Update: A Navy Chaplain spoke at a Virginia church service noting
“These chaplains were united in their belief that with God all things are possible,” and they served as an enduring witness to “the power of God to transcend chaos and calamity and produce in us the strength to do all things.”
The story of the four chaplains inspired three Colorado Springs-area military chaplains.
The four chaplains were Protestants George Fox and Clark Poling; Catholic priest John Washington; and a Jewish rabbi, Alexander Goode. The chaplains famously gave up their own life vests and sank with the ship, arm in arm without regard to any person’s particular religious faith.
The Rev Robert Phillips of Peoria, IL, remembered the chaplains at the end of his service and remarked on the impact the chaplains had on the military as a whole:
[Originally,] If you were Protestant, you were never around a priest. If you were Jewish, you never saw a Protestant pastor, and all of a sudden you could have a Jew or a Catholic who has a Baptist as their chaplain. But [then] a Baptist who would make sure that the Catholic would have access to Mass and the Jew would have what they need for Yom Kippur, and the like. And that began a huge attitude shift in our country…
Rev Phillips saw this play out in person, after 30 years as a military chaplain:
“Whenever a young sailor or Marine would come into my office as a chaplain, I didn’t ask ‘Well what’s your religion?’ I just said ‘What’s the problem?’ That’s why over 90 percent of the service members that military chaplains see during a week are not people they’ll see in a church service, or at synagogue, or at Mass on Sundays or on the weekends. But rather they come in — they’ve got problems with money, problems at work, relationship problems.”
Military chaplains do an admirable job of serving the needs of all US troops, wherever they may be and whatever they may believe. In many regards, the military has actually led society in the value it has placed on the protection of religious freedom.