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December 09, 2011


McCoy World War I chapel serving

Grafton, Wis., congregation

By Chaplain (Col.) Tom Phelan, Fort McCoy Site Support Chaplain

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.
PHOTO: 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
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 activity.

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 building.

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 Office.)

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