The Sacrifice of the Four Chaplains

The US Army Transport Dorchester was sunk 67 years ago on 3 February 1943.  It was one of three ships in a convoy taking American troops across the Atlantic, and would become famous not because it was targeted by German submarines, as many ships were; nor did it become famous for the loss of life, as other events eclipsed the dead and wounded.

The USAT Dorchester became famous for the Four Chaplains.

Four Army chaplains were on board, along with nearly 900 other men: Lt. George Fox, a Methodist; Lt. Alexander Goode, a Jewish Rabbi; Lt. John Washington, a Roman Catholic Priest; and Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister. They became beacons of calm as the ship sank, and they ultimately gave up their life jackets and even cold weather gear to other Soldiers.  As described by Dr. John Brinsfield, the Chaplain Corps historian at the Army Chaplain School, Ft. Jackson, South Carolina:

When giving their life jackets, Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew; Father Washington did not call out for a Catholic; nor did Fox or Poling call out for a Protestant. They simply gave their life jackets to the next man in line. One survivor would later call it “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”

Only 230 men would survive the Dorchester‘s sinking.

Brinsfield’s article contains an interesting follow-up not routinely included in the oft-repeated story of the Four Chaplains:

Congress wished to confer the Medal of Honor but was blocked by the stringent requirements which required heroism performed under fire. So a posthumous Special Medal for Heroism, The Four Chaplains’ Medal, was authorized by Congress and awarded by the President on January 18, 1961. It was never before given and will never to be given again.

The story of the Four Chaplains has become a symbol of the “serve all” and interfaith roles of the US military Chaplaincy.  There is now a Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation that seeks to further the cause of “unity without uniformity,” a unique way of explaining the position of faith-specific Chaplains in an interfaith community.  The Air Force also annually gives out a “Spirit of the Four Chaplains Award” that

recognizes sacrificial service and respect for religious diversity

Via the Army Chaplaincy blog.