(The Four Chaplains Stained Glass Window at the Carlisle Barracks Chapel, US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA)
On 4 February 1943, running as part of a three ship convoy in the north Atlantic between Newfoundland and Greenland, the US Army Transport Ship (USAT) Dorchester (SC-290583) was carrying 902 uniformed servicemen, merchant seaman, and civilian personnel. 150 miles from port in Greenland, it was identified by the u-boat designated Kriegsmarine U2. Kriegsmarine U2 targeted The Dorchester, fired, and struck her a fatal blow below the waterline. Among the 902 men on The Dorchester were four US Army chaplains, one rabbi, one Catholic priest, and two Protestant ministers. Rabbi (LT) Alexander Goode, Methodist Minister (LT) George Fox, Father (LT) John Washington, and Dutch Reformed Minister (LT) Clark Poling immediately began to move amongst the crew and the transported personnel to administer whatever aid they could. The four chaplains handed off not only life vests, but their own survival gear as well.
Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, reeling from the cold, headed back towards his cabin. “Where are you going'” a voice of calm in the sea of distressed asked’ “To get my gloves,” Mahoney replied. “Here, take these,” said Rabbi Goode as he handed a pair of gloves to the young officer. “I can’t take those gloves,” Mahoney replied. “Never mind,” the Rabbi responded. “I have two pairs.” It was only long after that Mahoney realized that the chaplain never intended to leave the ship.
Once topside, the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. It was then that Engineer Grady Clark witnessed an astonishing sight. When there were no more lifejackets in the storage room, the chaplains simultaneously removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men. When giving their life jackets, Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew; Father Washington did not call out for a Catholic; nor did Fox or Poling call out for a Protestant. They simply gave their life jackets to the next man in line. One survivor would later call it “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”
As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains — arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers and singing hymns.
Although the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were later awarded posthumously Congress wished to confer the Medal of Honor but was blocked by the stringent requirements which required heroism performed under fire. So a posthumous Special Medal for Heroism, The Four Chaplains’ Medal, was authorized by Congress and awarded by the President on January 18, 1961.
It was never given before and will never be given again.
This is a short documentary on the Four Chaplains produced by the US Army Chaplain Center and School:
Here is part of the 2014 memorial service commemorating the Four Chaplains:
So, Mr. President, and all your devoutly religious supporters, were the Four Chaplains suckers and losers?
The simple and honest answer is no, no they were not. They were heroes who embodied the best aspects and highest aspirations of the faiths that their ordinations were in, of the the US Army, of the US Army Chaplains Corps, and of Americans!