Locals Want Cathedral Of The Air To Be Historic Landmark

The Cathedral of the Air is located on federal property near the entrance point of the Lakehurst Naval Base portion of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  MANCHESTER – Manchester resident Bill Schmidt is continuing his quest to see the Cathedral of the Air, a military chapel near Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, become a designated historical site.

  Schmidt visited the governing body of Lakehurst and revisited the governing body of Manchester in June where he presented information and a petition that he hopes will safeguard the chapel’s future.

  Schmidt previously came before the mayor and council of Manchester and requested support in clarifying the fate of the military chapel that was built in 1932. He and his fellow members of Toms River American Legion Post 129 had concerns about whether the property would be sold off by the Air Force who currently administrates the Joint Base.

  Manchester Mayor Robert Hudak wrote a letter to 4th District Congressman Chris Smith and other leading state and federal officials following Schmidt’s presentation calling for clarification on the matter. Rep. Smith and a spokesperson for the Joint Base assured The Manchester Times and Manchester Mayor Robert Hudakthere were no current plans to change ownership or demolish the site which is overseen but not owned by the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society.

Concerns Remain

  Schmidt still has concerns about the historic chapel’s future. He brought along a large mounted color photograph of the cathedral to the Lakehurst Council meeting and shared his views at both municipal meetings regarding a new access road that he fears will cause damage to the stained-glass windows and infrastructure.

  The petition calls for the chapel to gain historic status. “We can only make a difference if we show in large numbers that we want the cathedral to become a National Historic Landmark.”

  He said members of the American Legion Post 129 and the Lakehurst Historical Society were in strong support of getting the cathedral classified as a historical landmark.

  He presented to Lakehurst Mayor Harry Robbins a copy of the letter Mayor Hudak sent to state and federal officials. Schmidt also requested the borough make copies of the petition which Mayor Robbins said could be placed at Borough Hall on Union Avenue.

Photo by Bob Vosseller

Cathedral Of The Air History

  Schmidt read a statement that included some of the history of the Cathedral of the Air which “was a place of worship built by the American Legion of New Jersey for the military personnel at the Lakehurst Naval Air Base so that our men and women would have a non – denominational place to worship God. In 1943 the cathedral was updated to memorialize the memory of the four World War II chaplains and their historic and selfless acts on the SS Dorchester.

  “Each chaplain has his own stained-glass window in the cathedral. The Dorchester was sunk by a German U-boat on February 3, 1943 in the north Atlantic Ocean. The four chaplains on board gave up their life jackets and assisted other passengers into lifeboats at the cost of their own lives. Once each year in early February, a service is held at the cathedral to honor and remember them and is attended by military and veterans alike,” Schmidt said.

  He noted that there were memorials to the soldiers who lost their lives in the tragic crashes of the USS Akron and USS Shenandoah airships, two military dirigibles that were based at Lakehurst Naval Air Station.

  The cathedral was built with high ceilings to illustrate a relationship with heaven and earth. “This Norman-Gothic chapel in New Jersey is more of a temple to the ingenuity of human innovation against the limits of the sky conceived by the National Chaplain of the American Legion in 1932,” Schmidt added.

  Schmidt noted the colorful stained-glass windows are “beautiful depictions of humanity’s quest to reach the heavens. It begins with the myths of Pegasus and Icarus’ wax wings and the 18 stained glass window panels that gradually leads along the history of human flight, from experimentation with lighter than air travel such as zeppelin airships to the Wright brothers pioneering airplane flight.”

A Long Process

  Navy Lakehurst Historical Society Senior Vice President Jennifer Suwak told The Manchester Times that her organization was also in favor of seeing the cathedral being classified as a historic landmark, adding this effort “has actually been in the works for a while, and we had worked with the Legion representative in Trenton on this a while back.”

  “It’s a long process, probably in part due to the administration’s backup caused by COVID. Since the proposal for historical landmark status was submitted by the Legion, it has been ‘in process.’ There had never been a plan to raze the Cathedral, that is a rumor,” Suwak said.

Manchester resident Bill Schmidt asked for support in his goal for the military chapel become a historic landmark. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

Letters And Petition

  Schmidt asked that supporters e-mail a request to distribute letters of support and to sign a save the Cathedral of the Air petition. He was collecting signatures for the petition, distributing information and speaking with attendees at Manchester Day.

  “If you wish to save the Cathedral of the Air, please use these form letters and petitions to send to the addresses listed. We can only make a difference if we show in large numbers that we want the Cathedral to become a National Historic Landmark. Make copies of the petition then get it signed by you relatives, friends and your neighbors’ names, addresses and e-mail addresses. When the sheet is full then mail to the addresses on petition,” Schmidt said.

  For additional information about the letters and the petition, call 732-575-6904 or e-mail him at BillSchmidt1000@aol.com