THE FOUR CHAPLAINS
I was surprised to learn that by a unanimous act of Congress, February 3 is established as an annual “Four Chaplains Day.” That is until I heard the story of their heroism the night their ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
The four men were relatively new chaplains who all held the rank of first lieutenant. They included Methodist minister the Reverend George L. Fox, Reform-Rabbi Alexander D. Goode (Ph.D), Roman Catholic priest the Reverend John P. Washington, and Reformed Church in America minister the Reverend Clark V. Poling. Their backgrounds, personalities, and faiths were different, although Goode, Poling and Washington had all served as leaders in the Boy Scouts of America. They met at the Army Chaplains School at Harvard University, where they prepared for assignments in the European theater, sailing on board USAT Dorchester to report to their new assignments.
During the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., the vessel was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 off Newfoundland in the North Atlantic.
The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester‘s electrical system, leaving the ship dark. Panic set in among the men on board, many of them trapped below decks. The chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation of the ship, and helped guide wounded men to safety. As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out before each man had one. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.
As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.—Grady Clark, survivor
According to some reports, survivors could hear different languages mixed in the prayers of the chaplains, including Jewish prayers in Hebrew and Catholic prayers in Latin.
Some 230 of the 904 men aboard the ship were rescued. Life jackets offered little protection from hypothermia, which killed most men in the water. The water temperature was 34 °F (1 °C) and the air temperature was 36 °F (2 °C). By the time additional rescue ships arrived, “hundreds of dead bodies were seen floating on the water, kept up by their life jackets.”
All four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross.
Congress also attempted to confer the Medal of Honor on each of the four chaplains, but the stringent requirements for that medal required heroism performed “under fire,” and the bravery and ultimate sacrifice of these men did not technically qualify, since their actions took place after the torpedo attack. Therefore, members of Congress decided to authorize a special medal intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.This award, the Four Chaplains’ Medal, was approved by a unanimous act of Congress on July 14, 1960, through Public law 86-656 of the 86th Congress. The medals were presented posthumously to the next of kin of each of the Four Chaplains by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker at Ft. Myer, Virginia on January 18, 1961.
In 2006, National Executive Committee of The American Legion, at the Legion’s 88th National Convention in Salt Lake City, passed a resolution urging Congress to revisit the issue of awards, and award the Medal of Honor to Fox, Goode, Poling and Washington
There is a foundation to honor the Four Chaplains at http://www.fourchaplains.org.
A Small Miracle
In the history of the Super Bowl the three biggest Vegas pre-game point spreads were:
- 18.5 points (1995 – San Francisco v San Diego)
- 18.0 points (1969 – Baltimore v New York Jets)
- 14 points (3 times)
Of the three times the pre-game spread was 14 points – two of them involved the New England Patriots who lost by 14 to the Green Bay Packers in 1997 and in 2002 versus the St. Louis Rams. In that game the Patriots took a surprising 17-3 lead into the 4th Quarter and it almost became a 24-3 lead after Tebucky Jones recovered a Kurt Warner fumble and ran 97 years for a touchdown only to have it called back on a penalty. In the 4th Quarter, the potent Rams offense finally began to click and tied it up at 17-17 with 1:30 to play. Announcer John Madden famously said the Patriots should wait until overtime to try to win it, but the Patriots didn’t hear him. Then with 8 seconds left, announcer Pat Summerrall – himself a former kicker with the Giants – called the final play of his distinguished career.
Two years later, it came down to Adam Vinatieri again.