Story and photos by
Installation Management Command-Pacific Region Public Affairs
KILAUEA MILITARY CAMP, Hawaii — For nearly 70 years, tens of thousands of people have sought religious retreat in the small chapel nestled in the northeast corner of the Kilauea Military Camp, or KMC.
Sept. 30, some 30 people gathered, here, to reflect on what the KMC Chapel has meant to them and to officially decommission and close its doors one last time.
“This place has been a shelter from the storms of life, a gathering for kindred souls and a sacred spot for contemplation,” said Chaplain (Col.) Peter Mueller, chaplain, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, as part of his welcome and invocation to those gathered.
“Faithfully, it has stood the test of time and brought together people from around the world,” Mueller said.
The chapel, built in 1925, has indeed stood the test of time, from surviving numerous eruptions from nearby volcanoes, to the wear and tear of various uses from a mess hall, to the Woman’s Army Corps quarters, to its final designation as a chapel in 1946.
“Besides serving as a house of worship for various groups, the building has also served as a meeting place for community events, such as the annual Christmas concert,” said Randy Hart, director, KMC, during the ceremony. “(It) has also been the site for many baptisms, weddings, to include my own, and other special religious events.
“It has been many years since the camp has had an active duty chaplain, but the local priests and pastors, some retired military and former chaplains, have kept an uninterrupted chain of services available to the patrons of the camp and many in the Volcano area,” Hart added.
“For the past 12 years, the people I have met here have become my family, and after I was recently diagnosed with throat cancer, they became my support group,” said Wanda Gardner, who spoke through a friend reading her notes. “If it were not for these wonderful people and their support and encouragement, I may not have been able to make it through.”
Like many military chapels, the KMC Chapel has offered an array of religious services over the years, from Catholic Masses and Protestant Services to Buddhist and Odinist group worships. Unfortunately, for an Army chapel to continue to be a commissioned chapel, an active duty military presence must be available.
“If there were a requirement for religious services due to Soldiers and their families being stationed at KMC, we could try to find an option to continue services,” Mueller said. “However, that is not the case with the KMC Chapel, so it is with great regret — because chaplains do not like to close chapels — that we must decommission and close this chapel.”
Those in attendance understood the situation and felt similar sadness with the closing of a chapel they have called their own for many years.
“I feel like we are attending a funeral today,” said Nelson Chaffin, a Volcano resident who has attended services at the KMC Chapel for a number of years.
“Like an old friend, we should not forget this building has served people for 70 years and holds many memories for many people,” Chaffin said. “The only thing I ask is that the Army does something with this chapel that will help preserve the memories that I and many others recall when we walk through those front doors.”
The chapel, along with many other buildings at KMC, has been identified as a historical building and will undergo some structural and other minor repairs before other uses and options are considered.