Chaplain Crest

502d MSG / Fort Sam Houston, Texas
Religious Support Office
Phone: (210) 221-5007 / DSN: 471-5007 / Office Symbol: 502d HC
Email: 502 MSG Religious Support Office


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MAIN POST CHAPEL (The Gift Chapel)

Dedicated to Peace, Good Will and Humanity, San Antonio is one of America's most unique cities. Fort Sam Houston is likewise one of the most unique posts in the Army.

The chapel organ had been used in the War Department’s Liberty Theatre on Camp Travis to provide accompaniment to silent movies. The advent of talking pictures rendered it obsolete so it was moved to the chapel.

A Chapel Guild was organized in 1931 by Chaplain Ora Cohee and was comprised of the Ladies Auxiliary, the Post Sunday School, the Catholic Altar Guild and the Christian Endeavor. The efforts of this group led to continued improvements in the chapel: carpeting, light fixtures, a piano and cross. A new entrance was made in the back, center of the chapel. Above the nave of the church were hung the flags of the United States, the State of Texas, the US Army, and the City of San Antonio. Below and to the left and right of this group were the flags of the major units formerly stationed at Fort Sam Houston: Third Army, Fourth Army, VIII Corps Area, 2d Infantry Division, 18th Infantry Division, 88th Infantry Division, 90th Division and 95th Infantry Division. Along the left and right sides of the chapel are hung the flags of the fifty states and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Recently the POW/MIA flag has been added to this gallery of flags. At the rear of the chapel, along the balcony were the flags of the major commands assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Brooke Army Medical. Center, Brooke General Hospital, US Army Medical Training Center, and Fifth Army Special Troops. The worship area to the right of the main chapel has been established as a synagogue. At the entrance, the Ner Tamid, or Eternal Light, was hung. In the front, the Ark contains the Scrolls of the Law and the other accouterments of a synagogue. The worship area to the left of the main chapel had previously been established as a Catholic chapel. In 1972, the Chief of Chaplains Fund furnished $10,000 for the restoration of the stained glass windows. Two years later, the Gift Chapel was selected as one of the buildings on the Fort Sam Houston National Historic Landmark and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This action assures the preservation of the structure and prevents modification to it which would alter its original form. Between 1981 and 1984, another renovation was carried out. The dome was resealed and repainted, inside and out. New carpet was installed and the pews in the central chapel were realigned to restore the original layout. The woodwork in the balconies was stripped and stained to restore the original natural wood color. Today, the Gift Chapel continues to serve the spiritual needs of the people of Fort Sam Houston. Its present condition and indeed its very existence serve as a symbol of the harmonious relationship between the people of San Antonio and the soldiers and families who serve at Fort Sam Houston. Over the years, both communities have devoted their time and energies, first to have the chapel built, then to improve and renovate it. It began as a gift, a gift that has been returned over and over again.

Fort Sam has enjoyed a very close and harmonious relationship with the city of San Antonio. A noteworthy symbol of this close relationship is the Main Post Chapel, known as the Gift Chapel. The story begins in 1845 when the first US Army troops arrived in San Antonio. In its earliest days the Post at San Antonio included a headquarters, a small garrison and a supply depot. It occupied various rented buildings, including the Alamo. Though the Army used the former mission, there was no chapel. In 1876, the elements of the post began to move to Government Hill, the present site of Fort Sam Houston. Records and maps show no evidence of a church or chapel on this new military reservation. In fact, in the whole Department of Texas, there was only one Army post with a chapel, Fort Clark. This would remain the case until after the turn of the century. Religious services at Fort Sam Houston could have been held in the school house or in the open, if they were held at all. In 1884, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church adjacent to the post on Grayson Street, was constructed, and many members of the garrison attended services there. In 1907, Chaplain Thomas J. Dickson, 26th Infantry, initiated a drive to raise funds for the construction of a chapel for Fort Sam Houston. Community leaders from San Antonio and members of the garrison rallied to this effort and $50,000 was collected. Architect Leo M. J. Dielmann of San Antonio designed the chapel in neo-classical style, with modified Corinthian columns at the entrance with a copper Roman style dome. The chapel included a library where the soldiers could enjoy wholesome off-duty entertainment and enrichment. Construction began in January 1908 under the supervision of John C. Dielmann, the architect’s father. Chaplain Barton W. Perry was in charge of chapel construction.

In 1909 dedication ceremonies were held. In the company of San Antonio Mayor Bryan Callaghan, Secretary of War Jacob W. Dickinson and Mr. Leo Dielman, the President laid the block of granite which bears the inscription: DEDICATED BY WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OCTOBER 17, 1909 With Chaplain Perry as officer in charge, the Gift Chapel quickly became the center of religious activity and was used by all denominations. Services were open to the public. Though the interior of the chapel was not yet completed, the building was turned over to the Quartermaster of Fort Sam Houston in 1911. Improvement of the interior became a constant goal for the members of the congregation. Between 1929 and 1938 great strides were made in improving the interior of the Gift Chapel. Twenty-two stained windows and six stained glass fan lights were installed. One group of windows commemorated the Union Veterans of the Civil War, the United Spanish War Veterans Camp #1, the Chapel Guild and the Ladies Auxiliary. Appropriately in a chapel for soldiers, another group of windows bore many of the insignia of the Army: Air Corps, Adjutant General Department, Cavalry, Chaplain Corps, Chemical Warfare Service, Corps of Engineers, Finance Department, Field Artillery, Infantry, Medical Department, Military Police, Ordnance Department, Quartermaster Corps, Signal Corps and Arms of the United States. There were also windows with memorials to Chaplain Edmund P. Easterbrook and Fannie Easterbrook, and Chaplain Thomas J. Dickson, the founding chaplain. Chaplain Easterbrook was the chaplain at Fort Sam Houston in 1927-1928 and became the Chief of Army Chaplains.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The original text was prepared by Major Dow Wynn in 1955. It was updated by Mrs. Ruth Buerkle, President of the Fort Sam Houston Historical Society, in 1971. The revised text and this edition were prepared by John Manguso, Director of the Fort Sam Houston Historical Society in 1998.

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Website was last reviewed and updated on 26 March 2013.

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