By Charles C. Baldwin, Chaplain, Maj Gen (Ret), USAF
They all were Chaplains, First Lieutenant, US Army. They all were in the same class at the Army Chaplains School at Harvard University. They all were deployed on the same ship, the USAT Dorchester, from NY on Jan 23, 1943, en route to Greenland, and then to their final destinations.
Rev. George Fox was a Methodist minister. He was “prior service” in WWI as a medical corps assistant and awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the French Croix de Guerre. He returned home and prepared for the ministry which eventually brought him to the Army Chaplain Corps. He was 42 years old when he boarded the Dorchester.
Rabbi Alexander Goode was the son of a Rabbi and held a degree from Hebrew Union College, and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University. He went on active duty on Aug 9, 1942. He was 32 years old when he boarded the Dorchester.
Rev Clark Poling was the son of a Baptist preacher who was a WWI chaplain. Rev Poling graduated from Yale University Divinity School and was ordained in the Reformed Church in America in 1936. He was 33 years old when he boarded the Dorchester.
Father John Washington felt the call to be a Roman Catholic priest when he was a young boy. He completed his training at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Darlington, New Jersey. He served as a Parish priest for seven years and then entered the Army Chaplain Corps in 1942. He was 34 years old when he boarded the Dorchester.
During the early morning hours of Feb 3, 1943, the vessel was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 off the coast of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. The Four Chaplains—two Protestants, one Catholic, one Jewish—helped other soldiers board lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. The chaplains joined arms, said prayers, and sang hymns as they went down with the ship.
It would be interesting to learn if the Four Chaplains were close friends at the Chaplain School. Did they eat lunch at the golf course snack bar, and play volleyball after classes? Did they get to tell their stories of their faith journeys which brought them to this commitment to be a minister, a priest, and a rabbi to the women and men in uniform who would fight to put an end to tyranny and set the nations free?
Did Rev. Fox tell his chaplain friends about his experiences in WWI to help them understand the horrors of war. What we do know is these men stepped up to “Bring God to people, and people to God.” It is what chaplains and chaplain assistants have always done and are doing today.
STARRS believes it is important to tell the stories of military heroes because they loved their country and fellow service members so much that they were willing to go above and beyond and take extreme risk without regard for self (“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” John 15:13). Someone who believes their country is evil and distrusts the service members around him would not be willing to give the ultimate sacrifice. This is why patriotism, unity, trust, camaraderie, and loyalty are important for mission success in the military. CRT destroys all this.