Today (February 3) is the anniversary of the sinking of the troop transport Dorchester in 1943 in the ongoing battle of the Atlantic. Four chaplains were on board: George Fox (Methodist), John Washington (Roman Catholic), Alexander Goode (Jewish) and Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed). All four were Army lieutenants. Torpedoes hit the Dorchester just after midnight on February 3, 1943 and the ship would sink 23 minutes later. The chaplains immediately began to pray with frightened Soldiers, offer words of encouragement, and provide leadership on deck to those abandoning ship. At one point, they began to assist with the distribution of life vests to those without them. When the supply of vests was exhausted, the chaplains removed their own vests and gave them to Soldiers in need. As the ship sank, survivors could see the four chaplains standing on the deck, their arms linked and their voices lifted in prayer. Of the 902 souls on board, 672 died that night – including 4 chaplains. Those who survived praised the chaplains’ demonstration of courage and faith. The nation hailed them as heroes.
With most of the news stories about chaplains these days concerning arguments about personal rights and the place of religion in society, I think it’s good to remember Fox, Washington, Goode and Poling standing arm-in-arm in the service of their faith and their troops.
Many chaplains are still following the example of Fox, Goode, Poling and Washington today.
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