Sunday, February 3, 2013

Four Chaplains


For John, BLUFLike today's second reading, "faith, hope and love, and the greaest of these is love".

From CNN we have this 70th Annivsery story of heroism:

On February 3, 1943, an Army transport ship called the DORCHESTER, carrying American soldiers through the icy North Atlantic on their way to serve in World War II, was about 100 miles off the coast of Greenland in rough sea.  More than 900 people were on board.

Many of them were little more than boys—young soldiers and sailors who had never been so far from home.  The journey had been arduous already, with the men crammed into claustrophobic, all-but-airless sleeping quarters below deck, constantly ill from the violent lurching of the ship.

In the blackness of night, a German submarine fired torpedoes at the Dorchester.

One of the torpedoes hit the middle of the ship.  There was pandemonium on board.  The DORCHESTER swiftly began to sink.

The soldiers and sailors, many of them wakened from sleep by the attack, searched desperately in the dark for life jackets and lifeboats and a route to safety.

With them on the ship were four military chaplains, from four disparate religions.

They were Father John Washington, born in Newark, New Jersey, who was Catholic; the Rev. Clark Poling, born in Columbus, Ohio, who was ordained in the Reformed Church in America; Rabbi Alexander Goode, born in Brooklyn, New York, who was Jewish; and the Rev. George Fox, born in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, who was Methodist.

In the chaos onboard, according to multiple accounts by survivors of the attack, the four men tried to calm the soldiers and sailors and lead them to evacuation points.  The chaplains were doing what chaplains do:  providing comfort and guidance and hope.

"I could hear men crying, pleading, praying," a soldier named William B. Bednar would later recall.  "I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage.  Their voices were the only thing that kept me going."

With the Dorchester rapidly taking on water, there were not enough life jackets readily available for every man on the ship.

So, when the life jackets ran out, the four chaplains removed their own, and handed them to soldiers who didn't have them.

More than 600 men died that night in the frigid seas, but some 230 were rescued.  And some of the survivors, in official accounts given to the Army, and in interviews after the war, reported what they saw as the ship went down:

Those four chaplains, men of different faiths but believing in the same God, their arms linked, standing on the deck together in prayer.

They had willingly given up their futures, their lives, to try to help the men who had been placed by the Army in their care.

I didn't copy the full story.

The Four Chaplains even got their own postage stamp, back when three cents would mail a First Class letter.

And a medal the equal of the Medal of Honor, the Four Chaplains Medal.

Regards  —  Cliff

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