Beautiful Facelift for Fort Myer’s Historic Old Post Chapel

The green, cloth-covered fencing that went up around the Old Post Chapel on the Fort Myer side of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in January has finally come down to reveal a beautifully refurbished parking lot and a newly installed fence and gate that separate the chapel from Arlington National Cemetery.

This enormously visible change to Fort Myer’s most recognizable landmark was only a small part of a much larger construction project.

According to Project Engineer Robert Wilson with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Myer, “The purpose of this project was to provide Fort Myer and Henderson Hall with a protective ornamental barrier fence and associated access gates to secure the eastern perimeter along its boundary with the Arlington National Cemetery.”

As Wilson explained, “There is approximately 9,600 LF (linear feet) of an eight-foot high, black metal fence.”

The new fence separates Fort Myer and Henderson Hall from Arlington National Cemetery, beginning at Fort Myer's Wright Gate, continuing past the ANC Millennium site along McNair Road, behind the Old Post Chapel, along the back of the Tri-Service parking lot, behind Memorial Chapel, along Carpenter Road in front of the Cody Child Development Center and Radar Clinic, and continuing through Henderson Hall bordering the cemetery up to Gate 3 at Southgate Road.

According to Wilson, the fence is installed an average of ten feet from the cemetery’s existing red and gray stone wall on the joint base side of the property line.  There are also four new sliding, vehicular gates on the JBM-HH side of the property line at the access points between the base and ANC – specifically the Millennium, Old Post Chapel, Selfridge and Memorial Chapel Gates.

“The ornamental fence and gates will be aesthetically neutral as viewed from the ANC side,” said Wilson.

As part of this project, the Old Post Chapel parking lot was updated with a new subdrain system, new pavement and decorative brick pavers, resulting in a beautiful and stunning transformation – a welcomed facelift to the joint base’s most iconic, 85-year old landmark

“The fence project enhanced our force protection and provided a rare opportunity to enhance the beauty and significance of our Old Post chapel as well,” said Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Commander Col. Kimberly Peeples.

      The Old Post Chapel traces its origin to two of Fort Myer’s and the U.S. Army’s patriots – Maj. Gen. Kenyon A. Joyce and Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

      From 1892 to 1932, the land where the Old Post Chapel now sits was the site of a train station for visitors taking the interurban light rail from Arlington Heights to Fort Myer and Arlington National Cemetery.  Today’s Old Post Chapel Gate was the cemetery’s main entrance at the time.

      Col. Kenyon Joyce served as garrison commander of Fort Myer from 1933 to 1936. Serving as his executive officer at the time was a young Maj. George S. Patton, Jr., who was stationed at Fort Myer four times during his military career – a time frame that spanned from 1911 to 1940. Patton was serving his third tour of duty at Fort Myer under Joyce.

      It was during his command of Fort Myer that Joyce recognized the need for a formal place of worship since the wooden frame structure being used for that purpose was deemed a fire hazard.  In October, 1933, he sent Patton on a reconnaissance mission to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. to survey the chapels on the hospital grounds.  In his report to Joyce, dated Oct. 21, 1933, Patton outlined the specifics of building one main chapel at Fort Myer and rejected the idea of a separate mortuary chapel like the one found on the Walter Reed complex.  Plans to build the Fort Myer chapel soon followed.

      Ground-breaking for construction took place Feb. 4, 1934, and the building’s cornerstone was placed soon afterwards.  Both events took place without much fanfare or ceremony.  The Quartermaster Corps of the U.S. Army oversaw construction under Joyce’s supervision.  The construction company selected was the Charles H. Tompkins Company of the District of Columbia.

      The chapel was built encompassing 6,780 sq. ft. and was finished on April 17, 1935, at a cost of $79,435.07.  The Old Post Chapel was officially dedicated Easter Sunday, April 21, 1935 – ushering in the advent of Fort Myer’s first formal place of worship.  The sermon and dedication were delivered by U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, Maj. Gen. A. J. Brasted.

      In 1958, then Maj. Gen. Kenyon Joyce returned to Fort Myer to dedicate a bronze plaque placed in his honor on the front outer wall of the Old Post Chapel.  He was joined by his wife, Helen Elizabeth Jones, and Mamie Eisenhower for the dedication ceremony. 

      Sadly, the Old Post Chapel was also the site of Joyce’s funeral service just two years later in January of 1960.  President and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower attended the funeral service at the chapel.  Eisenhower had served as Maj. Gen. Joyce’s chief of staff when they were both stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., prior to WWII.  Joyce is buried in Section 30 of Arlington National Cemetery.

      One of the Old Post Chapel’s most beautiful features is its stained glass windows, installed in the summer of 1972 – designed and created by the architectural glass company Willet Studios of Philadelphia.  Willet Studios designed the stained glass windows of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.

      The stained glass windows on the south side of the chapel honor the branches of the armed forces and include scenes from the Old Testament.  A small plaque is placed below each window with an inscription naming the organization that donated the window and the branch of military service being honored.

      The Army Service window portrays Joshua at the battle of Jericho.  The plaque reads, “This window is donated by the members of the Class of 1940, United States Military Academy, in tribute to all those now and in the future who have or will have served their country in the United States Army.”

      The Marine Corps Service window shows Gideon and his army.  The plaque reads, “This window is donated by the United States Marine Corps and dedicated to the memory of all Marines who have died since the founding of the Corps on 19 November 1775.”

      The Navy Service window depicts Solomon at the building of the Temple at Jerusalem.  The plaque reads, “This window is donated by the members of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1940 in tribute to all who have served in the United States Navy.”

      The Air Force Service window illustrates the prophet Isaiah and the quotation, “they shall rise up with wings as an eagle.”  The plaque reads, “This window was contributed by the chapel congregations of the Air Force, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish, in memory of all airmen, male and female, officer and enlisted, who gave their lives in the service of their country.”

      The Coast Guard Service window portrays Noah’s Ark.  The plaque reads, “This window is donated by the United States Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association in memory of all those who willingly, bravely and faithfully served their country and perpetuated the proud traditions of our Nation’s smallest Armed Force.”

      The stained glass windows on the north side of the chapel were donated by service Chiefs of Chaplains.

      The Army Chief of Chaplains window depicts the healing of the Centurion’s daughter.  The plaque reads, “In creating and placing this window in the Fort Myer Post Chapel, the U.S. Army honors the Ministers, Priests and Rabbis who, while serving their God and Country, were summoned to the higher life of eternity. Theirs was a selfless service known most fully to God, but sufficiently revealed to the soldiers they served to merit a more permanent remembrance.  For here, etched in glass, as in the minds of their countrymen for whom they faithfully labored, are the timeless symbols of justice, mercy and truth now entrusted to the care of this and future generations.  May they rest in Peace.  Gerhardt W. Hyatt, Chaplain (Major General), USA, Chief of Chaplains”

      The Navy Chief of Chaplains window shows Jesus preaching from a boat.  The plaque reads, “It is the wish of the donors of this Chaplains Memorial Window that all who see it may recall in prayerful reverence the many noble deeds of service performed in God’s name by the Chaplains in our Corps.  Their courage is symbolized by the fact that two of them were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Their devotion to their holy calling is written large in the minds and spirits of those they served.  Their service to both God and Country is a legacy we must not fail to revere and preserve.  It is our prayer that these noble men may enjoy forever the happiness of God’s love and be for us a source of inspiration and strength.  Francis L. Garrett, Rear Admiral, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy”

      The Air Force Chief of Chaplains window portrays the Ascension of Christ into Heaven.  The plaque reads, “This window was contributed by the chapel congregations of the United States Air Force, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish, to honor those men who have given so much of themselves in serving as Chief of Chaplains, United States Air Force.  Chaplain, Major General, Charles I. Carpenter; Chaplain, Major General, Terence P. Finnegan; Chaplain, Major General, Robert P. Taylor; Chaplain, Major General, Edwin R. Chess; Chaplain, Major General, Roy M. Terry”

     The chapel’s pipe organ is also of historical significance.  The original organ was English in design and was installed by the M.P. Möller Company in 1935.  A restoration in more recent years provided the organ a custom design console and new digital components to allow for a vast array of pipe, percussion and other sounds that add dimension to the existing instrument.  The organ has over 3,000 pipes.

     The last major renovation of the chapel took place from January to September of 2013, when ADA compliant ramps, entrances and bathrooms were added, along with a new lounge and closed-circuit video monitoring system for use by the honor guard service members assigned to work funerals at the chapel.

      In addition to being the first formal place of worship at Fort Myer, the Old Post Chapel became site of final honors bestowed on fallen service members from all branches of the armed forces, veterans and heads of state whose funeral cortèges begin at the chapel and wind their way through the hallowed grounds of adjacent Arlington National Cemetery.

     Over time, the chapel became the iconic representation of Fort Myer.  In 1993, when Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., and Fort McNair in southwest Washington D.C. were joined to become the Fort Myer Military Community, the image of the chapel became the focal point that occupied the center of the Fort Myer Military Community’s insignia, surrounded by five stars that symbolically form a pentagon. Fort Myer serves as a major support installation for the Pentagon, and the five gold stars are representative of the general officers who serve while residing at the base.  The musket and drum major’s baton behind the image of the chapel symbolized the installation’s missions of security and ceremonial functions in the National Capital Region.

     Then, on Oct. 1 2009, when the installation became Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, an Army and Marine Corps joint base per the Department of Defense’s 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decision, the new joint base logo retained the chapel and gold star elements of the Fort Myer Military Community insignia to represent the Army side of the base. The new logo features the flag-raising on Iwo Jima during World War II to represent the Marine Corps side of the base. The musket and drum major’s baton were also retained as part of the joint base insignia, representative of the continued security and ceremonial missions.

     Today, the Old Post Chapel continues its mission of honoring fallen service members, veterans and heads of state with funeral services held daily, Monday through Friday, supported by the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment’s Caisson Platoon and the ceremonial units of The Old Guard and the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” as well as the ceremonial honor guards and bands of the other branches of the armed forces.

      The Old Post Chapel is also the site of many weddings and special services annually.

      When the green, cloth covered fencing went up around the chapel in January, all funeral and chapel services were moved to Fort Myer’s Memorial Chapel.  Now that the fence has come down, funeral services are set to resume at the Old Post Chapel on May 20.

      Wilson noted that the entire barrier project – that included the Old Post Chapel parking lot renovation, new parking lot construction at Henderson Hall, and the relocation of a walking trail along McNair Road – is due for completion by July 5, for a total of 545 days in duration and at a cost of $11.2 million. 

“The (construction) company understood and did a great job meeting and adjusting to the critical needs and goals of the garrison,” said Wilson referring to Sagres Construction of Alexandria, Va., the company selected for the job.

“There was a lot of coordination with all the stakeholders,” said Wilson, “Fort Myer garrison personnel, USMC staff at Henderson Hall, and especially ANC – with the disruption of the funeral operations.”

“The Old Post Chapel is a beautiful and charming cornerstone on our base, steeped in the rich, historical legacy that make this "America's Post," said Peeples.  “I am honored that we were able to add to its appeal to be enjoyed for years to come.”

 

by Leah Rubalcaba, Joint Base Myer Henderson-Hall Community Relations Officer