During the first Sunday in February, American Legion Posts paused to remember The Four Chaplains of World War Two. This is known as Four Chaplains Sunday. Often American Legion Posts will host a Four Chaplains-Back To God Ceremony, where The Four Chaplains are honored and Americans are encouraged to pray, read the Bible and attend their Church, as America is “One Nation Under God.”
The Four Chaplains: George L. Fox (Methodist); Alexander D. Goode (Jewish); Clark V. Poling (Reformed Church); and John P. Washington (Roman Catholic) and 902 soldiers and sailors were on the United States Army Transport DORCHESTER, which sailed from New York Harbor bound for United States bases in Greenland on January 23, 1943. The USAT DORCHESTER was an old coastal steamer, that could do only 10 knots due to the frigid cold North Atlantic with gale force winds and ice covering the decks of the DORCHESTER.
The Four Chaplains had met at the United States Army Chaplain School, now they ministered to seasick soldiers on the DORCHESTER, who were green with nausea. The Chaplains spoke and prayed with the soldiers, often soothing apprehensions and offering encouragement, even telling jokes. The DORCHESTER slowly reached an area of the North Atlantic known as Torpedo Junction, as German U-boats often waited to attack allied convoys. Soldiers were ordered to sleep below decks wearing their winter coats and to have their life jackets close by. Due to the heat below decks, many soldiers slept only in their underwear.
During the evening hours of February 3, 1943, the Coast Guard Cutter TAMPA picked up enemy U-boats on sonar near the convoy, just about 150 miles off the Greenland coast. Just after midnight a torpedo fired by an enemy submarine struck the boiler room of the DORCHESTER. Lights below decks went out. Clouds of boiling steam and suffocating ammonia gas filled the troop compartments. Many soldiers died instantly or were trapped below decks. Some stumbled their way topside to the decks. Overcrowded lifeboats capsized. empty rafts drifted away and soldiers were frozen with fear.
The Four Chaplains took action. Each Chaplain calmed freezing and frightened soldiers. The Chaplains handed out life jackets from a storage locker. The Chaplains guided soldiers who refused to let go of the deck railings. The Four Chaplains gave their own life jackets to soldiers who had none. The Chaplains guided soldiers into the lifeboats and gave their own lifeboat stations to soldiers. The Four Chaplains prayed and sang hymns of praise. Survivors in lifeboats state when last seen on the slanting deck The Four Chaplains linked their arms, bowed their heads and each prayed to their One God. One surviving soldier commented about observing The Four Chaplains, “This was the finest thing you could see, this side of Heaven.” For information about The Four Chaplains go to www.fourchaplains.org. The Friends of The Four Chaplains is located at the former Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard.
To honor The Four Chaplains individuals, families and groups can help homeless veterans or volunteer at the Voluntary Service of the nearest VA medical center. Please donate to American Legion charities such as Operation Comfort Warriors, the Legacy Scholarship Fund or the National Emergency Fund (NEF). All are American Legion charities, with no administrative costs, assists our wounded, our veterans, the families of veterans and service members killed in action. Or donate to the Friends of the Chapel of Four Chaplains, Inc.
In Andrews, South Carolina a group of veterans are honoring their fellow comrades by erecting the Andrews Veterans Monument Park, which is a partnership between the Andrews Veterans Association and American Legion Post 69. Donations can be sent to The Andrews Veterans Monument Park, Post Office Box 584, Andrews, SC 29510. The chairman of the Andrews Veterans Monument Park is Major Teon Singletary, who can be contacted at (843)344-5988.
For God & Country,
Greg Bennett, Past Commander
American Legion Post 69