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THE FOUR IMMORTAL CHAPLAINS - by Michael C. Gabriele
SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, FOUR U.S. ARMY CHAPLAINS MADE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE AT SEA
In the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943, the USAT Dorchester was steaming across frigid, U-boat-infested waters in the North Atlantic. Suddenly, a German torpedo struck near the engine room, triggering a massive explosion. The transport vessel, which was carrying more than 900 passengers bound for a U.S. Army base in Greenland, capsized and sank in less than 20 minutes.
Among those on board were four Army chaplains, each with the rank of first lieutenant: Father John P. Washington; Rabbi Alexander D.
Goode; Rev. Clark V. Poling, a Reformed minister; and Rev. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister. Just hours before the attack, Father Washington had celebrated a Mass that was attended by men of many faiths.
As the ship sank, the chaplains calmly ministered to the panic-stricken and wounded, assisting soldiers and others boarding lifeboats. Many survivors later testified to their bravery.
“I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” recalled Pfc. William B. Bednar. “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”
Others reported seeing the chaplains handing out life preservers until there were no more to give — including their own. One eyewitness, John Ladd, said, “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.” Survivors on rafts were awestruck as they caught a final glimpse of the courageous quartet, who came to be known as “The Four Chaplains,” standing together on the slanted deck, arms locked and singing hymns as the ship slipped beneath the waves. They were among more than 670 passengers who died at sea that day. In the 75 years since their death, and still today, there have been many dedicated to commemorating the chaplains’ sacrifice and keeping their story alive.
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