"The Commanders of the ships of the thirteen United Colonies, are to take care that divine service be performed twice a day on board, and a sermon preached on Sundays, unless bad weather or other extraordinary accidents prevent."
The regulation did not specify just who would conduct the services, and during those years ordained clergy would simply accompany ships at sea whenever possible. A professionalized chaplaincy would not come into being until after "An Act to Provide a Naval Armament" was passed by Congress on March 27, 1794, which specified that "there should be employed on board each of the said ships of 44 guns... one chaplain."
Although uniform regulations and other details about the roles of chaplains would not come about for another generation, no amount of regulations could encompass what logistical constraints members of the Navy Chaplain Corps have had to overcome in the almost 240 years since their founding. As in every other category of military mission, however, American industry has met the challenge of providing gear that is tough enough to withstand the arduous duties its users perform in times of war and peace, and that includes the duties of Chaplains. For your enlightenment this month we proudly display two Korean War-era field kits for performing divine services wherever the need arises.
Newly-commissioned Chaplains of the early-1950s would be issued kits such as these, specific to their religious affiliations, as much as was practicable at the time. For example, the Protestant kit shown was designed also to be usable for Catholic services.
Known alternately as portable altars, field altars, or field kits, by the end of the Second World War, these indispensable implements of the chaplaincy were designed and built with such a high degree of combat readiness that many were designed to float and also be attached to a pistol belt or rucksack so that chaplains could even carry them during parachute jumps and amphibious landings.
|Our current Artifact of the Month display at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (Photo by HRNM Public Information Officer Susanne Greene)|
Wherever called upon, regardless of the difficulties or dangers, U.S. Navy Chaplains have been right with the Sailors and Marines they serve, from the calm of peacetime patrols to the thick of combat, right from the beginning. These artifacts are a testament to their ability to serve a higher calling anywhere, any time, with the tools they are given.