This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Friday, February 3, 2012

February 3 -- Feast of the Four Immortal Chaplains

The US Congress voted to designate February 3 as Four Immortal Chaplains Day and to create a special medal for valor to be awarded to each chaplain's next of kin. President Harry Truman dedicated a chapel in the Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia to the memory of the Four Immortal Chaplains.  The US Post Office also created a stamp honoring them.  And the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church recognizes February 3 as their feast day.   So as I see it, the US government, the Episcopalians, and I have acknowledged their sainthood and can wait for the other religious denominations to catch up.

Fr. John P. Washington, Rev. Clark V. Poling, Rev. George L. Fox, and Rabbi Alexander D. Goode - all lieutenants in the US Army serving as chaplains -- were on the US Army Transport ship Dorchester.  The ship, which had been launched in 1926 to ferry passengers from Miami to Boston, had been requisitioned by the War Department to carry troops to Europe.

At 12:55 AM on February 3, the ship was about ninety miles from Greenland, traveling in a small convoy with a Coast Guard escort when the German U-boat 223 intercepted it.  A single torpedo did so much damage that the six-whistle alarm to abandon ship could not even be sounded, everyone who could headed for the lifeboats anyway. The ship, which sunk within eighteen minutes of the attack, was listing so much that some of the lifeboats could not be launched.  Other boats were frozen down by the sea-spray from the previous day's heavy seas and cold air.  Some of the lifeboats which were launched capsized from overcrowding.

On deck, the chaplains stayed to hand out life jackets to the men, even after men had urged them to save themselves.  When the supply of life jackets was exhausted, the chaplains took off their own and gave them to the next four men in line.  Then they joined arms, led the remaining men on deck in prayer, and prepared for the Dorchester to sink.

Father Washington
The larger Coast Guard cutter Tampa continued toward Greenland, escorting two merchant ships.  Two smaller Coast Guard cutters began rescue operations, even though they had been ordered to hunt for the U-223.  Of the 904 men on board the Dorchester, the crew of the cutter Escanaba  rescued 133, though one later died.  The crew of the cutter Comanche saved ninety-seven.  Hundreds who had abandoned ship died of hypothermia; far fewer went down with the Dorchester. Individuals like Charles W. David dove from the cutters and attached lines to the men bobbing in the water so they could be hauled aboard.  Charles W. David lost his own life to pneumonia shortly after hauling many men to safety aboard the Comanche

Rev. Poling
Father John P. Washington was a first generation Irish-American who grew up in New Jersey.  He graduated from Seton Hall and was ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, serving several New Jersey parishes before enlisting in the US Army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  One survivor from the Dorchester recalled that Father Washington was asked by one of the men playing cards in the mess to bless his hand.  The priest looked at the cards and asked, "I'm going to waste my blessing on a lousy pair of treys?" 

Rev. Fox
Rev. Clark V. Poling, a minister in the Reformed Church in America, was born in Columbus, Ohio but did not have the good fortune to attend Ohio State University.  Instead, he attended Hope College in the Unspeakable State, then Rutgers, and then Yale Divinity.  He followed the footsteps of his father, who had been an army chaplain during World War One.  He did not live to see his daughter, who was born three months after his death.

Rev. George L. Fox was awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the Croix de Guerre for his service as a medical orderly during World War One.  Following the war, he married, started a family, and eventually became an ordained Methodist minister.  He moved his family to Vermont, where he served as a circuit-riding minister shared among three congregations.  On the same day that he enlisted in the Army to serve in World War Two, his son enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. 

Rabbi Goode
Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, son of Rabbi Hyman Goodekowitz, graduated from Hebrew Union College before earning his Ph.D from Johns Hopkins.  His multi-faith, multi-race Boy Scout troop (Troop 37, York, Pennsylvania) was the first in the nation to have scouts earn Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish awards.  He applied to be a Navy chaplain, but was declined so he went into the Army instead.  Among the four chaplains, he was rated by the men on board as the best singer.  Apparently all four were popular for their singing, but Rabbi Goode was as popular as his in-law, Al Jolson.  

1 comment:

  1. Fun fact: American writer Jack Kerouac had worked on the Dorchester and was scheduled to sail on this voyage, but got a telegram from Columbia University's football coach, Lou Little, inviting him to play for the Lions. Much better to have been on the road than on the high seas.