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  • Bobby Thornton

Four Chaplains Ceremony

On Feb. 3, 1943, the troopship USAT Dorchester was hit by an enemy torpedo and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic. Of the 902 young men on board, only 230 survived, and they owed their lives to the courage and leadership exhibited by the heroic Four Chaplains, who, in sacrificing their lives, left a unique legacy of brotherhood.

This service is a tribute to those courageous chaplains and the 672 brave young men who lost their lives on the fateful night. Further, this ceremony honors all those who have served, and whose courage and faith have sustained our country.

We have a responsibility to teach our children and youth about these great events and great sacrifices, for they are our future. They must know and understand what selfless service on behalf of others can accomplish.

At Post 79's February Meeting, Chaplain Albert Weeks presented a program to honor the memory of the four Chaplains.


God of our fathers and our God, we thank you for the unity that the Dorchester chaplains, these four men of God, demonstrated in life and in death.

Unity that is not uniformity.

Unity that strengthens within each of us every worthy loyalty of faith and practice.

Unity that transcends all our differences and makes us one in loyalty to our country and our fellowmen, and to You, our God.

Grant us now Your abiding presence, and may we remain faithful to the spirit of our Four Chaplains who, having learned to live and serve together, in death were not divided. Amen.

At 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1943, the bell on USAT Dorchester rang twice and never was sounded again. The troopship was torpedoed by an enemy submarine, and 672 young men died as it sank to the bottom. Among them were four men of God: a rabbi, a Roman Catholic priest, a Methodist minister, and a Dutch Reformed minister. All were Army chaplains.

These four chaplains gave their life jackets to save four soldiers and, in so doing, gave up their only means of survival. They were last seen on the deck of the Dorchester with their arms linked and their heads bowed in prayer as they went to their watery graves in the North Atlantic. Each chaplain received the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross posthumously, and in 1960, a special Medal for Heroism was presented to their next of kin – an award intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.

At this time, a candle will be lit for each of the Four Chaplains:

“I light this candle in memory of Chaplain George L. Fox …”

George Fox was the oldest of the Four Chaplains. In Vermont, he was called “the little minister,” because he was 5’7”. Lying about his age in 1917, he enlisted in the Army as a medical corps assistant. He received the Silver Star for rescuing a wounded soldier from a battlefield filled with poison gas, although he wore no gas mask himself, and the Croix de Guerre for outstanding bravery in an artillery barrage that left him with a broken spine. After the war, he became a successful accountant. He was happily married with two children when he heard God’s call to the ministry. Fox went back to school and later was ordained as a Methodist minister. When war came, he once again enlisted, telling his wife, “I’ve got to go. I know from experience what our boys are about to face. They need me.” Before he boarded Dorchester; he wrote a letter to his daughter. “I want you to know,” he wrote, “how proud I am that your marks in school are so high – but always remember that kindness and charity and courtesy are much more important.”

“I light this candle in memory of Chaplain Alexander D. Goode …”

Growing up in Washington, D.C., Alexander Goode was an outstanding athlete and scholar. Following in his father’s footsteps, this young man – known for his laughter and love of life – became a rabbi. Even as he pursued his studies, he found time to serve in the National Guard. The return of the body of the Unknown Soldier to Arlington National Cemetery had a profound effect on Goode. He attended the ceremonies, choosing to walk the 15 miles there and 15 miles back rather than take a car or a bus because he thought it showed more respect. Goode married his childhood sweetheart and they had a daughter. He was serving a synagogue in York, Pa., when World War II broke out. One day, Mrs. Goode received a telegram from her husband that read, “Having a wonderful experience,” and she knew that her husband had found companions with whom he could share his faith and good humor.

“I light this candle in memory of Chaplain Clark V. Poling …”

Clark Poling was the youngest of the Four Chaplains and the seventh generation in an unbroken line of ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church. When World War II broke out, he was anxious to go, but not as a chaplain. “I’m not going

to hide behind the church in some safe office out of the firing line,” he told his father. The elder Poling replied, “Don’t you know that chaplains have the highest mortality rate of all? As a chaplain you’ll have the best chance in the world to be killed. You just can’t carry a gun to kill anyone yourself.” So the young man left his pastorate in Schenectady, N.Y., and became an Army chaplain. Just before he sailed; Poling asked his father to pray for him – “not for my safe return. That wouldn’t be fair. Just pray that I shall do my duty ... and have the strength, courage, and understanding of men. Just pray that I shall be adequate.” Indeed, he taught his men to not harbor personal hatred for the Germans and the Japanese. Hate the system that made your brother evil, he said. It is the system we must destroy.

“I light this candle in memory of Chaplain John P. Washington …”

John Washington grew up in the toughest section of Newark, N.J., poor, scrappy and determined. One of nine children born to an Irish immigrant family, he was blessed with a sunny disposition and a love for music. He also loved a good fight and was a member of the South 12th Street gang when he was called to the priesthood. He played ball with the boys of the parish, organized sports teams and, when the war broke out, went with his “boys” into the Army. Raised in song and prayer to comfort those around him, Washington’s beautiful voice could be heard above the cries of the dying in his final moments on Feb. 3, 1943.


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