MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

July 25, 2013

Base fellowship hall named for chaplain

Photograph launches search for namesake

By Thad Ayers
Phoenix Staff Writer

— BRAGGS — Dedication of the Fellowship Hall at Thunderbird Chapel to Chaplain William E. King began because of bare walls, said Maj. Gen. Myles Deering.

“This journey began by searching for pictures to hang in this chapel,” Deering said Thursday afternoon at Camp Gruber.

He happened upon a photo of a Christmas ceremony in Anzio, Italy, during World War II.

“It struck me as to how important that individual's service was,” Deering said. “And that piqued my interest. I wanted to know who that was.”

The William E. King Resiliency Center and Fellowship Hall was dedicated to the memory of King, who was a brigadier general. Approximately 100 members of the military attended the ceremony.

The hall will serve as a meeting place for military members to get counseling or support after serving overseas, said Maj. Brad Hanna.

King, who died in 1985 at the age of 84, served as chaplain during World War II in Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry Division and in the Navy during the first World War.

After finding the photo of King, Deering continued his search and eventually found King’s adopted son, John King, 80.

From there, Hanna, a chaplain at Camp Gruber, contacted John King at his home in western Oregon to learn more about his father.

“We want to do what scripture tells us. And that is to give honor to whom honor is due,” Hanna said at the ceremony.

Also known as the “Cowboy Preacher,” William E. King served as a Baptist preacher before becoming a chaplain.

He was the first chaplain minister at the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz and Dachau, Germany, his son said.

His father drove 28,400 miles to meet chaplains serving throughout France and Germany during the war, John King said.

Having his father’s name on Thunderbird Chapel is an honor to him, his wife Maxine and their son Phillip, he said.

“I was positive people knew about him, but I didn't think anything else would come after all this time,” he said. “So I'm very appreciative and feel honored myself.”

King received a Thunderbird pin at the ceremony and a large clip of the newspaper article that lead to Deering’s discovery of John King.

Opened in June 2012, the 10,500-square-foot Thunderbird Chapel cost more than $2.2 million to construct.

Reach Thad Ayers at (918) 684-2903 or tayers@muskogeephoenix.com.