Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The History of the Clay National Guard Chapel

By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Ga. Army National Guard

The Dobbins Air Reserve Base chapel is slowly moved the two miles across the runway at DARB to the Clay National Guard Center.
U.S. Air Force photo by Don Peek.

The morning of March 17, 2013, was crisp and the air over Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia was clear. Presently, like so many mornings, the radio at the base air traffic control tower crackled to life.

“Tower, this is Chapel 1950, request permission for engine start-up,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Timothy Tarchick, commander of the 94th Airlift Wing. From his position on the taxiway. The air traffic controller replied:

“Chapel, this is Dobbins Tower, you are cleared for taxi on Alpha Crossing Runway 27. Thank you for your service and God-speed.”[1] Instead of the customary crescendo of turboprop engines preceding the takeoff of an Air Force Reserve C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft, the diesel engine of a front-end loader strained and began to inch onto the runway with a 1940s-era military chapel in tow as the Dobbins Chapel began rolling nearly two miles to its new home on the Clay National Guard Center.

Construction plans for the Dobbins Chapel - Regimental Chapel Type CH-1 dated Sept. 3, 1941. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Originally built in the 1940s as one of countless modular houses of worship, the Georgia Air National Guard acquired the chapel because the briefing room of the 128th Fighter Squadron  became too small to host combined services for the Ga. Air National Guard units.[2] U.S. Army Brig. Gen James Hugh O’Neil, deputy chief of chaplains, dedicated Dobbins Chapel on Oct. 5, 1950.[3] As the chaplain of the Third Army, O’Neil composed the famous prayer for fair weather for Lt. Gen. George Patton during the Battle of the Bulge.[4] Less than one month after the dedication, the first wedding was held at the chapel.

Chaplain Maj. Robert Pooley and his assistant TSgt. Wendell Baggett welcome Airmen of the Georgia Air National Guard’s
116th Fighter Interceptor Wing to service at the Dobbins Chapel with coffee and donuts in May 1958.
Georgia National Guard Archives.
Through the years, the doors of the chapel welcomed worshippers from the National Guard, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps as the base shared space with a Naval Air Station and, eventually, the headquarters of the Georgia National Guard. But in 2005, the chapel was in danger of demolition due to maintenance costs and land use requirements imposed by post September 11 force protection measures. Not content to see the chapel bulldozed, several community members, Air Force personnel and the Georgia National Guard came together to find alternatives. The Dobbins Chapel Foundation, established in 1998, solicited funds for repairs. The Adjutant General of Georgia agreed to emplace the chapel on the Lucius Clay National Guard Center opposite the newly dedicated Joint Force Headquarters of the Georgia Department of Defense. Just two weeks short of the demolition deadline, the Foundation received an anonymous donation to make necessary repairs and fund the delicate work of loading and transporting the chapel to its new home.

On April 27, 2014, after more than a year of renovation, Dobbins Chapel was rededicated as the Clay National Guard Center Chapel with a service provided by State Chaplain Col. Michael Summers.[5] Just days later, Chaplain Lt. Col. Blair Davis held the first service in the renovated and rededicated Clay National Guard Center Chapel.[6] The historic building has once again served as a site of worship, hosted weddings and provided a spiritual home for Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen of the Georgia National Guard.

The Clay National Guard Center Chapel blanketed in snow just weeks before its April 2014 rededication. Georgia National Guard Archives.

[1] Elizabeth Van Patten. “Holy Roller Dobbins Chapel Taxis Across Runway” The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, April 2013, 14.

[2] “Unit News” The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, December 1949, 1

[3] Richard Ashworth. “News of Georgians Serving in the Armed Forces.” The Atlanta Constitution. Oct. 9, 1950, 5.

[4] James H. O’Neil “The True Story of the Patton Prayer” The New American, January 12, 2004, 35-39.

[5] James Branch. “Foundation Rededicates Base Chapel.” April 28, 2014.

[6] Greta Jackson. “Let’s All Go to the Chapel.” The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, May 2014, 3.

1 comment:

  1. Myself and others of my Church St. Peter & St. Paul Episcopal Marietta Ga. helped in the rebuilding.
    Thomas W. Duncanson. 3/19/2021