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Four Chaplains

February 7, 2021

US Postage Stamp: The Immortal Chaplains (1948), Author Bureau of Printing and Engraving, Source US Post Office (PD as work product of federal govt.)

On the night of February 3, 1943 the Allied troop transport SS Dorchester was struck by a torpedo from a Nazi submarine [1].  The ship sank in 27 minutes.  Coast Guard escort ships, Comanche and Escanaba, were able to rescue only 231 of 904 servicemen from the icy waters.

Amid the chaos of the scene aboard, four chaplains calmed sailors and distributed life jackets.  The men were Lt. Alexander Goode, Jewish; Lt. George Fox, Methodist; Lt. Clark Poling, Dutch Reformed; and Lt. John Washington, Roman Catholic.  When life jackets ran out, the chaplains gave away their own.

As the Dorchester went down, survivors could see the four chaplains, arms linked and heads bowed in prayer [2A].  Survivor Grady Clark wrote [2B]:

“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back.  The flares had lighted everything.  The bow came up high and she slid under.  The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men.  They had done everything they could.  I did not see them again.  They themselves did not have a chance without life jackets.”

In 1998, Congress honored their sacrifice by designating February 3 as “Four Chaplains Day”.

[1]  Wikipedia, “SS Dorchester”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Dorchester.

[2A and 2B]  “Miracles in American History, Volume 2” by Susie Federer (2019).

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15 Comments
  1. What a beautiful example for us all in today’s torn-apart world! Godly neighbourliness as fleshed out by Messiah. Thanks Anna for this touching bit of history.

  2. Talk about when the rubber meets the road. Thank you for sharing this Anna. Blessings!

  3. Just one more act of selflessness that should be a part of the curriculum about our involvement in the war — I actually watched The Greyhound this past weekend— featuring Tom Hanks as the captain of this naval escort ship — it was a US escort ship charged with protecting those supply ships crossing the Atlantic— the hundreds of ships would have bomber planes assistance for only so long then the “armada” would have to go it alone due to the inability of flying that far with what fuel they could hold— it was a dangerous corridor during the crossing because this was the area that the German U boats lurked knowing the ships were most vulnerable and thus worked to pick off the ships one by one— it was the task of ships such as the greyhound to find them, engage them and hope they could get to them first!

    The actual ship The greyhound and this particular story are fictional but they are based on actual events and acts during the Atlantic crossings.

    A great film of courage, determination and again, selflessness.

  4. I had an uncle who told similar stories from his ship sunk by a Japanese sub. Miraculous things and heroes who sacrificed. They floated 20+ days before being rescued. Many died in the rafts. He died a couple years ago.

  5. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”. John 15:13

    Selfless love and compassion should be evident in all that we do for Christ.

  6. Allan Halton permalink

    It doesn’t look like they were having an ecumenical debate.

  7. theburningheart permalink

    May we all learn to live, and die, with dignity, and selflessness, as these chaplains did.

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