A Chaplain Captains Career Course 23-001 Rabbi student, lights a candle in honor and remembrance of Rabbi, Chaplain (1st Lt.) Alexander D. Goode, one of Four Chaplains who sacrificed their lives after the transport ship USAT Dorchester they were on was sunk by a German torpedo during World War II, Feb. 3, 1943. (Photo by Mel Slater)

Religious Institute chaplain students host Four Chaplains observance

By Mel Slater, Institute for Religious Leadership

Chaplain Captains Career Course students in Class 23-001 recently hosted an observance to honor the sacrifice of four chaplains who died during World War II.

The students hosted a ceremony recounting the actions of Four Chaplains on the U.S.A.T Dorchester that was torpedoed by a German U-Boat shortly after midnight on Feb. 3, 1943, during World War II. The Four Chaplains gave their life vests to other Soldiers on the ship and thus made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.

The story of the Four Chaplains is one that all chaplains are very familiar.

Chaplain (1st Lt.) Alexander D. Goode, who was Jewish, Chaplain (1st Lt.) George L. Fox, a Methodist and the oldest of the four chaplains, Chaplain (1st Lt.) Clark V. Poling, was Dutch Reformed and came from a family of six generations preachers, and Chaplain (1st Lt.) John P. Washington, a Roman Catholic. The individual stories of these chaplains are different in many ways but they all came together on the Dorchester. In the midst of this tragedy, they calmly provided comfort and support to the Soldiers without respect of religious preference.

It has been documented that Rabbi Goode also gave up his gloves to prevent passenger John Mahoney from going to retrieve his. The Four Chaplains were said to be locked in arms praying and singing hymns as the vessel sank. Their sacrifice has been honored with the dedication of Feb. 3 as Four Chaplains Day.

“As we to take a few moments to pause from our busy schedules to celebrate and honor these four chaplains, may we be inspired in our own service by the way they loved everyone entrusted to their care so much that they were willing to sacrifice their own lives,” said the U.S. Army Institute for Religious Leadership Commandant, Chaplain (Col.) James Palmer, Jr. “The courage, personal sacrifice and religious commitment of these four chaplains is the character for which we all should strive to live. Truly, they truly honored their sacred call and purpose which is to care for the soul of the Army.”

Congress wanted to award Medals of Honor for their sacrifice but were hindered by the letter of the regulation. In response, a special medal equivalent in weight and importance to the Medal of Honor was authorized and presented posthumously by President Dwight D.

Eisenhower on Jan. 18, 1961. The medal will never be awarded again.

One of the medals can be viewed at the Chaplain Corps Museum at the IRL campus on Fort Jackson. The medal was donated by the family of Chaplain Washington.

Four chaplains from the C4 class got up during the ceremony to speak about one of the chaplains with whom they share a faith and lit a candle in their memory.

February is Black History Month and this story about Four Chaplains has a connection to the month’s observance. Palmer spoke of this connection during his speech.

Steward’s Mate Charles Walter David, Jr. was serving in the United States Coast Guard and was nearby with fellow crew members on the USCGC Comanche that provided escort for the convoy of the Dorchester and other vessels headed to the European Theater. There were 902 Soldiers and other passengers on the Dorchester. David and others rescued 90 of the 230 passengers from the frigid waters. David died March 29, 1943, from pneumonia for his participation in the rescue. He was awarded posthumously the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his sacrifice. The medal was presented to his widow and young son. The Coast Guard named a sentinel class cutter the USCGC David Jr. in 2010 in recognition of his heroism.

To learn more about Charles Walter David, Jr. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/coast-guardsman-charles-walter-david-jr-dorchester.

To learn more about Four Chaplains, visit https://armyhistory.org/no-greater-glory-the-four-chaplains-and-the-sinking-of-the-usat-dorchester/.