During one of the U.S. Army's darkest hours of World War II, the 1942 fall of Bataan and the ensuing infamous "Death March," William Thomas Cummings, in a field sermon, issued a truism of faith that has become a testament for the combat ground soldier over the years, "There are no atheists in the foxholes."
Last Thursday morning at Fort Belvoir that observation was brought into three-dimensional form with the dedication of the U.S. Army's first new chapel since 1998. After more than a year in construction, the doors of the $5 million edifice were opened for its first official function.
"This church was designed to be a model for all other installations. This is a great day for Fort Belvoir," Col. T.W. Williams, Garrison Commander, Fort Belvoir, said in welcoming the many dignitaries, soldiers, and families to the dedication ceremony.
"Our soldiers are asked to make sacrifices every day. It is prayer that wins wars. It is prayer that heals the sick," Williams said. After narrowly escaping death himself on 9/11 at The Pentagon, Williams told the assemblage his faith has sustained him through a particularly difficult recent time with the loss of both his wife and brother to cancer.
He then took up his electric guitar and sang a song that was particularly meaningful to his late wife. "This is what she liked, when she would let me sing," he told the audience.
When introducing the dedication's main speaker, Williams referred to Chaplin Maj. Gen. David H. Hicks, Chief of Chaplains, U.S. Army, as "the best chaplin in all of the services." Hicks noted that the day was particularly meaningful to him since he had originally enlisted in the Army on Oct. 8, 1958.
"We do not assemble here today merely to dedicate this building. I believe God's presence is more pronounced in a place like this. And, I am especially delighted that Fort Belvoir was selected for our first new chapel — the first of several to built at bases throughout the United States," Hicks said.
THE LAST CHAPEL built was at Fort Story, Va., in 1998, according to Hicks. "Building this new chapel here was the right thing to do," he said.
"Today is a new day. We need more advanced facilities like this. This chapel represents the newest and best design. I am grateful to the Fort Belvoir military community for this new building," Hicks said.
Following his address, Chaplin Lt. Col. R. Michael Coffey, Fort Belvoir installation staff chaplin, who had kicked off the dedication ceremonies, announced a "surprise award" that had been specifically not printed in the program. Hicks then presented William with a framed proclamation adding his name to The Scroll of Honor.
A 1979 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Williams has served in a myriad assignments throughout his career. On Sept. 11, 2001 he was serving as executive officer for the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management at The Pentagon. He had just left his office to accompany some guests to the main entrance when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into that area. Members of his staff were killed in that event.
Williams' military education includes U.S. Army Ranger course, Airborne school, Jungle Warfare School, Army Command and General Staff College, and National War College. He assumed command of Fort Belvoir on July 11, 2002.
The more than 20,000-square-feet building is located at 1801 Wright Road across from the base commissary. It will serve as a prototype for future U.S. Army chapels, according to Chaplain Maj. Gary Studniewski.
THE NEW FACILITY replaces the Mt. Vernon chapel, which closed in August, as well as Woodlawn and Gunston chapels, scheduled to close in the near future. The latter two were built during World War II to serve the needs of single soldiers when the base was used as a training post. "These chapels were always meant to be temporary," Studniewski said.
"The new chapel can seat approximately 600 including the overflow area at the rear of the main sanctuary," Coffey said. "There are permanent pews for 420."
It has 16 rooms, including a nursery, a kitchen, multipurpose rooms, 10 classrooms, a daily chapel, and additional administrative office space. Many of the rooms are equipped with Internet access. There is a facility-wide sound system enabling participation in services from any location within the building. Initial services were held this past Sunday.