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A tribute to four Army chaplains


Feb. 3 marked the historic 71st anniversary of the sinking of the U.S. Army Transport Dorchester, as well as the legendary acts of selflessness of four Army chaplains who were aboard. The Dorchester was torpedoed by a German U-boat while crossing the icy North Atlantic, and the four chaplains, Rev. George Fox (Methodist), Jewish Rabbi Alexander Goode, Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Father John Washington (Roman Catholic), comforted the wounded, directed others to safety, and surrendered their life jackets to save four young men. As the Dorchester sank, the chaplains were seen linked arm in arm, praying.

American Legion Post 459 in Grand Rapids, Mich., has honored the diversity and the heroism of the four chaplains for the past 10 years by hosting an annual service in their honor. The post’s recent two-hour Four Chaplains Day service was held at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids whereLegion Family members and the community attended free of charge.

"We have great love for the four chaplains, and we feel it’s our obligation to uphold their legacy," said Harriet Sturim, Post 459’s Auxiliary chaplain and the Fifth District Auxiliary chaplain. "The service is not only a place to retell the story, but a place to move ahead and learn from these four men, their sacrifices and mutual respect despite their religious differences."

Post 459’s Four Chaplains Day service featured four chairs that were draped with life jackets, photos of the chaplains and liturgical garments and Bibles. Retired Army Col. Herman Keiser told the story of the four chaplains; Sturim gave a speech about unity and diversity; patriotic music was performed by Grand Rapids & District Pipe Band; a local honor guard conducted the three-volley salute and the folding of the American flag; and a representative from Heroes to Heroes Foundation (a non-profit organization that provides support to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress) was the keynote speaker.

"With our keynote speakers, we try to be informative with things that are happening for our servicemembers and for the Legion," Sturim said. "We feel the four chaplains would want us to convey the message of helping our veterans, convey the message of diversity and welcoming people in their lives.

"I always like to say that in 1943, the chaplains didn’t know what the word diversity was. It wasn’t really invented, but they invented it."

Refreshments were served and time was given for attendees to quietly or verbally pay their respects. "The service becomes a very emotional experience when people pay homage to the chaplains," Sturim said.

Preparations for the service began eight months in advance in an effort to identify speakers, send out invitations and promote the event through flyers and social media. Personal invitations were mailed to the speakers and the department commander and president; an event flyer and letter was mailed to every Michigan post; local news channels were informed of the event; flyers were disbursed throughout the local community; and promotional material was posted on Post 459’s Four Chaplains Facebook page. Sturim said she asks new Legion Family members every year to be involved with the service because "the more people we involve, the more people will take the legacy of the four chaplains back with them to their post," she said. "People always say they want to do this (host a Four Chaplains Day service) at their post, and I tell them to jump in and do it, and it will grow."

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Edward M Levene

February 6, 2014 - 7:53pm

Sgt David G. Ledgerwood American Legion Post 255 Deltona, Florida is doing the Four Chaplain ceremony tomorrow night 7 February 2014 at 6:30 PM at the Deltona Lakes Baptist Church, Deltona, Florida. One of our Guest Speaker is a Dr. Fred Lowery a Commissioner for the City of Deltona with numerous amounts of visitors from other Posts and the community.

Bruce R. Johnson

February 6, 2014 - 9:03pm

USAT Dorchester torpedoed Feb. 3, 1943 about 100 miles off Cape
Farewell, Greenland by U 223, Karl Jurg Wachter commanding. My grandfather, Capt. Louis E. Rayner was Chief Mate on that ship.

Henry P. DelTosto

February 7, 2014 - 9:42am

Father John Washington, one of the four chaplains, was assigned to St. Stephen's RC Church in the Arlington section of Kearny, NJ when he enlisted in the US Army. St Stephen's church is right around the corner from my home and every year they perform a wonderful service honoring the chaplains. The street on the south side of the church is named for Father Washington and contains the Dorchester's name and date of her sinking. A couple of years ago the church dedicated a large sculpture honoring the four chaplains on the most prominent part of their property.

David Nussbaum

February 7, 2014 - 8:55pm

Let us never forget our brothers and sisters who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of others. There are so many I miss.

Juvencio Farias

February 8, 2014 - 8:27am

I am thankful for the DOD provide the Chaplains in the military and provide spiritaul guidance during the military worldwide and bring God to our units.

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