My local newspaper carried, what I thought, was an interesting but forgotten WWII story of the sinkin’ of the USAT Dorchester. This ship was an Army transport, sunk off the coast of Greenland, in February 1943, after being torpedoed by a German submarine. There were 902 American servicemen were on board, only 230 survived the attack.
The torpedo struck the flank of the ship where it exploded in the boiler room. Panic spread throughout the ship as everyone desperately tried to reach the deck to see how bad it was. When the order came to abandon ship all of the life jackets had been exhausted. However, four Army chaplains on board took off their life jackets and gave it to those who didn’t have one.
The four chaplains then locked arms, bowed their heads in prayer and went down with the ship. George Fox was a Methodist minister, John Washington, a Catholic priest, Alexander Goode, a Jewish rabbi and Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister.
These brave men, who lost their lives on the Dorchester, have become memorialized forever in U.S. military history. The chaplains were awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Cross medals in 1944 and later, a Medal of Valor and Special Medal for Heroism by the U.S. Congress.
A postage stamp honoring them was issued in 1948 and stained glass windows depicting their faces were installed at the Pentagon, West Point and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. There is also a local display in their honor aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach.
In 1988, Congress declared February 3rd as “Four Chaplains Day,” but it again slipped by this year with hardly a mention by the media.
The only news that seems to reach the front pages these days are the ongoing antics and misconduct of our local, state and federal politicians. Our senses are practically numbed by the buffoonery that has become the accepted behavior of those we elect.
The “Four Chaplains” remind of us of the heroism, bravery and compassion that seemed a common day occurrence during our parent’s generation, with little fanfare or media hype.
Let’s never forget the “Four Chaplains.”