The Four Chaplains were four World War II chaplains who died while rescuing civilians and military personnel as the troopship SS Dorchester sank on February 3, 1943.
“The Four Chaplains”, also referred to as the “Immortal Chaplains” or the “Dorchester Chaplains,” were four World War II chaplains who died while rescuing civilians and military personnel as the troopship SS Dorchester sank on February 3, 1943, after being torpedoed by a German submarine.
The SS Dorchester was a civilian passenger liner converted for military service in World War II as a troop transport. The ship sailed from New York on Jan. 23, 1943, en route to Greenland, carrying about 900 passengers, as part of a convoy of three ships escorted by the Coast Guard. During the early morning hours of February 3, the vessel was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 off Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. The four chaplains helped other soldiers board lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out, according to first-hand accounts from survivors. The chaplains joined arms, said prayers, and sang hymns as they went down with the ship.
The news of the chaplains’ story spread quickly at the time, with many memorials and tributes in the media. Each of the four chaplains was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart. The chaplains were nominated for the Medal of Honor but were ineligible as they had not engaged in combat with the enemy. Instead, Congress created a medal for them, with the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.
The new chaplains all held the rank of first lieutenant. They included Methodist minister the Reverend George L. Fox, Reform Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Catholic priest Father John P. Washington, and (Dutch) Reformed Church in America minister the Reverend Clark V. Poling. The four met at the Army Chaplains School at Harvard University, where they prepared for assignments in the European theater, sailing onboard the Dorchester on the way to report to their overseas posts. Unfortunately, of the 902 young men on board the ship, only 230 survived. Many of them owed their lives to the efforts of the four selfless chaplains.
Congress established February 3, as Four Chaplains Day in 1988. This day is observed across the country with official proclamations and, sometimes, flags flying at half-mast.
Article by: Michael Embrey, DeKalb American Legion Historian/PR.