Army Chaplain Corps Museum Director Marcia McManus stands before the display where on the island of New Guinea, World War II Soldiers from the 9th Ordnance Battalion used simple materials on hand to construct a chapel, the altar and its furnishings. (Photo by Mel Slater)
By Mel Slater
U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School
On July 29 the Army Chaplain Corps will celebrate the 246th Anniversary of its historic beginning. From the very moment in 1775 that Gen. George Washington was said to utter the words, “We need chaplains,” they have been at the heart of every war in which this nation has fought, caring for the soul of the Army.
The rich history can be found at the Army Chaplain Corps Museum located on the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School campus at Fort Jackson. The museum recently reopened after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Visitors to the museum travel from many parts of the country to look into the past.
The Chaplain Corps priority is people, said Marcia McManus, director of the museum. The stories are about people. Within the museum the stories come to life.
One story she spoke about was that of the SS Henry R. Mallory sinking.
“In case you don't know about the Mallory---also torpedoed by a German U-boat, but four days after the SS Dorchester, off the coast of Iceland,” McManus said. “Five chaplains died that day, making that week in February 1943 the deadliest week in chaplain corps history.”
The museum was authorized on Aug. 14, 1957 by General Order No 1-57 as a branch museum at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School then located at Fort Slocum, New York. Since its establishment, the museum has moved with Chaplain School to Fort Hamilton, New York, Fort Wadsworth, New York, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and in 1995 to Fort Jackson. It has been a certified U.S. Army museum since 1994 by the U.S. Army Center of Military History. In 2012, the museum's name changed from U.S. Army Chaplain Museum to U.S. Army Chaplain Corps Museum.
The Chaplain Corps Museum is dedicated to the history of the U.S. Army
Chaplain Corps from 1775 to present. Items on display include: Medal of Honor recipients; historical documents, posters, newspapers, photographs and religious publications; uniforms and insignia; chaplain equipment, to include: chaplain kits, Communion sets, and vestments; and humanitarian and special ministries.
One of the significant donations include one of the Four Chaplains medals, or Special Medal of Heroism posthumously awarded in 1961 by Congress to the four chaplains who gave up their life jackets and went down with the ship when the SS Dorchester was torpedoed by a German U-boat Feb. 3, 1943. The Four Chaplains were Catholic priest John Washington, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Dutch Reformed Clark Poling and United Methodist George Fox. The medal will only be awarded to these four. The museum's medal was awarded to Chaplain John Washington and donated by his niece and nephew. They also donated his Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart.
There are also many stories about the religious services and the ingenuity of Soldiers, such as William Leonard.
Stationed on the island of New Guinea during World War II Soldiers from the 9th Ordnance Battalion used simple materials on hand to construct a chapel, the altar and its furnishings. Their chaplain, Catholic priest, William Leonard donated the altar and all the accoutrements to the museum in 1973. The candlesticks are made from 40mm shells; the altar supports are 90mm shells; the bookstand is welded heavy gauge wire with a hammer and wrench worked into the back and crossed forming to symbolize the Chi Rho, or monogram of
Christ. The hammer and wrench were the tools of the ordnance. There's also an impressive crucifix hand carved by one of the men, Pvt. Clarence Staudennayer, in the unit using nothing but broken beer bottle glass and a pocket knife. Leonard was so impressed with the crucifix that he allowed the Staudennayer to carve his name, hometown, and date on the reverse side. Other items in the set include a stoup made from a 90mm shell and a censor constructed from a jeep piston and bicycle chain.
“It is really ingenious how everything came together and an excellent example of teamwork to produce a unique and functional chapel in 1944,” said McManus.
The unit and the altar were moved to Lingayen January 1945, during the invasion of Luzon. It was later set up in Manila, Philippines. There in September 1945, on the day dedicated by Presidential proclamation to thanksgiving for victory and peace, Mass was celebrated by H.E. Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, and military vicar of the American Forces for 6000 troops at Rizal Stadium.
Chaplain Leonard received his official discharge from the military in 1946 and was allowed to bring the altar and its accoutrements to his home at
Boston College. It remained there until he donated it to the museum in 1973.
To see and learn more, the Army Chaplain Corps Museum is open Mon. - Fri. from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and closed on weekends and holidays.