Four Chaplains Day by Act of Congress


Today, February 3rd, is known as “Four Chaplains Day.” It was designated this title by Congress after a heroic act by four military chaplains who were serving on the S.S Dorchester during World War 2. Rev. Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed), Rev. George Lansing Fox (Methodist), Father John Washington (Roman Catholic priest) and Alexander David Goode (a Jewish Rabbi) sacrificed their lives as their ship went down.

The Dorchester, which was transporting 904 troops, was torpedoed by a U-Boat on Feb 3, 1943. The initial torpedo killed more than 100 young soldiers and the second plunged the ship into darkness. The survivors panicked and scrambled, trying to find life jackets. In the midst of all the disarray and chaos, the four chaplains worked with then men, bringing order with their words of assurance and prayers.

The chaplains gave up their own life jackets to save four others. As the Dorchester finally began to sink, the four chaplains were seen linking their arms together. They had all been friends since their days at Chaplain school at Harvard University. Witnesses said that they heard two prayers amid the screams of pain and horror that permeated the cold dark night. It was the strong voices of the Chaplains. "Shema Yisroel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echod." "Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done."

Looking back they saw the slanting deck of the Dorchester, its demise almost complete. Braced against the railings were the Four Chaplains...praying...singing, giving strength to others by their final valiant declaration of faith. Their arms were linked together as they braced against the railing and leaned into each other for support, Reverend Fox, Rabbi Goode, Reverend Poling, and Father Washington. Said one of the survivors, "It was the finest thing I have ever seen this side of heaven."

Today is also Transfiguration Sunday. The word ‘transfiguration’ means a remarkable display of God’s Glory, which illuminates the person, notably Moses, Jesus, and Stephen from the Bible. Perhaps, in the darkness of February 3rd 1943, God’s glory was also seen in the sacrifices of Rev. Clark Poling, Rev. George Lansing Fox, Father John Washington, and Rabbi Alexander David Goode.

John Stuart traqair@aol.com

Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

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