Courtesy photo A Catholic priest, two protestant ministers, and a Jewish Rabbi perished in the sinking of the Dorchester. Reverend Fox was a Methodist Minister; Reverend Poling was a Dutch Reformed Minister; Father Washington was a Catholic Priest; and Rabbi Goode was Jewish.
published: Sunday, January 30, 2011
Navy Memorial teams with Library of Congress to commemorate the legendary 'Four Chaplains'
Special to the News-Sun
As the 68th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the U.S. Army Transport ship Dorchester in World War II, is approaching, the United States Navy Memorial and the Library of Congress's Veterans History Project are planning a commemorative event to honor the "Four Chaplains" who proved themselves as spiritual leaders and heroes.
These four men, military spiritual leaders from different denominations, sacrificed their own lives to save others during the fatal German U-Boat attack. Their story is scheduled to be retold by keynote speaker, former Navy chaplain Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff, from 12-1 p.m. Thursday at the U.S. Navy Memorial at 701 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. 123, Washington DC.
Other Four Chaplains Memorials
An interfaith memorial chapel was dedicated in February 1951 in Philadelphia in memory of the Four Chaplains, and hence is called the Chapel of the Four Chaplains. Mounted in the wall is a stained glass depicting the sinking of the Dorchester. The chapel is currently at the old Philadelphia Navy Yard.
Other stained glass windows depicting the sinking of the USAT Dorchester are at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy Chaplain Corps Classroom in Fort Bliss, Texas; the Chapel of Immortal Chaplains at Fort Snelling, St. Paul, Minn.; the Base Family Housing, U.S. Military Academy at West Point; and in the A-Ring, 3rd Floor Hall of Heroes in the Pentagon.
The Four Chaplains
Chaplain George L Fox was the oldest of the four chaplains aboard the Dorchester. He was called the "Little Minister" as he only stood about five and half feet. In 1917, he lied about his age to enlist in the Marines as a medic. At the end of World War I, he returned home and returned to school to become an accountant. Unfulfilled, he returned to school to become a Methodist minister. When war broke out again, he told his wife he needed to re-enlist. He knew what the boys were about to face and wanted to be able to help them. He enlisted in World War II on Aug. 8, 1942.
A high school scholar, Alexander Goode also medaled in track and swimming. His goal was to follow his father and become a Rabbi. Goode married his childhood sweetheart. Although he was assigned to a synagogue as a Rabbi, he wanted to do more. He entered John Hopkins University and received his medical degree. He would now know better how to heal a man's soul and his body, as well. His enlistment date is recorded as Aug. 9, 1942.
Johnny Washington, from Newark, N.J., was born into a large Irish family. His love of music allowed him a chair in the church choir. He was a scrappy kid and a member of the South 12th Street Gang when he received the call to the priesthood. He asked to be sent back to his old neighborhood where he understood the kids there. He returned as the parish priest, played ball in the streets with the youngsters, organized youth baseball teams. On May 9, 1942, when some of the boys left to join the Army, Father Johnny enlisted along side them.
The youngest of the Four Chaplains, Clark Poling was the seventh generation in an unbroken line of Dutch Reform ministers. His enlistment date is June 10, 1942. Before leaving for Greenland, young Clark told his father, "Dad, don't pray for my safe return, just pray that I shall do my duty and something more, pray that I shall never be a coward. Pray that I shall have the strength, courage, and understanding of men, and especially pray that I shall be patient. Oh, Dad, just pray that I shall be adequate."
The USAT Dorchester
The bell on the USAT Dorchester rang twice at 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1943, never to be heard again. The former luxury coastal steamship turned troopship was torpedoed by an enemy submarine in an area of the Northern Atlantic Sea known as Torpedo Junction, sinking in under 15 minutes. Rescue began over an hour later and lasted more than 12 hours. Statistics show that the frigid waters can take the life of an individual in under three minutes.
The ship, carrying 902 servicemen, merchant seamen, and civilian workers, bound for Greenland, had been used up and down the Eastern Seacoast of the United States, was 368-by-52 foot, and only had a 16-foot draft, suitable for the coast, but not designed for deep open waters. She was being used to transport soldiers to Greenland during the height of World War II.
The weather in the North Atlantic in February can be brutal, with gale force winds. The waters were treacherous not just due to the weather, but the U-boats known for patrolling those waters. Ice began to build on the decks, slowing the old ship to just ten knots.
The Dorchester was one of three ships in the SG-19 convoy moving across the icy Northern Atlantic waters from Newfoundland toward an American base in Greenland. U.S. Coast Guard Cutters, Tampa, Escanaba, and the Comanche escorted the Dorchester and two other ships.
Many of the military personnel and civilians aboard were seasick from the brutal trip. The four Army chaplains among the troops were doing their best to soothe the ailing soldiers and, offering encouragement, easing apprehensions, sharing stories. Their efforts, concern, and camaraderie with the soldiers and civilians and with each other brought solace to those onboard.
With concern of enemy submarines reported by the Tampa, with its sonar, the Dorchester's captain, Hans J. Danielsen, cautiously order the men to sleep in their clothing, with lifejackets close at hand as they neared the coast of Greenland. The ship was only 150 miles from their destined port, just after midnight when a submarine fired a torpedo, striking the starboard side of the Dorchester, exploding in the boiler room, destroying the main electric supply, releasing clouds of suffocating steam and ammonia gas.
Many on board died instantly, while some were trapped below deck. Others, startled, awakened from their bunks, made their way to the decks of the already listing vessel. The ship took on water rapidly through the massive breach. The added weight of ice on the decks hastened the ship's sinking.
The horror of the night continued with overcrowded lifeboats capsized. Life rafts drifted away in the huge waves before anyone could reach them. Frozen in fear, men clung to the side rails, unable to will themselves to let go and plunge into the dark, frigid, churning waters far below.
The USCG Comanche saw the flash of an explosion and left the convoy to return to give aid, rescuing 97 survivors. The USCG Escanaba circled the sinking Dorchester, and rescued an additional 132 survivors. The third U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the Tampa, continued on to Greenland, providing safe passage for the two other vessels.
Survivors gave testimony that the only fragment of hope came from the four Army chaplains who were able to calmly guide men to their lifeboat stations. They opened a storage locker for lifejackets and began to hand them out. One soldier tried to return to his cabin to retrieve is gloves. One of the chaplains stopped him and told the soldier he could have one of his pair of gloves. The soldier, a survivor of the sinking, realized later that the chaplain did not have two pair of gloves.
The chaplains coaxed men to go over the side of the ship to the safety of the lifeboats. When the supply of lifejackets was exhausted, it was reported by some of the survivors; each chaplain removed their own lifejacket and handed it to the next person in line, essentially giving away their only means of saving themselves in order to save others.
The chaplains prayed with the soldiers. The four chaplains linked their arms as the ship's slant became severe. With their heads bowed in prayer, arms linked, they sank beneath the waves. Two Protestant chaplains, one Catholic, and one Rabbi, in one heroic act saved the lives of dozens of young soldiers. The story of the Sinking of the Dorchester and the Four Chaplains represents interfaith cooperation and selfish service.
Those chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Reformed.
Of the 230 survivors, two lived for a time in Lake Placid - Edward J. Dionne and Dan O'Keefe.
The four chaplains showed unity in interfaith. They each were from different cities and represented four different faiths. Yet, they worked together in harmony and unity to help save as many lives that cold early morning in the North Atlantic. Unity without uniformity is the basic underlying belief of all of those who serve in the United States Armed Services.
The late Dan O'Keefe, a former Lake Placid resident, and a survivor of the Dorchester, pulled his evening watch and was long overdue to be relieved of duty. Had he been relieved of duty sooner, he would have been in his cabin below the waterline at the time of the explosion, and would have perished along with the others in the area of his cabin.
O'Keefe was active with the local veteran activities and participated in the patriotic and veterans events. O'Keefe served as vice president of St. Regis paper company, now known as Georgia Pacific.
Ed Dionne, father of Joseph Dionne, retired county veteran services officer, often told that he survived the icy cold waters only because he was covered in oil, which served to insulate him from the cold. Dionne, raised in Wisconsin, was an avid swimmer in high school sports. The Escanaba rescued Dionne from the icy waters after an extended time in the water. Partially frozen, Dionne spent several months in the military hospitals in Greenland and Washington, D.C., learning to walk again.
Upon moving to Lake Placid with his family, Dionne set up an accounting practice. He served as District 8 commander of the American Legion, state commander of the 40 et 8, was quartermaster for Post 25, a member of Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, and on the executive board of AARC. He believed in serving his fellow comrades with unity without uniformity.
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