FORT JACKSON, S.C.—Calling Chaplain Stan Beach a “living legend,” Chief of Navy Chaplains Mark Tidd led a dedication ceremony at the Naval Chaplaincy School and Center, naming the building “Stanley J. Beach Hall.”
Chaplain Beach enlisted in the US Naval Reserve in 1953, later becoming an active duty chaplain endorsed by the GARBC. He earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart as a combat chaplain in Vietnam, and eventually became director of the Naval Chaplains School before retiring from active service in 1987.
The unusual naming honor, first discussed nearly two years ago, required the affirmation of both the Navy and the Army (the navy training school is located on an army post). The final decision was approved by Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations.
“The legendary quality of Chaplain Beach’s service is evident, but the problem is the fact that he is literally a living legend,” Rear Adm. Tidd remarked during the ceremony. “And that was the real problem. You see, both services prefer to name buildings for people who are not still around to enjoy the party!”
And what a party it was. The grand ceremony began with the piping of a Bosun’s whistle, followed by full ruffles and flourishes. A procession of Navy officials and the guest of honor entered past rows of sideboys in dress uniforms, a naval tradition that included the participation of Capt. Tom Webber, a GARBC chaplain who described Chaplain Beach as his first mentor in ministry. Honorary sideboys lined the aisles as Chaplain Beach entered—current and retired chaplains, combat veterans from Vietnam, retired military officers. Chaplain John Murdoch also attended the ceremony, representing the GARBC as its endorser.
The ceremony culminated in the unveiling of a brass plaque to be installed on the exterior wall of the Naval Chaplaincy School and Center.
“This is an incredible honor, to permit the associating of my name with this state-of-the-art chaplains’ school,” Chaplain Beach said during the presentation, calling the building “a showcase of the legacy of the Navy chaplaincy.”
All of this began when Stan Beach was an engineering student at the General Motors School of Technology, studying for a career as an automobile designer. He was disinterested in church, but volunteered to drive his landlord to a service at North Baptist Church, Flint, Mich. “They were on me before the week was over, sharing the gospel with me,” Chaplain Beach recalled in a Baptist Bulletin interview.
“The thing that struck me, I still remember. They quoted C. S. Lewis: ‘Either Jesus was a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord.’ He’s Who he said he was. And I had no more arguments. I went by the pastor’s office and accepted the Lord there. Not too long after that the Lord began to deal with me about ministry.”
Having previously enlisted in the Navy as a reservist, he studied at Taylor University, Upland, Ind., then enrolled in Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis. Returning to Cass City, Mich., the Beach family joined First Baptist Church as Stan began a long career of active duty service (1960–1987). His career would include assignments to several military bases in the U.S., Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan.
In his comments during the ceremony, Chaplain Beach gave tribute to his home church, his endorsers, and pastors that faithfully prayed for him during his ministry. “I’ve always been struck by the Apostle Paul’s words to the Thessalonians when he said that we have been allowed—allowed!—by God to be entrusted with the ministry. That’s always made a profound impression on me, those words.”
After retirement, Beach would reconnect with several friends from Covenant Seminary, serving on the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel, and later becoming its associate director. In 2009 he was appointed battalion chaplain for the 3rd Battalion 4th Marines Association, a veterans’ support organization. His relationship with the Marine group stretched back to their deployment together in Vietnam. When everyone came home and the years passed, the Marines still considered Chaplain Beach their chaplain.
Looking back, Chaplain Beach called his combat deployment “one of the great experiences of my life,” adding that “I had the privilege in Vietnam of serving with the greatest men who would lay down their lives for each other.”
Then the guest of honor paused for a moment, mid-sentence, to look over at Jim Riley.
The retired Marines attending the ceremony understood the quick glance. Back on Mutter’s Ridge in 1966, Chaplain Beach was hit by artillery fire, shattering his left leg. While he was lying on a gurney waiting for the helicopters, Beach was hit again by mortar fire. Sgt. Riley ran forward, threw down a flak jacket, and dove on top of his injured chaplain, covering his body from further hits.
But Chaplain Beach skipped over this story, a familiar one to the guests at the Navy ceremony. Instead, the chaplain offered a lighthearted summary: “They were truly a band of brothers, but the only thing they taught me was how to eat ham and lima beans. Out of a can!”
All laughing aside, the gathered guests also knew how the story ended. Chaplain Beach spent the better part of two years in the hospital, recovering from his injuries. Doctors made a heroic effort to save his leg—an investment, really. Saving a leg meant they were saving a chaplain’s career, and the Navy needed Stan Beach. After his recovery, he developed innovative programs to counsel combat vets, eventually becoming director of the Naval Chaplains School (1982–1985). Here Chaplain Beach trained and mentored a generation of chaplains, including the ranking officer at the ceremony, Rear Adm. Mark Tidd.
“We as students did not fully appreciate then what we know now,” Chaplain Tidd said. “We were in the presence of a living legend. Chaplain Beach was unfailingly kind to us, the kindness that appreciated our eagerness to learn, and he always encouraged us to do better. In his presence we had the sense that this was someone who truly knew what it meant to be a Navy chaplain.”
Reflecting on a long career, Chaplain Beach offered a summary from Psalm 23: ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all of the days of my life.’”