It was whereas visiting the graves of my mother and father and sister someday lately at White Haven Memorial Park in Pittsford that I observed a monument known as “Memorial to the 4 Chaplains.”
It’s a tall, stone obelisk. Across the base, etched in stone, it tells this story: In World Warfare II, when the troop service on which they had been crusing to Greenland was hit by a Nazi torpedo, 4 U.S. Military chaplains of various faiths—a priest, a rabbi, and two Protestant ministers—voluntarily gave up their life vests to troopers who had none and collectively went down with the ship.
Our mother and father’ and grandparents’ generations knew all in regards to the 4 Chaplains. Accounts of their heroism by sailors who had survived the sinking had been extensively reported. Every chaplain was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Coronary heart. A U.S. postage stamp was issued of their honor. Every of them was awarded a particular Congressional Medal of Valor. On the Nationwide Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on the Pentagon, and in additional than a dozen cities throughout the nation, memorials—stained glass home windows, monuments, complete chapels—had been devoted to their reminiscence. In Rochester, dignitaries together with Sen. Kenneth B. Keating, R-N.Y., spoke on the 1959 dedication of White Haven’s 4 Chaplains Memorial.
And but, after I’ve lately talked about the 4 Chaplains to associates, I haven’t discovered a single one that is aware of the story. I, myself, didn’t understand it till I ended that day at White Haven to have a better have a look at the memorial.
So, let me take a second to inform the story this Memorial Day, drawn from sources supplied by the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, historic paperwork of White Haven, Congressional testimony of survivors, numerous Wikipedia entries, and No Larger Glory (Random Home, 2004) a guide in regards to the chaplains by former Washington Put up international correspondent Dan Kurzman.
To my thoughts, the heroism of the 4 Chaplains carries a message that could be of particular worth to our nation, which right this moment feels more and more torn aside.
The U.S. Military Transport ship, Dorchester, was an growing older, luxurious passenger liner that had been transformed to move American troopers throughout World Warfare II. On one such voyage, crusing from Boston on Jan. 23, 1943, it carried 904 passengers—largely Military but additionally Navy, Coast Guard, Service provider Marine, civilians with the Warfare Division, and crew. The vacation spot was Greenland. Troops had been wanted there to function airbases, radar stations, and climate stations.
(Not less than one soldier on board was from Rochester: Seaman First Class Richard B. Streicher, age 26. Based on 1940 Census information, he had lived along with his mother and father, Edward and Anna Streicher, and older siblings, Elmer and Beatrice, at 340 Rosewood Terrace in southeast Rochester’s Beechwood neighborhood.)
Accompanying the troops on the Dorchester were four Army chaplains. Their job was to look after the troops on the dangerous voyage in the North Atlantic, boost morale and provide spiritual support and counseling.
Two of the chaplains were Protestant: George Fox, 42, a Methodist minister, married with two grownup kids; and Clark Poling, 32, a Dutch Reform minister in Schenectady, married with one younger son (his spouse was pregnant with a daughter who could be born three months later). The third chaplain was Rabbi Alexander Goode, 32, married and with a 1-year-old daughter. The fourth chaplain was John Washington, 34, a Catholic priest.
The 4 chaplains knew one another earlier than they boarded the Dorchester. At a U.S. Military Camp in Taunton, Mass., a staging space for troops departing from Boston, they’d met and change into associates. As soon as aboard the Dorchester, they bunked collectively, ate along with the troops, organized a range present—and performed companies attended by troopers of their very own in addition to every others’ faiths.
The Dorchester’s passage within the useless of winter via the North Atlantic was tough. Ten days of storms and violent seas left most of the troops seasick and exhausted. Then, with only one extra day to go, they entered what was known as “Torpedo Junction”—an space the place many Allied ships had been sunk by so-called “wolf packs” of German U-boats. With daylight they’d be near Greenland and safely beneath air cowl from an American base there, however weary of the U-boat hazard in a single day, the captain ordered troops to sleep of their garments and with lifejackets shut at hand.
They practically made it, however at 12:55 a.m. on Feb. 3, a U-boat fired 4 torpedoes. One hit, exploding within the Dorchester’s boiler room. The blast destroyed the electrical provide and launched clouds of steam and ammonia fuel. Many troops, trapped under deck, died immediately. Others, jolted from their bunks, groped and stumbled their means as much as the decks. Taking up water quickly, the ship started itemizing. Overcrowded lifeboats capsized; rafts drifted away earlier than anybody might attain them. One survivor described a scene of “hysteria” and “utter confusion and dysfunction.” Some males clung to the rails, frozen with worry, unable to let go and plunge into the darkish, freezing water.
It might take simply 27 minutes for the Dorchester to sink.
However amid the chaos and worry, had been Chaplains Fox, Poling, Goode, and Washington. Based on survivor testimony, they had been a gradual supply of order and hope, calming disoriented and terrified males, guiding them to their boat stations. They opened a storage locker and distributed lifejackets. Then they coaxed sailors, paralyzed by worry, to leap into the ocean. When the availability of lifejackets was exhausted, a number of survivors reported watching in awe because the chaplains every both gave away, or pressured upon others, their very own.
From sworn affidavits, listed below are a few of these accounts, within the voices of precise survivors:
“As much as the final minute (the chaplains) continued with their mission of therapeutic and comforting the fear stricken.” – Frank G. DiMeo
“I made for the life raft to which I used to be assigned and … handed 4 chaplains. … One among them possessed a life jacket and the opposite three didn’t. As I handed I observed the chaplain with the life jacket take away his jacket and provides it to a soldier … who didn’t have a life jacket. I overheard the soldier say, “Thanks, Chaplain.’” – Joseph D. Haymore
“They had been passing out life preservers from bins on deck. When these had been gone, I noticed them take the life preservers from their very own individuals and hand them out, too.” – Oswald R. Evans
“From my place as I clung to (a) lifeboat, I noticed the chaplains clearly standing on the rail of the transport minus their life jackets, urging males to depart the ship with disregard to their very own security.” – William J. Pantall
(A)s I left the ship, I regarded again and noticed the chaplains … with their fingers clasped, praying for the boys. They by no means made any try to avoid wasting themselves, however they did attempt to save the others.” – Grady L. Clark
“I noticed these chaplains with out life preservers kneeling on deck and praying for us.” – Kenzel L. Linaweaver
“The final I noticed of the chaplains they had been standing on deck praying. By that point the ship had capsized and was at a forty-five-degree angle.” – Anthony J. Povlak
By a number of accounts, the chaplains clasped their arms collectively because the slant of the deck turned extreme. And simply that means, with their arms linked and their heads bowed in prayer, they sank beneath the waves.
On that evening of Feb. 3, 1943, when the Dorchester sank 150 miles off the coast of Greenland, 672 males died in what was one of many nation’s best maritime losses throughout World Warfare II. A lot of those that did handle to leap from the ship died of hypothermia inside 20 minutes—the water temperature that evening was 34 levels Fahrenheit. All life vests had been fitted with a blinking purple gentle meant to assist rescuers find sailors within the water. However when a rescue ship lastly did arrive—practically an hour after the sinking—what it discovered was largely a silent sea of a whole lot of blinking purple lights, each marking the physique of a courageous American patriot now not in want of rescue.
In later testimony earlier than Congress, one survivor, Benjamin Epstein, mirrored on what he had seen:
“To take off your life preserver, it meant you gave up your life. You’ll haven’t any probability of surviving. They (the chaplains) knew they had been completed. However they gave it away. Think about that. Over time I’ve requested myself this query a thousand instances. May I do it? No, I don’t suppose I might do it. Simply take into account what an act of heroism they carried out.”
I’m practically twice as previous as the typical age the chaplains had been after they died. After I was youthful, I actually would have admired them for his or her bravery and sacrifice. However now, with age, I’m much more in awe.
The longer we dwell, the extra we see how difficult life can get, and what number of methods there are to keep away from the laborious selections. Chaplains Poling and Goode, for instance, might have reasoned, “We now have wives and younger kids at residence who rely on us. We must always save ourselves for his or her sake.” Chaplain Washington might have calculated that by staying alive to serve his parish, he might assist many extra individuals than the one sailor he would possibly save with a life vest. All of the chaplains might need instructed themselves—in truth—that a lot of the troops left on board, hysterical and frozen with worry, had been past saving.
However none of them took these outs—or a dozen others we might in all probability consider. As an alternative, till the top, they did their obligation: to serve, to information, and to consolation these of their care.
And through their service, they handled one another and all of the troops of their care with out regard to variations between them. Within the chaos after the torpedo struck, nobody reported listening to a chaplain ask a soldier, “Are you Catholic? Are you Jewish? Are you one in every of mine or one in every of this different chaplain’s?” They every helped everybody equally.
The “content material of their character”—to make use of Martin Luther King Jr.’s phrase—was clearly revealed by what every chaplain—Fox, Poling, Goode, and Washington—did in these final 27 minutes of their lives.
This Memorial Day, we’ll all have many selections as to the place to go to honor those that gave their lives for our nation. Some could go to a Vietnam Warfare memorial, others to the gravesite of a beloved one. However I encourage you additionally, if in case you have the time, to go to White Haven Memorial Park to recollect and to honor the 4 Chaplains, and to consider their devotion to obligation, their sacrifice, and their give attention to our frequent humanity, moderately than the variations that divide us.