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Memorial service for 'Four Chaplains' to be held Saturday in Aberdeen

Four military chaplains who sacrificed their lives to save fellow passengers on a sinking transport ship during World War II will be honored during a memorial service in Aberdeen Saturday.

The service, at 11 a.m. in the American Legion Bernard L. Tobin Post 128, 44 N. Parke St. in Aberdeen, is free and open to the public.

The Four Chaplains – the Rev. George L. Fox, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, the Rev. Clark V. Poling and Father Johnny P. Washington - were on the U.S.A.T. Dorchester in early February 1943.

The troop carrier, with 902 people on board, military and civilian, was crossing the North Atlantic Ocean between Newfoundland, Canada, and Greenland when it was attacked by a German submarine around 1 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1943.

Monday was the 71st anniversary of the sinking.

Earlier this week, Rev. W. Lewis Geigan, coordinator of the Aberdeen memorial service, recounted the chaplains' actions after the torpedo hit, in the 20 minutes it took for the Dorchester to sink.

Geigan, who is the chaplain for Post 128 and for the Harford County American Legion, said the chaplains were handing out life jackets when "it became apparent" that there would not be enough for all on board.

"They took their life jackets off and gave them to the next four in line," Geigan said of the chaplains.

Those who were able to get off the sinking ship spoke of the four chaplains linking arms and saying The Lord's Prayer to comfort the hundreds of people who remained on board.

Geigan said 230 people survived and 672, including the chaplains, died.

"It's going to be an emotional time," he said of the service.

Memorial services for The Four Chaplains have been held around the country since 1951.

Geigan said American Legion posts have held memorial services for the chaplains in individual counties, but Saturday's service will be the first held for the North Central District, which includes Legion posts in Harford, Baltimore and Howard counties.

The keynote speaker will be Lt. Col. Larry Owens, the command chaplain at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Pictures of each chaplain will also be on display, as well as three crosses and a Star of David, representing their Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths.

Three members of the clergy and a lay person will read the biographies of the chaplains.

Father Jonathan Morse, an Army chaplain at the Perry Point VA Medical Center in Perryville, will read for Washington.

The Rev. John McElwee, who is an Army veteran and is part of Grace Assembly of God in Bel Air, and the Rev. Jeffrey Ellwood of Evangel Assembly of God in Aberdeen and a member of the Sons of The American Legion, will read for Fox and Poling, respectively.

Mary McCann, who is Jewish and American Legion commander for Harford County, will read for Goode.

"I think the main thing is, that they joined themselves together and forgot about their differences and it was just a wonderful example of interfaith [cooperation]," Geigan said of the chaplains' sacrifice.

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