[Editor’s Note: This story revisits articles from the USAG Benelux Public Affairs Office archive to highlight the history of the bell tower on Chièvres Air Base. Special thanks to J.D. Hardesty, one of the original article authors, as well as Sgt. 1st Class Alberto Franco, a former 80th Army Support Group chaplain assistant who found another article and photos in the chapel attic during his tenure at the installation.]
CHIEVRES AIR BASE, Belgium – For individuals living and working on Chièvres Air Base, the bell tower in front of the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux headquarters building is one of the installation’s most visual landmarks. However, the historic monument is much more than just a striking architectural structure.
Originally located on Caserne Daumerie, the history of the date back to installation’s days as Belgian fighter aircraft base.
From 1950 to 1964, Chièvres Air Base was home to the Belgian Air Force’s 7th Fighter Wing. While stationed there, Maj. Boby Bladt formed the Belgian Acrobatic Patrol from the best pilots of the wing in 1957. This patrol, later renamed the Red Devils, became the Belgian military’s premier aerobatics team which continues to perform to this day.
In 1960, Lt. Mathieu Thys, a pilot with the patrol, died in a jet crash while rehearsing for the base’s Great Air Show. In response, Father A. Fazius, a chaplain with the wing, decided to use some of the proceeds from the air show to create an on-base memorial to the aerobatics team, as well as Belgian pilots who had died at the base and their children. The memorial was originally housed in the Caserne Daumerie chapel, and consists of two large bells purchased by the wing.
Both bells bear the “three cocottes” (birds made from folded paper), which were the insignia of the three flights of the 7th Fighter Wing. The larger bell (weighing 110 kilograms or 243 pounds) was named Marie in honor of the Belgian Air Force’s patron saint, Our Lady of Lorette. The smaller bell (weighing 80 kilograms or 176 pounds) was named Dominique after Thys’ daughter, and symbolizes all of the children whose fathers died while serving in the Belgian military at Chièvres Air Base.
The bells remained in the chapel until 2006, when U.S. Army Garrison Benelux decided to build a new bell tower to honor the history of the bells and Belgian culture and tradition. The new structure was designed by Patrick Retour, a senior engineer with the garrison’s Directorate of Public Works.
“The challenges I faced while designing the tower were to blend the new structure into the installation’s environment so that it doesn’t distinctively stand out, but complements the chapel and the bells,” Retour said. “I took what was existing from our ancestry – cathedrals with mostly gothic architecture – added more height and more feeling so visitors would feel a higher power when they see it.”
A DPW carpenter created the tower’s initial wooden prototype, and two of the organization’s welders constructed the final metal version.
The new tower was dedicated during an official ceremony at the caserne on March 23, 2006. During the ceremony, Retour rang the larger bell while Dominique Thys, who had last visited the base during the initial bell dedication ceremony in 1960, returned to re-ring the bell named after her.
When USAG Benelux relocated from Caserne Daumerie to Chièvres Air Base in 2019, the bell tower and its bells followed the garrison workforce and was installed in its current location.
It continues to stand proudly between the national flags of Belgium and the U.S., a testament to the friendship that binds the Belgian and U.S. armed forces and the communities they represent.
|Date Posted:||09.28.2023 03:34|
|Location:||CHIEVRES, WHT, BE|