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The bravery of four chaplains

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The bravery of four chaplains

On Feb. 3, 1943, the United States Army Transport Dorchester – a converted luxury liner – was crossing the North Atlantic, transporting more than 900 troops to an American base in Greenland. Aboard the ship were four chaplains of different faiths: Reverend George Fox (Methodist), Jewish Rabbi Alexander Goode, Reverend Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Father John Washington (Roman Catholic).

Around 12:55 a.m., a German U-boat fired a torpedo that struck Dorchester’s starboard side, below the water line and near the engine room. The explosion instantly killed 100 men and knocked out power and radio communication with Dorchester’s three escort ships. Within 20 minutes, the transport sank and more than 670 men died.

As soldiers rushed to lifeboats, the four chaplains spread out, comforting the wounded and directing others to safety. One survivor, Private William Bednar, later said, “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying. I could also hear the chaplains’ preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”

Another survivor, John Ladd, watched the chaplains’ distribute life jackets, and when they ran out, they removed theirs and gave them to four young men. “It was the finest thing I have seen, or hope to see, this side of heaven,” he recalled.

As Dorchester sank, the chaplains were seen linked arm in arm, praying.

Fox, Goode, Poling and Washington were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart, and in 1948, Congress declared Feb. 3 to be Four Chaplains Day. The four chaplains were also honored with a U.S. postage stamp that year.

Because of the Medal of Honor’s strict requirements of heroism under fire, Congress authorized a one-time Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism on July 14, 1960. The award was presented to the chaplains’ next of kin Jan. 18, 1961.

On Feb. 3, 1951, President Truman dedicated a chapel in the chaplains’ honor at Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia. When the building was sold, the chapel fell into disrepair, and the foundation overseeing the chapel moved it to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 2001. The chapel was repaired in 2004 and given the name Chapel of the Four Chaplains.

In 2006, at The American Legion’s 88th National Convention in Salt Lake City, the National Executive Committee passed a resolution that supported awarding the Medal of Honor to Fox, Goode, Poling and Washington.

Every year, American Legion posts nationwide remember Four Chaplains Day with memorial services. To request information on how to conduct a Four Chaplains Memorial Service, contact Charles Graybiel (cgraybiel@legion.org) of the Americanism and Children & Youth Division at (317) 630-1212.

Learn more about the four chaplains by visiting The Immortal Chaplains Foundation (www.immortalchaplains.org) and The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation (www.fourchaplains.org).

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Mel Wacks

June 25, 2014 - 4:51pm

For 2014, the non-profit Jewish-American Hall of Fame, founded in 1969, has honored Rabbi Alexander Goode, one of the "Immortal Four Chaplains" of World War II fame, and Rabbi Jacob Frankel, the first U.S. Jewish Chaplain. Plaques will be added to the exhibit at the Virginia Holocaust Museum and limited edition medals will be given to donors of $45 or more (call 818-225-1348). There are many stories of bravery among the American Military during World War II, but few have captured the imagination and admiration of Americans more than the Four Chaplains. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Rabbi Alexander Goode applied to the Army, receiving his appointment as a chaplain on July 21, 1942. Chaplain Goode went on active duty on August 9, 1942. In October 1942, Goode was transferred to Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts and reunited with Chaplains John Washington, a Catholic priest; Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister; and George Fox, a Methodist minister—all of whom were Goode’s classmates at Harvard. The Dorchester left New York on January 23, 1943, en route to the United States base in Greenland, carrying the four chaplains and approximately 900 others, as part of a convoy of three ships. During the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., the vessel was torpedoed by a German submarine off Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester's electrical system, leaving the ship dark. Panic set in among the men on board, many of them trapped below decks. The chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation of the ship. As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. They also helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Jews could not serve as chaplains in the U.S. armed forces. However, on July 17, 1862, Congress adopted President Lincoln's proposed amendments to the chaplaincy law to allow "the appointment of brigade chaplains of the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religions." Almost as soon as the law changed, the Board of Ministers of the Hebrew Congregations of Philadelphia requested a Jewish hospital chaplain. Jacob Frankel's fellow clergymen nominated the popular rabbi, nicknamed the "sweet singer of Israel,” and Lincoln signed the commission on Sept. 18, 1862. For three years, he acted as Army chaplain, singing, chanting, and praying with hospitalized and other soldiers.

lindaleehouse

February 4, 2010 - 4:47pm

I believe that these 4 gentlemen should receive this prestigious, highest honor that this country gives. They were fired on by the Germans while transporting American troops. Just because the destination wasn't to a theater of war does not discount the fact that we (Americans) were fighting a war with Germany at the time.

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