain of all knowledge about that Church than a Catholic who dropped his faith over the most ridiculously picky “issue.”

    Catholic military and state department families who take their faith seriously are more able to handle the objections that came their way because they were fortunate, er, let’s make it blessed indeed, to have been able to travel in so many places important in Church and world history; thus giving them an incalculable advantage over the knowitalls who clung to their provincial surroundings and ideas much the same way plankton clings to the boulders found in many rocky New England harbors/inlets.

    All this history, the opportunities to travel, take it all in … provided you do, it can only make you a better Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic or even Jew and Muslim. Anybody can shape his or her intellectual faith in the shape he or she desires it to reflect God. We can’t do that with the evidences of real history surrounding us, and the exposure to so much of it surrounding us in some places, even here in the U.S., particularly New England with all its varied religious history and how that shaped our colonial development, and of course, our national Constitution.

    Every night we had a history round-table “discussion”  (if one can call it that with three egocentric boys all trying to butter their parents up with their new found historical and contemporary “knowledge.” Safer than sports. Contrast that visage to many family time dinner hours today. Small wonder so many people feel awash with their seemingly more difficult ability to  “stay on top of it.” We didn’t have any problems because we simply wanted to stay ahead of that “know it all” brother who’d rub his newfound knowledge about Michaelangelo and the warrior-pope Julius. “What, a warrior pope????” In our time, we were taught popes had to sometimes take up arms.

    But it was all good fun. So were the base-organized trips to various historical churches, missions, etc. You got to see and experience real historical sites; not just briefly glance at an entry while prepping for some bland statewide exam. Times have indeed changed: my two older brothers, both of whom graduated from H.H. Arnold H.S. in Wiesbaden, were fortunate to have spent their Easter Vacation trip in Rome. Oh, and nobody raised a peep in those days when one of the chaperones was the main Catholic chaplain, Fr. Gilchrist, when Rome’s Finest had to interrupt his multi-round dinner with his fellow Padres to say several of his charges were found riding their moto-scooters in the Circus Maximus.

    My parents and I made the long trek southwards the following year and paralled our time with that of my brothers’ alma mater (while they were attending Norwich University and The Citadel, respectively). Given my parents background, growing up in the old parish/ward system, “where everybody knows your name” (and parents’) too, do you think for a moment they would’ve said when asked to “resolve a temporary issue” for some kid, “Sorry, on vacation?”  Not a chance. No way would my parents, with their faith so deeply ingrained in their entire being, not to mention, being the son and daughter of Holyoke, MA’s Bravest & Finest, respectively, forget to perform what God also expects of us to do on behalf of their military neighbors’ kids if caught in a jam.

    People long told me the military made my father into what he became later in life. Not to take anything from the Air Force, but he was already primed long before thanks to his upbringing and deeply ingrained (Catholic) religious teachings. Same for my mother. She recognized the golden opportunities the Air Force made available for all of us and made darn sure nothing would come between God and our family.

    Many of our dearest Protestant and Jewish friends held the same values and refused to “blow” what God was able to make available for us through our dad’s careers in the Service. Should I ever lapse into a moment of forgetfulness, there’s always my now deceased parents’ cross they picked up in Oberammergau which they later placed over their bed for the rest of their lives.

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