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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Service Before Self: The Four Chaplains

Service Before Self: The Four Chaplains



It was 12:55 a.m. on February 3, 1943 when four Army Chaplains aboard the USAT Dorchester demonstrated what service before self truly means.  As we approach the 72nd anniversary of their sacrifice I thought it might be a good idea to share the story.

On January 23, 1943, The USAT Dorchester, an Army transport ship, left New York Harbor with 904 aboard.  The ship was destine for Greenland.  

Wednesday February 3, 1943 began as a quiet day on the Dorchester. Nothing seemed amiss, the ship was only 150 miles off the coast of Greenland.  But that all changed at 12:55 am,  when a torpedo from the German U-Boat 233 struck the ship.  Six hundred and five men were lost.  This was the worse single loss of American personnel of any American convoy during World War II. Two hundred and twenty nine survivors were rescued by U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Escanaba and Comanche.

During the twenty minutes it took for the Dorchester to sink, the four Chaplains aboard exhibited extraordinary courage and service.  They were Reverend George Fox  (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander Goode (Jewish), Reverend George Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Father John Washington (Roman Catholic).  The four were Army Chaplain Lieutenants who met a few months earlier while attending the Army Chaplains School at Harvard University and are now remembered as the Immortal Chaplains. .

The torpedo severely damaged the transport causing the boiler room to lose power.  There was inadequate steam to sound the signal to abandon ship and the crew could not send a distress signal.

In the twenty minutes following the strike the Chaplains worked together to calm the crew, comfort the injured, direct others to safety and distribute life jackets.  When they ran out of life jackets to distribute they removed their own and gave them to crew members. As the ship sunk the four Chaplains stood arm in arm praying.

The United States Congress attempted to posthumously award the Chaplains the Medal of Honor. But because of the stringent requirements that the heroism be performed under fire the attempt was blocked.  In 1961 Congress created the Four Chaplains Medal with the intent that it carry the same weight and importance of the Medal of Honor.  These four Chaplains demonstrated "service before self in the time of crisis."    Let's not forget the courage displayed as they served their fellow man.

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