Korean War Era

Korean War Era

Korean War Chaplain Kit

Chaplain kit set up on hood of Jeep for worship service for CO M, 19th Regt, 24th Div, U.S. Army in Chunchon, Korea in September 1951 with Joseph S. Barto (a Soldier in CO M) from Lorain, OH (author’s collection).

Entering the Korean War just a few years after the end of World War Two, veteran chaplains continued to carry and use the WW2-era chaplain kits.  As the Korean War continued, new more durable kits were produced and issued supplied in a hard metal case with fold out “wings” and a cover to be made into its own “altar.” As with other wars, these new kits included variations for Protestant, Catholic and Jewish chaplains. These kits were used into the Vietnam War until a more lightweight kit began to be issued.

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Protestant/Catholic

Chaplain-McGavern

This photo, which includes Chaplain McGavern, is from the 18 June 1944 issue of “The Living Church.”

Chaplain (CPT) Charles McGavern was an Episcopal chaplain who served both in WW2 and Korea. He carried with him a portable altar not typical of most chaplains serving at the time. His was made of wood and when open had a backing similar to a tryptic. The base of the altar opened which had felt-lined compartments to store the altar ware. It all folded up into a configuration like a small suitcase. This kit is like the one used by Chaplain Metcalf during WW2 which has religious pictures on the the tri-folding back. It’s pictured on the WW2 Kit page (the following pictures of Chaplain McGavern’s kit are courtesy Thomas Lee).

Chaplain McGavern portable altar

Chaplain McGavern’s portable altar opened (photo courtesy Thomas Lee).

Chaplain McGavern portable altar

The cross and candle sticks are all that remain of Chaplain McGavern’s altarware (photos courtesy Thomas Lee).

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There were “transition” kits produced the bridged between the WW2 and Korean War kits. The below chaplain kit was produced in 1951. The main difference between this one and those produced a year, two or three later are the bottles (photo courtesy Chaplain Bob Nay):

The following kit was produced in 1952. Many of the pieces are different than the years before. Note the cruets and shorter candlesticks (photo courtesy of Chaplain Bob Nay):

1952 Army kit-Nays

Below is another kit produced in 1952, but with blue altar covers and chrome pieces instead of brass. Nearly everything else is the same (photo courtesy of Chaplain Bob Nay):

Air Force 1952 Chaplain kit-Nays-1

This next kit is similar to the one above but includes a small individual communion cup holder and the corpus facing out (photo origin unknown):

Korean War Chaplain Kit

Below is a chaplain kit produced for the Air Force in 1954, with a plastic case (photos courtesy of Thomas Asher):

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Below are Korean War-era Protestant chaplain kits on display at the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps Museum, Fort Jackson, SC (photo by author):

Korean War Chaplain Kit

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This next kit is dated 1962 (so after the Korean War) but similar to those being produced in the 1950s and would have been used into Vietnam until the more lightweight kit was released (author’s collection).

Protestant Chaplain Kit 1962

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During World War 2 and into the 1950’s, there were issued Troop Transport Kits for providing communion aboard ship while troops were being transported to theater and home. Some of these kits were also used in chapels, to provide for communion services, well into the 1980’s. The following kit is 1950’s era, identifiable by the plastic bakelite handle instead of the leather-wrapped handle which were on those issued during WW2 (author’s collection):

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Jewish

Chaplain kits for Jewish Chaplains were also improved and produced during the Korean War and following. Below are two kits from the 1950’s. The brass kit on the left is the older of the two (photos courtesy Chaplain Bob Nay):

Following is a Jewish kit from the late 1950’s/early 1960’s. The Menorah and candlesticks are marked “US” (photo courtesy of Chaplain Bob Nay):

Jewish-50s-60s-Nay

Below is another Jewish Kit from the 1950’s/1960’s. This one replaced the Star of David with the Tablets of the Law (photo courtesy of Chaplain Bob Nay):

late 1950-1960 Jewish-Nays

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  1. Hello. I found your site while researching a portable altar at our Episcopal parish. It is almost the spitting image of Chaplain McGavern’s, right down to the wooden cross and candles. Aside from a couple of very faint ghost marks (two ‘C’s) on it (and an interior of royal blue plush), though, it has no identifying markings and we don’t know how it came to the church.

    Can you tell me anything else about Chaplain McGavern’s box or its possible origins? I would much appreciate it. I’m pretty sure his and ours came from the same era/source.

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    • Hello Paula, Thanks for stopping by!

      It’s very interesting that your parish would have one of these kits. I would imagine it was either left by a priest who was once a military chaplain and used it during deployment or perhaps was a kit ready to be given to a priest entering military service as a chaplain.

      It is an unusual kit and not all that common, like the kits issued by the military or given to chaplains by their endorsing denominations. As you may have noticed on this website, similar kits were used in both WW2 and the Korean War and may have been a “private purchase” being a more desirable altar set-up than the issued kits. I have not come across any period photographs of similar kits being used in the field, however.

      Because of their rarity, I really don’t have much information, other than speculation, on their origins or use. I’m sorry I couldn’t offer you more. If you come across more information in your research, I would love to learn from you!

      Daryl

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