|By Chaplain (Col.) Tom Phelan, Fort McCoy Site
Dawn breaks with a picturesque scene reminiscent of a quaint European
village complete with a church spire. As I drive south from Fort McCoy
Garrison Headquarters’ great flag, it’s the view before me — a view of
Old Chapel No. 8 (building 1350) to my left and east beyond the open
Parade Field, on South 11th Avenue.
An exterior view of a World War
I-era chapel from Camp McCoy that still serves a Grafton, Wis.,
congregation as a church office building.
(Photo by Linda Fournier)
As an Army chaplain, my interest in military chapels seems natural
enough. My first assignment nearly 30 years ago was at this same
kind of Army “Cantonment Chapel” that already had faithfully served
our Soldiers for more than 40 years.
During my current tour at Fort McCoy, I have discovered some of the
finest examples of these old World War II Chapel buildings I have
ever seen. Eleven were originally built here in 1942 along with the
rest of the “new” cantonment area of (then) Camp McCoy north of
Highway 21, in response to the demands of the Second World War.
While the history of these WWII cantonment chapels had ignited my
interest, my inquiry soon led to an even more amazing story of a
Fort McCoy chapel from World War I that I wanted to share.
The history of Camp McCoy began in 1909, and within five years the
first World War had erupted in Europe, dominating American military
As with today’s military, religious services during World War I
proved vital to both leadership and troops and often were provided
in tents in the field. However, in colder climates such as
Wisconsin, the need for religious services within a chapel building
soon became apparent. While it is not certain how many chapels
existed during this era, I found that one original World War I
chapel from Fort (then-Camp) McCoy is still in use today as a church
administration building in Grafton, Wis.
At the end of World War I, it was decided that the chapel was no
longer needed. In the early 1920s this McCoy chapel building was
purchased, disassembled, and transported for reassembly to
Oconomowoc, Wis., where it served as the church building for St.
Matthew’s Lutheran Church. The chapel remained at that location
until 1952, when that church constructed and dedicated a new church
In February 1952, the chapel again was disassembled and moved,
complete with furnishings, and re-erected in Milwaukee to serve as
the church building for the Redemption Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In 1974, the McCoy chapel was disassembled and moved a third time,
this time transported to Grafton, Wis., where it served as the
church building for Our Savior Lutheran Church from 1975 to 1995.
The church constructed a new sanctuary that was completed in 1997,
and the chapel was remodeled into a church office building, which
still is in use today.
The Scriptures teach that one day all things material, including
these military houses of worship, will pass away, and only the
spiritual will remain. But our good and fond memories will include,
I think, grateful remembrances of these “lifeboats” that have
floated many a soul to heavens’ shores.
(Information in this story was taken from “Our Church Building
History, A Lutheran Tabernacle,” seminary paper by Lon Kuether
written in 1990 and “Our Savior Lutheran Church of Grafton History.”
The article is an excerpt from Chaplain Phelan’s article “The
Chapels of McCoy.” Phelan is with the Fort McCoy Religious Support