On Tuesday, Feb. 3, Post 31 American Legion will pay respects to the famous four chaplains of the troop ship Dorchester, which sank in the Atlantic 72 years ago to the day.
Their heroism is one of the most inspiring stories to come out of any war, and serves as a beacon of hope in these times when so-called followers of God are blowing people up in the streets.
Eleven days after the old coastal cruise ship that had been pressed into service to ferry more than 900 men from Newfoundland to Greenland set off, their convoy was found by a German U-boat. A torpedo blew a hole in the Dorchester, killing many below decks instantly, and setting the fate of the remaining men aboard. Only about 300 men survived in the icy seas 150 miles short of their destination.
There were not enough boats and rafts, not enough life jackets; nor was there enough time, and too much icy Atlantic sea.
The chaplains sail on in eternity for passing along their own life jackets to others and going down with the ship, linking arms and their respective beliefs as the sea rose to swallow their mortal bodies.
None of them asked the men going over the side to lifeboats what their denomination might be – or even if they were Christian, Jew, Muslim -- or atheist.
Rabbi Lt. Alexander Goode was from York, Pa. When he handed his gloves to a soldier, the soldier declined them until the Rabbi said he had a spare pair in his pockets. He already knew, most likely, he would not be needing gloves.
Goode was the son and grandson of Rabbis, and had witnessed the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington when he was just 3 years old.
Lt. George Lansing Fox was back in uniform; he earned a Purple Heart when he took a back full of shrapnel in what had been known as The Great War. He had lied about his age to get into that one. When he returned with his wounds, he went to seminary and lived in near-poverty as a circuit-riding Methodist minister, saving souls and raising two children.
He was past 40 now, knew what the youngsters were going through, and wanted to help.
The Rev. Clark Poling had a 2-year-old son when he boarded the Dorchester. He was the seventh generation in his family to serve in the ministry of the First
Father John Washington had been born to Irish immigrants and grew up in Newark, N.J. He almost died of what they believed to be strep throat, and took his survival – there were no antibiotics at the time – as a sign that God had a job for him. He became a Catholic Priest.
As the panic and the waters enveloped the sinking ship, the four of them retained their composure, set an example of courage and faith, and handed out life jackets. When the lockers were empty, they took off their own life jackets and handed them to young soldiers.
They prayed together, four variations of faith, and linked their arms together to retain their footing as the deck slanted before slipping into the darkness.
Carroll Post 31's Chaplain, Arnold Skip Amass, will lead the ceremonies honoring the chaplains. It won't be the first time this veterans' organization and others have recognized the clergymen of the Dorchester. It shouldn't be the last.
The public is invited. It begins at 8 p.m.
Dean Minnich writes from Westminster. His column appears Thursdays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.