Four Chaplains 2 Feb 1943
Many stories have been written about the heroic acts of four Army Chaplains on
a troop transport ship on its way to Greenland. One such story follows. It was written by Victor M. Parachin, an ordained
minister, counselor and free-lance writer. It was the evening of Feb. 2, 1943, and the U.S.A.T. Dorchester was crowded to
capacity, carrying 902 servicemen, merchant seamen and civilian workers.
Once a luxury coastal liner, the 5,649-ton vessel had been converted into an Army
transport ship. The Dorchester, one of three ships in the SG-19 convoy, was moving steadily across the icy waters from Newfoundland
toward an American base in Greenland. SG-19 was escorted by
Coast Guard Cutters, Tampa, Escanaba and Comanche.
Hans J. Danielsen, the ship's captain, 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 alarming information.
German U-boats were constantly prowling these vital sea lanes, and several ships had already been blasted and sunk. The Dorchester was now only 150 miles from its destination, but the captain ordered the men to sleep
in their clothing and keep life jackets on. Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship's hold disregarded the order because of
the engine's heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were uncomfortable.
On Feb. 3, at 12:55 a.m., a periscope broke the chilly Atlantic waters. Through the
cross hairs, anofficer aboard the German submarine U-223 spotted the Dorchester. After identifying and targeting the ship,
he gave orders to fire the torpedoes. The hit was decisive--and deadly--striking the starboard side, amid ship, far below
the water line. Danielsen, alerted that the Dorchester was taking water rapidly and sinking, gave the order to abandon ship.
In less than 27 minutes, the Dorchester would slip beneath the Atlantic's icy waters. Tragically, the hit had knocked out power and radio contact with the three escort ships. the
however, saw the flash of the explosion. It responded and then rescued 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 had set in. The blast had killed
scores of men and many more were seriously wounded. Others, stunned by the explosion were groping in the
sleeping without clothing rushed topside where they were confronted first by a blast of icy Arctic air and then by the knowledge
that death awaited. Men jumped from the ship into lifeboats, over-crowding them to the point of capsizing, according to eyewitnesses.
Other rafts, tossed into the Atlantic, drifted away before soldiers
could get in them. Through the pandemonium, according to those present, four Army chaplains brought hope in
light in darkness. Those chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington,
Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed. Quickly
and quietly the four chaplains spread out among the soldiers. There they tried to calm the frightened, tend the
wounded and guide the disoriented toward safety. "Witnesses of that terrible night remember hearing the four men offer
prayers for the dying and encouragement for those who would live," says Wyatt R. Fox, son of Reverend Fox. One witness, Private William B. Bednar, found himself floating in oil-smeared water surrounded by dead
bodies and debris. "I could hear men crying, pleading, praying," Bednar recalls. "I could also hear the chaplains preaching
courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going." Another
sailor, Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, tried to reenter his cabin but was stopped by Rabbi Goode. Mahoney, concerned about
the cold Arctic air, explained he had forgotten his gloves. "Never mind," Goode responded. "I have two pairs." The rabbi then
gave the petty officer his own gloves. In retrospect, Mahoney realized that Rabbi Goode was not conveniently carrying
two pairs of gloves, and that the rabbi had decided not to leave the Dorchester. By this time, most of the men were topside, and the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets.
It was then that Engineer Grady Clark witnessed an astonishing sight. When there were no more lifejackets in the storage
room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men.
"It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven," said John
Ladd, another survivor who saw the chaplains' selfless act. Ladd's
response is understandable. The altruistic action of the four chaplains constitutes one of
the purest 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 man 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 could also be heard offering
prayers. Of the 902 men aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, 672 died, leaving
230 survivors. When the news reached American shores, the nation was stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy and heroic conduct
of the four chaplains. "Valor is a gift," Carl Sandburg once said.
"Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes." That night Reverend Fox, Rabbi Goode, Reverend
Poling and Father Washington passed life's ultimate test. In doing so, they became an enduring example of extraordinary faith,
courage and selflessness. The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously December 19, 1944,
to the next of kin by Lt. Gen. Brehon B. Somervell, Commanding General of the Army Service Forces, in a ceremony at the post
chapel at Fort Myer, VA. A posthumous Special Medal for Heroism,
never before given and never to be given again, was authorized by Congress and awarded by the President January 18, 1961.
Congress wished to confer the Medal of Honor but was blocked by the stringent requirements which required heroism performed
under fire. The special medal was intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.
Special Medal For Heroism
GEORGE L. FOX
George L. Fox was born March 15, 1900 in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. In addition to George,
he had a sister Gertrude and brothers Bert, Leo and John. As a young boy he was raised in Altoona, Pennsylvania
where his father worked for the railroad. When George was just 17, he
left school, and with strong determination,
convinced the military authorities he was 18 and joined the ambulance corps in 1917, shortly after the United States
entered World War I. George was placed in the ambulance corps and shipped to Camp Newton D. Baker in Texas. On
3, 1917 George embarked from Camp Merritt, New Jersey, and boarded the US Huron enroute to France. As a medical corps assistant,
he was highly decorated for bravery and was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre. Upon his discharge, he returned home to Altoona, completed his last year in high school, and went
to work for the Guarantee Trust Company. In 1923 he entered Moody Institute in Illinois, where he married at Winona Lake,
Indiana. After he withdrew from Moody Institute, he decided to become a minister and became an itinerant preacher in the Methodist
faith. A son, Wyatt Ray, was born on November 11, 1924. After several successful years, George held a student pastorate in
Downs, Illinois. George entered Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington in 1929 and graduated with an A.B. degree in 1931.
Again as a student pastorate in Rye, New
Hampshire, he entered the Boston University School of Theology. George was ordained
a Methodist minister on June 10, 1934 and graduated with a S.T.B. degree. He was appointed pastor in Waits River, Vermont.
Their second child, Mary Elizabeth, was born shortly thereafter.
In 1936, he accepted a pastorate in Union Village, Vermont.
His next calling was in Gilman, Vermont where he joined the Walter G. Moore American Legion Post. He was later appointed state
chaplain and historian for the Legion.
In mid 1942, George decided to join the Army Chaplain Service and was appointed July
24, 1942. He went on active duty August 8, 1942, the same day his son Wyatt enlisted in the Marine Corps. Chaplain Fox was
assigned to the Chaplains school at Harvard and then reported to the
411th Coast Artillery Battalion at Camp Davis. He
was then reunited with Chaplains Goode, Poling and Washington at Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts and their fateful
trip on the USAT DORCHESTER. Chaplain Fox was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross.
ALEXANDER D. GOODE
Alexander D. Goode was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 10, 1911. His father was
a Rabbi and his mother, Fay had two other sons, Joseph and Moses, and a daughter, Agatha. Alex was receiving medals
at Eastern High School, Washington, DC for tennis, swimming and track. He
led his class in scholarship too! He planned
to follow in his father's footsteps and become a Rabbi, but that did not keep him from having a laughing, shouting, hail-fellow-well-met
with all the Protestant and Catholic boys in his neighborhood. He graduated from Eastern in 1929.
He entered the University of Cincinnati and graduated in 1934 with an A.B. degree...and
then on to Hebrew Union College with a B.H. degree in 1937. He later received his Ph.D. from John Hopkins University in 1940.
Alex married his childhood sweetheart, Theresa Flax, daughter of Nathan and Rose Flax.
Theresa was a niece of singer and motion picture star, Al Jolson. They were married on October 7, 1935. As an ordained Rabbi,
his first assignment was a synagogue in Marion, Indiana in 1936.
On July 16, 1937 he was transferred to the Beth Israel
synagogue in York, Pennsylvania until mid 1942. Alex and Theresa had a daughter, Rosalie, who was born in 1939.
In January 1941, Alex applied for a chaplain post in the Navy, but was not accepted
at that time. Right after Pearl Harbor, he applied for a chaplain post with the United States Army and received his appointment
July 21, 1942. Chaplain Goode went on active duty on August 9, 1942
and was selected for the Chaplains School at Harvard.
He had courses in map reading, first aid, law, and chemical warfare. Chaplain Goode was then assigned to the 333rd Airbase
Squadron in Goldsboro, North Carolina. In October 1942, he was transferred to Camp Myles Standish in
and Alex was reunited with Chaplains Fox, Poling and Washington, who were classmates at Harvard. It was January 1943 when he boarded the USAT DORCHESTER in Boston and embarkation to Greenland. Chaplain
Goode was killed in action on February 3, 1943 in the icy waters of the North Atlantic when the DORCHESTER was
sunk by a German U-boat. Chaplain Goode was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross.
CLARK V. POLING
Clark V. Poling was born August 7, 1910 in Columbus, Ohio. He was the son of Susie
Jane Vandersall of East Liberty, Ohio, just south of Akron and Daniel A. Poling of Portland, Oregon. In addition to Clark,
the other children were Daniel, Mary and Elizabeth. Clark attended Whitney Public School in Auburndale, Massachusetts and
his teachers remembered his maturity and delicate side of his nature. The Auburndale days came to an end when his mother died
in 1918. She is buried at Greenlawn Cemetery, Uniontown, Ohio. Clark's father was an Evangelical Minister and in 1936 was
rebaptized as a Baptist minister. Reverend Daniel Poling was remarried on August 11, 1919 to Lillian Diebold Heingartner of
Canton, Ohio. Clark attended Oakwood, a Quaker high school in Poughkeepsie,
New York, and was a good student and an excellent football halfback. Clark was a council member and president of the student
body. In 1929 he enrolled at Hope College in Holland, Michigan and spent his last two years at Rutgers University in New Brunswick,
New Jersey, graduating in 1933 with an A.B. degree. Clark entered Yale University's Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut
and graduated with his B.D. degree in 1936. He was ordained in the Reformed Church in America and his first assignment was
the First Church of Christ, New London, Connecticut. Shortly thereafter, he accepted the assignment of Pastor of the First
Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York. Clark was married to Betty
Jung of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the next year, Clark, Jr. (Corky) was born. With our country now at war
with Japan, Germany and Italy, he decided to be a chaplain. Talking with his father, Dr. Daniel A. Poling, who was a chaplain
in World War I, he was told that chaplains in that conflict sustained the highest mortality rate of all military personnel.
Without hesitation, he was appointed on June 10, 1942 a chaplain with the 131st Quartermaster Truck Regiment and reported
to Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, effective
June 25, 1942. Later he attended Chaplains School at Harvard with Chaplains
Fox, Goode and Washington after his transfer to Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts. Shortly after the USAT
DORCHESTER was sunk February 3, 1943, his wife, Betty, gave birth to a
daughter, Susan Elizabeth, on April 20. Chaplain
Poling was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross.
JOHN P. WASHINGTON
John P. Washington was born in Newark, New Jersey on July 18, 1908. His parents were
Frank and Mary; in addition they had daughters Mary and Anna, and sons Thomas, Francis, Leo and Edmund. In 1914, John was
enrolled at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Elementary School. In those days, times were rough for a poor immigrant family, but
John had his father's Irish grin and his mother's Irish stick-to-itiveness. He liked to play ball but he had a newspaper route
to help his mother with extra money, since there were nine mouths in the Washington household to feed. John started to take
piano lessons, loved music and sang in the church choir. When he entered seventh grade, he felt strongly about becoming a
priest...during the previous year, he became
an altar boy and his priestly destiny was in process.
John entered Seton Hall in South Orange, New Jersey to complete his high school and
college courses in preparation for the priesthood. He graduated from Seton Hall in 1931 with an A.B. degree. He entered Immaculate
Conception Seminary in Darlington, New Jersey and received his
minor orders on May 26, 1933. John excelled in the seminary,
was a sub deacon at all the solemn masses, and later become a deacon on December 25, 1934. John was elected prefect of his
class and was ordained a priest on June 15, 1935. Father Washington's first
parish was at St. Genevieve's in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and then at St. Venantius for a year. In 1938 he was assigned to St.
Stephen's in Arlington, New Jersey. Shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941, he received his appointment
as a chaplain in the United States Army. He went on active duty May 9, 1942 and was named Chief of the Chaplains Reserve Pool,
Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. In June 1942, he was assigned to the 76th Infantry Division in Ft. George Meade, Maryland.
In November 1942, he reported to Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts and met Chaplains Fox, Goode and Poling at
Chaplains School at Harvard. Father Washington boarded the USAT DORCHESTER
at the Embarkation Camp at Boston Harbor in January 1943 enroute to Greenland. Chaplain Washington was killed in action on
February 3, 1943, when the DORCHESTER was sunk by a German U-boat. Chaplain Washington was posthumously awarded the Purple
Heart and Distinguished Service Cross.
The Chapel of Four Chaplains
P.O. Box 1943
Valley Forge, PA 19482-1943