“Four Chaplains Day” every February 3, commemorates the sinking of the USS Dorchester, a military transport carrying about 900 U.S. Army troops during World War II, and the “Four Chaplains” who gave their lives to save other civilian and military personnel.
The Dorchester Chaplains — Rev. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; Rev. John P. Washington, a Catholic priest; Rev. Clark V. Poling, a minister for the Reformed Church in America; and Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, of the Reform Movement — were all relatively new chaplains. During the early morning hours on Feb. 3, 1943, a German submarine off Newfoundland torpedoed the Dorchester, knocking out its electrical system, and leaving it in the dark. Panic ensued, but the chaplains calmed the men, helped guide them to safety and in a true act of heroism and chesed, or loving kindness, gave up their lifejackets to others when the supply ran out. They helped many men into lifeboats, then linked arms, according to eyewitness accounts, and while saying prayers and singing psalms, went down with the ship.
Some 230 of the 904 people on board were rescued. Most died of hypothermia in the frigid water. Read the detailed account of the Four Chaplains during the final hours of the Dorchester.
In 1944, all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross, and because they were not eligible for Congressional Medals of Honor, Congress created a Four Chaplains’ Medal to honor their valor, and awarded it to their families in 1961.
In 2011, JWB Jewish Chaplains Council® was among the lead organizations to spearhead an effort to honor all Jewish chaplains who died while on active duty with a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The Jewish chaplains were not honored on Chaplains Hill in the same way as others. In formal dedication of the memorial took place in October of that year. There are 14 such chaplains honored there, the Four Chaplains among them, reminding us of the true meaning of valor, service and courage.