Today marks the 79th anniversary of the sinking of the United States Army Transport Dorchester and the selfless acts of four Army chaplains aboard. The Dorchester tragically sunk on Feb. 3, 1943, while crossing the North Atlantic, transporting troops to an American base in Greenland. A German U-boat fired a torpedo that struck the Dorchester, killing 672 of the 902 officers and enlisted men, merchant seamen and civilian workers aboard. Many of those survivors owe their lives to the courage and leadership exhibited by four chaplains of different faiths, who, in sacrificing their lives, created a unique legacy of brotherhood.
As soldiers rushed to lifeboats, Reverend George Fox (Methodist), Jewish Rabbi Alexander Goode, Reverend Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Father John Washington (Roman Catholic) comforted the wounded and directed others to safety. One survivor watched the chaplains distribute life jackets, and when they ran out, they removed theirs and gave them to four young men.
As the Dorchester sank, the chaplains were seen linked arm in arm, praying. That night the four chaplains passed life’s ultimate test. In doing so, they became an enduring example of extraordinary faith, courage and selflessness.
The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously December 19, 1944, to the next of kin in a ceremony at the post chapel at Fort Myer, VA. A one-time only posthumous Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and awarded by President Eisenhower on January 18, 1961. The special medal was intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.
American Legion posts nationwide remember Four Chaplains Day with memorial services that pay tribute to the courageous chaplains and the brave young men who lost their lives on that fateful night. Read more about it at Chaplain Corps History: The Four Chaplains | Article | The United States Army.