Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Mandatory Chapel

by Bill Sakahara

Attending religious services on Sunday mornings was a mandatory formation and we learned that quickly during our basic cadet summer. I recall on one of the first Sundays after starting basic cadet training, we all formed up on the terrazzo. It was the day that local churches from Colorado Springs sent representatives to the Academy to meet with us new cadets, and they invited us to join them on a regular basis for Sunday services in the Springs. It was a great, and really the only, opportunity for most of us to get off site and rejoin civilization, even for a short time.

As we stood in formation, the upper-class cadet-in-charge started to call off the names of the churches from his list and the conferences rooms where we could meet the different representatives. As names were called, our classmates ran off to the announced meeting rooms. Eventually, there were only a handful of us left, and the cadet-in-charge called out, "Atheists, agnostics, and no-preference meet in Room H-1." Off trotted the last of our classmates except one, me. I was standing there alone with all the upperclassmen, who naturally all pounced on me and began chewing me out for not paying attention, being an idiot and whatever else I'd done wrong. After completing my many push-ups, the cadet-in-charge yelled at me to explain to him why I didn't listen and why he had to go through his list again just for my benefit. I explained that he just hadn't called out my religion. That went over really well, and after some more push-ups I was asked to name my religion that he hadn't read off. I said to him, "Sir, I am a Buddhist." With a startled look, he glanced down at his list. Realizing he really hadn't called out my religion, he says, "Go join the atheists, agnostics, and no preference in H-1." I spent the remaining three and a half years attending mandatory chapel services in the Protestant chapel.

I wouldn't be fair if I didn't explain that the Academy and specifically. Chaplain Col. Cameron, didn't try to accommodate my religious preference, even thought I wasn't a really devout practicing Buddhist in my cadet years. When I was a second classman, Chaplain Cameron arranged to have a small Buddhist family altar placed in one of the smaller rooms in the Cadet Chapel for me and a Buddhist exchange cadet from Thailand. Also, when I was a first classman, he thought it would be a good learning experience for cadets who were interested, if we brought in a visiting Buddhist minister to give a talk on Buddhism. I had previously met a minister from Denver through my then girlfriend and future wife, Janet. So with her help and at the urging of Skip Hull and Lanny Burrill, I invited him to speak at the Academy. We had a great turnout and everyone who attended seemed to get a lot out of it. Today I am still a Buddhist, a member of a local temple and a slightly better church goer than I was in those days.

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