Legion hears the WWII story of the Four Chaplains

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Mr. John Brady conducted the Four Chaplains
ceremony and spoke of their service
Text and photos 
by Jerry Pickard

On Tuesday, February 6, 2018, Post 227 held their monthly general membership meeting with three featured speakers. 

The first speaker was Mr. John Brady, past Post Commander for a post in Ukiah California. He is now a member of Post 227. He conducted the "Four Chaplains Ceremony".

Who were the four Chaplains?

They all held the rank of First Lieutenant. They included a Methodist Minister, Rev. George L. Fox, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, of the reform movement. A Roman Catholic priest, Father John P. Washington, and Reformed Church in America minister, Rev. Clark V. Poling. 

Their backgrounds, personalities, and faiths were different, although Goode, Poling, and Washington had all served as leaders in The Boy Scouts of America.

Washington, 34, had cheated on an eye test to join up. Rabbi Alexander Goode, 31, son of a Rabbi and a relative of entertainer Al Jolson, left behind his young family. So did Dutch Reformed Minister Clark Poling, 32, a seventh generation clergyman and son of a fiery evangelist. Fox, 42, the Methodist minister, had lied about his age to enlist in WWI. He was seventeen when he received the French Croix de Guerre after giving his gas mask to a wounded soldier.

The Four Chaplains

They met at the Army Chaplain's school at Harvard University, where they prepared for assignments in the European theater in WWII, sailing on board USAT Dorchester to report to their new assignments.

Once a luxury coastal liner, The USAT Dorchester was a 5649-ton cruise liner for 300 passengers that had been converted into an Army Transport ship with a capacity for 900. It sailed from New York on January 23, 1943, as part of convoy SG-19, en route to Greenland, carrying the four Chaplains and approximately 900 others. Most of the soldiers on its final trip were young and inexperienced. SG-19 was escorted by Coast Guard Cutters Tampa, Escanaba and Comanche.

It was a rough ride in the churning North Atlantic with many becoming seasick. The Chaplains tried to keep their spirits up, conducting services, concocting a talent show and constantly joking.

On the evening of February 2, 1943 ship's Captain Hans J. Danielsen was concerned and cautious. Earlier the Tampa had detected a submarine with its sonar. Danielsen knew he was in dangerous waters even before he got the warning. German U-boats constantly prowled the sea lanes and several ships had already been sunk.

The Dorchester was now only 150 miles from its destination. The Captain ordered the men to sleep in their clothing and wear their life jackets. Many soldiers disregarded the order because of the engines heat. Others disregarded because the life jackets were uncomfortable.

On February 3rd at 12:55am German submarine U-223 spotted the Dorchester and approached the convoy on the surface. After identifying and targeting the Dorchester, the sub's captain gave orders to fire torpedoes and a fan of three were fired. The one that hit struck amidships on the starboard side far below the waterline.

Captain Danielsen, alerted that the ship was taking on water rapidly and was sinking, gave orders to abandon ship. In less than 20 minutes the Dorchester would sink.

Tragically, the hit had knocked out power and radio contact with the three escort ships. The CGC Comanche, however, saw the flash of the explosion and responded, rescuing 97 survivors. The CGC Escanaba circled the Dorchester rescuing an additional 132 survivors. The third cutter CGC Tampa, continued on escorting the remaining two ships.

Aboard the Dorchester panic and chaos set in. The blast had killed scores of men, and many more were wounded. Others, stunned by the explosion, were groping in darkness. Those sleeping without clothing rushed topside where they were confronted by a blast of icy arctic air and the knowledge that death awaited.

Men jumped from the ship into lifeboats, overcrowding them to the point of capsizing , and other lifeboats tossed into the Atlantic drifted away before anyone could get in them.

The Chaplains remained calm and tried to calm and comfort the soldiers trying to escape the sinking ship. They opened storage lockers and passed out life jackets until they ran out of them. They then gave their life jackets to four frightened young men. Rabbi Goode gave his gloves to a sailor knowing he would not be needing them.

The altruistic action of the four Chaplains constitutes one of the purist spiritual and ethical acts a person can make. When giving their life jackets, Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew; Father Washington did not call out for a Catholic; nor did the Reverends Fox and Poling call out for a Protestant. They simply gave their life jackets to the next men in line.

As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains - arms linked and braced against the slanting deck, their voices offering prayers in the mixed languages of English, Hebrew, and Latin.

Of the 902 men aboard the USAT Dorchester, 672 died, leaving 230 survivors. When the news reached the American shores the nation was stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy and the heroic conduct of the four Chaplains.

The Distinguished Service Cross and The Purple Heart were awarded posthumously December 19, 1944 to the next of kin.

CDR Larry Fischer presenta Olvia Olson
with a gift certificate. 
Following John Brady's presentation, Miss Olivia Olson, an Honor's senior at Edmonds-Woodway High School presented her Best in Class essay on Patriotism.

She recited her essay without notes, impressing the audience. She is 17 and has applied to Duke University, USC, and several other universities. She is a stand-out student and will go far. Her mother and father are both graduates of the Air Force Academy.

Following Olivia's presentation, Chaplain Debra Maude spoke to the group about her service time in Iraq as a Chaplain's Assistant.

Debra spent eighteen years in the U.S. Army Reserves before her deployment to Iraq in April of 2007. She was promoted from SFC, E-7 to second Lieutenant as a new Chaplain. In April of 1991 Debra got a job with the IRS at a GS-3 grade level. She is now a GS-13.

Chaplain Debra Maude and CDR Coffey
When she returned from Iraq she returned to her IRS job and attended her Seminary.

In April of 2016 she started a new ministry for veterans, using the VFW hall. She had fifty people in her first service.

Her vets gather for breakfast before she conducts her church service. She now has church plants over the greater Seattle area.

Vice Commander Ray Coffey presented a Certificate of Appreciation to Debra after her presentation.


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