Chaplain (Major General)
Charles I. Carpenter
Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Charles I. Carpenter, chief of Air Force chaplains, was born in
Wilmington, Del., in 1906. He received his bachelor of arts degree at Bucknell University,
Lewisburg, Pa., in 1927 and his bachelor of divinity degree at Drew University, Madison,
N.J., in 1931.
He became a member of the Peninsula Conference of the Methodist Church and served in
civilian pastorates in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland until 1936. That year, he was
selected to fill a Methodist chaplain vacancy in the Regular Army and was assigned to Fort
H.G. Wright in N.Y. Subsequently, he was assigned to Fort Randolph in the Panama Canal
Zone, and upon completion of that tour served at Langley Field, Va.
In 1942 Chaplain Carpenter was ordered to Headquarters U.S. Air Forces, Washington, D.C.,
to establish the chaplaincy work within the Air Force. For his service during this formative
period, Chaplain Carpenter was awarded the Legion of Merit. He was reassigned to U.S. Air
Forces in Europe in December 1944, where he served as senior Air Force chaplain, directing
the activities of the chaplains' work during the closing phases of the European conflict. For
this work he was awarded an oak leaf cluster to the Legion of Merit. He was return to
Headquarters U.S. Air Force in December 1945 to resume the position of air chaplain,
Headquarters U.S. Air Force.
Founding of the USAF Chaplain Corps
Chaplain Carpenter, the "Air Chaplain" emphasized the need for pastoral identity of the
chaplains with the men they served and favored a separate Air Force chaplaincy.
In 1948, General Carl Spaatz wanted a briefing from Ch Carpenter on the reasons for a
separate AF chaplaincy - just a one page briefing. That one page briefing made all the
Gen Spaatz called Ch Carpenter to his office and told him that he had already made up his
mind and he would NOT endorse a separate AF chaplaincy. He had a meeting at 1100 with
the Army Chief of Chaplains to work out the details.
At 1315 he received another call from the office of Gen Spaatz. "The general wants to see you,
and bring that paper with you."
General Spaatz took the piece of paper, folded it so that Ch Carpenter's signature would not
show, and placed it under the glass on his desktop. He had another conference with the
Army Chief of Chaplains at 1500. He then said, "I've changed my mind. The AF will have its
And so the Transfer Order, date 10 May 1949, made it possible for the AF to have its own
chaplaincy. Less than 10 of the 458 Active Duty chaplains elected to remain in the Army.
Ch. Carpenter was then promoted to Major General and was appointed as the first Air Force
Chief of Chaplains. He served from 1949 to 1958.
On Aug. 21, 1958, Chaplain Carpenter, who had served as the first chief of Air Force
chaplains, in the grade of major general from Aug. 16, 1949 to Aug. 20, 1958, took up his new
duties as Protestant cadet chaplain of the U.S. Air Force Academy, in his permanent grade of
Chaplain Carpenter was awarded the Belgian Military Cross, First Class, by the Belgian
Ministry of National Defense on May 19, 1954. The award, which was presented in
Washington, D.C., on Aug. 3, was made in recognition of "his devotion to the spiritual good
of the military personnel and because he has been the inspiration of the chiefs of the NATO
Air Force Chaplains."
Chaplain Carpenter has received three honorary decorations; Boston University awarded him
the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology in 1950, Bucknell University awarded him the degree
of Doctor of Divinity in June 1955, and University of Delaware awarded him the degree of
Doctor of Humane Letters in June 1956.
Chaplain Carpenter was one of three delegates elected in May 1955 by members of the
Peninsula Annual Conference of the Methodist Church to attend the general conference of the
church to be held in Minneapolis, Minn., in May 1956. This was the first time in the history
of the Methodist Church as a delegate for the general conference, which is held every four
years. After retiring from the Air Force in 1960, he returned to Delaware as minister of the
Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford. Chaplain Carpenter died at his home in Milford
Delaware Feb. 22, 1994.
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