The Four Chaplains

From our client Ralph Oko's memoir, which we share with his permission:

I don’t think enough people know about the Four Chaplains, sometimes called the Immortal Chaplains. They were United States Army chaplains who were aboard the SS Dorchester went it was sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat. It was February 3, 1943 and the Dorchester was on its way to Greenland as part of a naval convoy.

The chaplains—George Fox, Alexander Goode, Clark Poling, and John Washington—helped other soldiers onto lifeboats, and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. Eyewitnesses reported that they joined arms, said prayers, and sang hymns as they went down with the ship. It was of course both tragic and brave. But it was also an uplifting example of interfaith in action—Fox was Methodist, Goode was Jewish, Poling was Baptist, and Washington was Catholic.

In 1948, the United States Postal Service issued a 3-cent stamp in honor of the Four Chaplains. I’ve told you about my lifelong interest in postage stamps; it was that interest that made me aware of the Four Chaplains. In 1960, when I was 15, my friends and I wanted to start our own Jewish boys club in our high school and we wanted to name it in honor of Rabbi Goode. I was able to get in contact with his widow; she was living in Philadelphia at the time. She was delighted in our interest and we became friends. (My friends and I were ultimately outvoted and the club was named after a Jewish boxer and decorated war veteran named Barney Ross.)

In early 2012, a monument recognizing the Four Chaplains was dedicated in Sebastian, FL, less than a half-hour from my home in Vero Beach. Also honored at the ceremony was Ernie Heaton, 89 at the time and one of only two remaining survivors of the sinking of the Dorchester. (In addition to the Four Chaplains, 672 servicemen perished; only 230 survived.)

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