Opinion Columns & Blogs

Memento of a soldier’s faith

I enjoy volunteering at the National Infantry Museum because of the countless interesting and at times unusual stories related to many of the artifacts and displays. I also enjoy the interesting people I meet. As a devoted introvert, that’s a remarkable thing for me to say, but I have to admit the museum brings out my hidden extroverted side.

On occasion my wife and I lead the tour of the World War II Company Street. The old buildings are a fascinating display of soldier life in the World War II era. Whether in the barracks or the headquarters building, there are always things to see and ponder. The chapel, formerly at the Harmony Church area on Fort Benning, is in superb condition but also houses a small display of one of the more curious aspects of Fort Benning history: In the rear of the sanctuary sits a large glass enclosure that houses the last remaining cupola from the Chapel in the Woods. The information plaques tell a fascinating story.

Private Paul Stadnik was stationed at Fort Benning in the 1920s. He attributed his survival of a terrible illness to God’s intervention.

Consequently, in order to pay homage to his recovery, Stadnik decided to construct a small chapel in the woods on post. By rounding up scraps of wood and other building materials, Stadnik gradually built a remarkable one-person sized chapel. The three cupolas were emblematic of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Nestled away in the Georgia woods of the post near a bridle path used by the post riding group, the chapel basically sat unattended once Stadnik left Benning. While the information with the display does not have every detail, Stadnik served in World War II, apparently in the Third Army, and reached the rank of First Sergeant. The caption on one photograph indicates he served, all told, 21 years on active duty.

During World War II, the chapel was really beginning to fall apart, so some of the post horse riders who periodically passed by the chapel decided to repair it. In 1943, they again made the chapel presentable and dedicated the chapel to Saint Hubert, the patron saint of horsemen, and to all of their comrades who had died in World War II.

Again, however, the chapel was left to its fate at the hands of nature. As the years proceeded, eventually the chapel collapsed. Stadnik and his wife visited the chapel in 1952, according to several photographs.

Some consideration was given to trying to restore the chapel in 1968, but the expense was too great for those interested.

Now the only piece of the chapel remaining is one cupola in the glass case in the Harmony Church chapel on World War II Street.

I’m sure there is much more to this story than I know. My knowledge is based on the information with the display at the National Infantry Museum.

Nonetheless, this is certainly a remarkable tale of a young soldier’s devotion to his faith and how this became a little-known but fascinating element of local history. You just never can tell what you might find at the museum. Soldiers of all ages certainly can surprise people.

John M. House, an independent correspondent and retired Army colonel living in Midland, can be reached at housearmylife@aol.com.