The U.S.S. Dorchester, struck by a torpedo, sank 67 years ago. I read in our local paper that our county’s American Legion Posts were commemorated the selfless act and sacrifice of four armed forced chaplains during World War II. They are honoring a story we all should not forget.
Often just called the four chaplains, something inside me drove me to find their real names:
Reverend George L. Fox, age 42 – Methodist
Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, age 32 – Jewish
Priest john R. Washington, age 34 – Catholic
Reverend Clark V. Poling, age 32 – Reformed Church in America
Briefly the story goes like this:
The four were clergy serving the U.S. Army aboard the U.S. Army Transport Dorchester, when it was torpedoed with 900 men on board. The four managed to reach the deck quickly and worked to calm the frenzied soldiers as they passed out life vests. However, the ship sank quickly, the stock of life vests ran out—and the four chaplains handed over their own vests to save lives. They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.
“Witnesses of that terrible night remember hearing the four men offer prayers for the dying and encouragement for those who would live,” says Wyatt R. Fox, son of Reverend Fox.
One witness, Private William B. Bednar, found himself floating in oil-smeared water surrounded by dead bodies and debris. “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” Bednar recalls. “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”
One of the survivors said, “It was the finest thing I have ever seen this side of heaven.”
Of the many heroic incidents of World War II, perhaps none stirred the nation more deeply than the story of these four men of God whose courageous efforts were credited with the saving of more than 200 lives.
These four men’s hearts, minds, and actions demonstrated God’s unconditional love, no matter race, gender or beliefs. They were united in knowing eternity existed, in knowing hope and encouragement provided strength to endure even the hardest of situations and in having faith in Someone beyond their comprehension and individual religious beliefs.
The story of the four chaplains reflects God’s selfless sacrifice in His son Jesus.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11 (NIV)
I am not sure if I would have the courage to do as they did. I hope none of us ever have to face that type of situation.
Yet each day our actions, words, and simple acts of kindness can reach beyond our differences and provide encouragement to others. Each of us are capable to live lives that point to God. This is a story I soon won’t forget.