JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii - After a decades-long absence of traditional worship, families now have the chance to join together at one of the most historic houses of devotion at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The congregation hopes to bring new life and attention to the Submarine Memorial Chapel by holding weekly Sunday morning services.
"It's the oldest chapel at Pearl Harbor," said Cmdr. Joseph R. Primeaux, chaplain for the Pacific Submarine Force. "It's been unused for the longest time for public worship."
The chapel was built in remembrance of all the submariners who died during World War II. The dedication ceremony on Sept. 10, 1944, was attended by more than 400 personnel, including Adm. Chester Nimitz and Rear Adm. Charles Lockwood.
For reasons forgotten by time, religious worship services ceased during the early 2000s. Service members and veterans from various communities have continued to conduct monthly bell-tolling ceremonies, retirements, weddings and other services. But now, a congregation has re-formed at the chapel to share regular religious services. The new weekly services returned Nov. 22, 2015.
"It's meaningful to me because it takes me back to my roots," said James Gardner, an Air Force retiree and head usher for the new congregation. "It's grounded in religious beliefs with an emphasis on the service person. Attending this service has reinforced that background."
The chapel beautifully retains much of its former catholic-inspired style through 13 stain-glass windows. Twelve windows represent World War II submariners that began their eternal patrol during each month of the year, and the remaining window represents all submarines and submariners past and present. The church bell was donated by the crew of USS Argonaut (SS 166) before the ship and her crew were lost during a wartime patrol Jan. 10, 1943.
Today, the chapel doors remain open to visitors seeking to pay respect to lost World War II submarines and submariners during monthly bell tolling ceremonies, or for those wishing to further explore their faith.
"You learn about the moral side of life," Primeaux said of the opportunity to visit for services at the historic building. "The things that make you a better person and the things that can even help you elevate your career."
The Submarine Memorial Chapel holds a special place in the submarine community, but the religious heritage, since 1944, continues to grow through its congregation.
"I would love to see this congregation grow, become a full church, and walk in and see the pews completed filled," Gardner said.
Protestant traditional worship service is now held every Sunday at 10 a.m.