WASHINGTON, DC – “If you believe in anything, believe in these four guys and the ultimate sacrifices they made for their country. They died saving the lives of hapless servicemen aboard a sinking troop carrier attacked at sea on February 3, 1943. They are the Four Chaplains and on Wednesday, February 3, a date set aside by Congress in their honor, we can pay homage to their selfless deed privately with a simple prayer of remembrance or publicly at multi-faith memorial services,” explains Rebecca Weber, CEO of the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC).
The United States Army Transport SS Dorchester was part of a convoy that departed New York City on January 23, 1943 carrying war materials and, more important, a holdful of troops. World War II was well underway and the thought of engaging in the fight must have been daunting for the 904 servicemen on board, not to mention that the convoy was on high alert on the lookout for Nazi submarines out hunting in wolf packs.
The convoy was in the North Atlantic, off the coast of Newfoundland. Because of the danger of a surprise attack, the GIs were ordered to sleep in their uniforms and life jackets. But many of them disobeyed that command, making themselves more comfortable by removing their bulky flotation devices and were caught unprepared when their ship was attacked in the middle of the night.
A torpedo fired by the German submarine U-223 hit its target and, as one report put it: “four Army chaplains brought hope in despair and light in darkness: Lt. George L. Fox [Methodist], Lt. Alexander D. Goode [Jewish], Lt. John P. Washington [Roman Catholic] and Lt. Clark V. Poling [Dutch Reformed]. As the ship sank and life jackets ran out, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men. Men in nearby rafts saw the chaplains, arms linked and braced against the slanting deck, praying aloud. That night, they became an enduring example of extraordinary faith, courage and selflessness.”
The attack on the Dorchester resulted in what has been called, “the worst single loss of American personnel in any American convoy during the war.”
Four Chaplains Day is an official commemoration sanctioned by Congress in 1988 when the legislative branch officially established the observance. Flags are flown at half-mast and ceremonies are held throughout the nation, most notably at the more than 1,663 American Legion posts nationwide. Visit the Legion’s Four Chaplains 2021 Observance website for more information.