COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — By the time the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the raging global conflict had been going on for nearly three years in Europe.
When it ended in November 1918, more than 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians had lost their lives in what was called “The War to End All Wars.” Of that number, some 117,000 U.S. troops were killed.
As Veterans Day rolls around on Saturday, Nov. 11, the 100th anniversary of the United States’ involvement in World War I is being commemorated across the nation.
Since it opened in 1962, the United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colo., has featured a highly visible reminder of World War I for all who come through its doors.
The interior of the 1,200-seat chapel features pews — made of American walnut and African mahogany — that sport wooden ends sculpted to resemble a World War I airplane propeller.
Though understated, there is little mistake of the symbolism behind the pew ends, which jut up next to aisles at either end of pews on both the left and right sides of the chapel.
The triangular-shaped building designed by architect Walter A. Netsch Jr., of Chicago, is among the most recognizable structures in the United States.
It is made of aluminum, glass and steel. Its most striking exterior feature is the 17 silver, aluminum spires arranged in an accordion-like row next to each other. The spires soar 150 feet into the sky, with the Rocky Mountains serving as a backdrop.
Pete Peterson, a spokesman for the Academy Chapel, said around 800,000 visitors from around the world come to the building each year.
“The comments we hear most often is the unusual and inspiring design of the structure is what draws them in,” Peterson said. “There simply is no other structure like the Cadet Chapel in the world. Seeing it in person is simply breathtaking.”
The all-faiths chapel is unique in many ways, Peterson said.
“The Protestant, Catholic and Jewish chapels inside are located in different areas with different design themes,” he said. “Inside the Protestant Chapel, you will see subtle aeronautical themes. The end of the pews resemble wooden propellers that were common in World War I. Each pew is capped with an aluminum strip to symbolize the leading edge of a modern aircraft jet wing. The cross bars on the tall cross above the altar resemble wings, as well.
“The Catholic Chapel was designed to resemble a grotto or catacomb and is very unique.”
Peterson added that the Chaplain Corps staff at the Cadet Chapel “provides spiritual care and the opportunity for cadets to exercise their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. This is accomplished through religious observances, providing pastoral care and advising leadership on spiritual, ethical, moral, morale, core values and religious-accommodation issues.”
Peterson said many types of religious services are offered for members of various faith groups, including Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian Orthodox.
The building has two main levels, with the Protestant nave on the upper level and the Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist chapels beneath it. Also in the building are a large, all-faiths room and two meeting rooms.
Each chapel has its own entrance, allowing services to be held simultaneously without interfering with one another.
According to the Air Force Academy website, the shell of the chapel and surrounding grounds — which were completed 55 years ago — cost $3.5 million to build.
The chapel’s furnishings, pipe organs, liturgical fittings and adornments were made possible through gifts from individuals and various organizations.
Air Force Academy spokesman Meade Warthen said the Cadet Chapel is widely recognized as “one of America’s most important architectural achievements.”
Warthen said the building has been designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its distinctive architecture.
“From an historic standpoint,” Warthen said, “landmark status is the nation’s highest designation. Moreover, in 1996, the American Institute of Architects conferred its Twenty-Five Year Award on the Cadet Chapel. This award is given to one project each year and stands as the architectural profession’s top recognition. The award recognizes the project for its enduring design that has become a significant part of the nation’s architectural heritage.”
Additionally, Warthen noted, the chapel has been featured on a postage stamp in 2004 and is Colorado’s No. 1 man-made visitor attraction.
Starting Nov. 6, visitor hours of operation for the Cadet Chapel are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturdays and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sundays. Those planning to visit the chapel in the near future may want to schedule a trip in 2018. Peterson said the chapel will close in 2019 for major repairs. It is unknown at this time when the repairs will be completed.
However, published reports estimated the project, designed to fix leaks that have plagued the chapel since it was built, will cost around $68 million and could take up to four years to complete.
For more information, visit www.usafa.edu/academics/facilities/cadet-chapel/.
Contact Phil Anderson at (785) 295-1195 or follow @Philreports on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/philreports.tcj.