To The American Legion Family,
Feb. 3, 2015, marks the 72nd anniversary of the sinking of the USAT Dorchester and a very special display of bravery. On that day in 1943, a torpedo struck the ship reducing its time afloat on the surface of the Atlantic to only an additional 20 minutes. What happened during those few minutes is the reason we remember this day and the acts of courage and sacrifice that took place on her deck every year since.
Four first lieutenants gave the supreme sacrifice that day; each one an Army chaplain. They included Methodist minister, The Reverend George L. Fox, Reform-Rabbi Alexander D. Goode (Ph.D), Roman Catholic priest the Reverend John P. Washington, and Reformed Church in America minister, The Reverend Clark V. Poling. Their backgrounds, personalities and faiths were different. They had met at Army Chaplains School at Harvard University where they became friends as they prepared for service in the European theater, all sailing on board USAT Dorchester to report to their new assignments. All having one God as their father.
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 and helped guide wounded men to safety. As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out before each man had one. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.
“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.” — Grady Clark, survivor
As national chaplin of the Sons of The American Legion, I encourage all squadron, district and detachment chaplains to commemorate the anniversary on the first Sunday in February, Four Chaplains Sunday.
In these ceremonies, we honor the Four Chaplains and ensure their legacy of brotherhood and selfless service. May they be remembered for generations to come.
For God and Country,
Harl “Butch” Ray, national chaplain
Sons of The American Legion