May 31, 2011

Fort Pickett chapel dedicated in honor of fallen World War I chaplain

By Cotton Puryear        
Virginia Department of Military Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va. — The last chapel currently in use at the Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center at Fort Pickett was dedicated May 24, 2011 to Chaplain (1st Lt.) Thomas McNeill Bulla who died from combat wounds in World War I. Maj. Gen. Frank E. Batts, Sr., commander of the 29th Infantry Division, and Col. Tom Wilkinson, commander of Fort Pickett, unveiled the new sign outside the chapel as part of the dedication. Several of Bulla's relatives also attended the event, and Soldiers from the Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment provided the gun salute.

 

Maj. Gen. Frank E. Batts, Sr., commander of the 29th Infantry Division, and Col. Tom Wilkinson, commander of Fort Pickett, unveill a sign outside the Fort Pickett chapel as it is rededicated May 24 in honor of Chaplain (1st Lt.) Thomas McNeill Bulla who died from combat wounds in World War I. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

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Click HERE to see raw video of the ceremony.

"He lived the warrior ethos that we teach all of our Soldiers to never leave a fallen comrade," Batts said. "He paid for it with his life."

Bulla was born near Fayetteville, N.C., on Jan. 4, 1881. Soon after he graduated from Union Theological Seminary, he moved to Emporia where became the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in 1911. Bulla volunteered to become a chaplain after a request by the colonel of the 4th Virginia Infantry, an element of the Virginia National Guard, and was appointed in the rank of first lieutenant. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the newly organized 29th “Blue and Gray” Division. The entire 29th Division sailed to France in June 1918 and first entered combat in the Alsace Sector in August but suffered relatively light casualties. That changed when, starting on October 8, the division took part in the massive Allied operation known as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. 

 

The last chapel currently in use at the Virginia National Guard Maneuver Training Center at Fort Pickett was dedicated May 24 to Chaplain (1st Lt.) Thomas McNeill Bulla who died from combat wounds in World War I. On 15 Oct. 1918, during the Battle of the Meuse, he was wounded and died two days later, the only chaplain of a Virginia regiment to lose his life in the war. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army Chaplain’s Museum in Fort Jackson, South Carolina)

Click HERE to view more photos on Flickr.

It was apparently during the opening days of this attack that Chaplain Bulla repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire by moving across “no man’s land” helping wounded Soldiers to safety. This was duty neither required nor expected of an Army chaplain. On the morning of October 15, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry was the lead element for yet another attack in the area known as the Molleville Farm. It was during this assault that Bulla, again helping wounded Soldiers, was struck by enemy fire and mortally wounded. He was evacuated to an Army hospital at Petite Mejoy, where he died of his wounds on October 17.

The chapel is currently undergoing renovations and will receive new siding, new windows and a new floor.

During the ceremony, Wilkinson explained that the new sign area is 116 square feet to represent that Bulla served in the 116th Infantry Regiment and the sign itself is 29 inches in diameter to represent the 29th Infantry Division.

In the years since his death Bulla was been honored in several venues: by his church with a stained glass window dedicated in his name; American Legion Post 46 in Emporia adopted the name “Bulla Post” in 1924; he is cited among the 23 Army chaplains who died during World War I on a monument at Arlington National Cemetery; and in 1999 the Commonwealth of Virginia erected a roadside historical marker on the grounds of his church in Emporia.

Additional reporting by Mr. John Listman, Fort Pickett historian.

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