On this Memorial Day when the nation pauses to pay respect to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice as members of one of the branches of our military, a now largely forgotten story from World War II seems especially fitting.
It is the story of four Army chaplains, all from different faiths, who drowned at sea so that others might live.
The Dorchester was a civilian liner converted for military service. It sailed from New York on Jan. 23, 1943. On board were some 900 military personnel, plus four chaplains.
Reform Rabbi Alexander Goode was a native of Brooklyn, NY. He had been on active duty for only six months. George Fox was the oldest of eight children from Lewistown, PA. He was a Methodist. Clark Poling was from Columbus, OH, a graduate of Yale and a member of the Reformed Church in America. His father served as a chaplain in WW I. John Washington, a native of Newark, NJ, was a Catholic priest.
The four met at the Army Chaplains School at Harvard in 1942.
The Dorchester was in a three boat convoy headed for Greenland. Three Coast Guard ships were with the convoy. But just after midnight on Feb. 3, 1943 a German submarine patrolling the shipping lanes of the north Atlantic torpedoed the Dorchester and panic set in, especially among troops deep in the ship’s hold.
The chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation. As life jackets were handed out, supply ran out before each soldier had one. Each chaplain gave their own life jacket to someone else. They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.
Only 230 of the 904 on board were rescued. Many died from hypothermia as the water temperature was only 34 degrees. The bravery and actions of the chaplains was recognized when each was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart.
This remembrance seems particularly fitting in these times. These four chaplains put service to mankind above their own well being. Such action is in stark contrast to what we see in Washington every day when devotion only to one’s self and their own political future is so often on display.
Which is why GOP “leaders” Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are apparently afraid of the truth concerning the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Rather than answer questions such as who planned this riot, who funded it, how long had plans been made, or did any current members of Congress have anything to do with aiding and abetting those who stormed the building, they are fearful of any info that might cast a bad light on the Republican party or former President Donald Trump.
While these four chaplains showed us the best that this country has to offer, we are now in a period where the opposite is the order of the day.
Thousands will visit the graves of fallen service men and women this Memorial Day and offer up prayers for them and this country. We would also be wise to offer up prayers for those in Congress and ask that they show the same sense of duty as George Fox, Alexander Goode, John Washington and Clark Poling.