On February 3, 1943, 676 souls were lost aboard the USS Dorchester. Among the perished were four chaplains, of four different faiths, who provided prayer and comfort to the men who would die at sea with them.
This past Sunday, a remembrance ceremony was held at the Nativity Lutheran Church in Weeki Wachee, led by members of the VFW Post 10209 Color Guard, American Legion Post 186, Central High School JROTC, and Hernando County Veterans’ Services. Veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan were among community members attending to remember the lost chaplains.
Spiritual leaders representing each faith of the fallen chaplains told their individual stories.
Father Robert Swick told the story of the USS Dorchester, which was on its way to Iceland from Newfoundland. At some point, the vessel was struck by a torpedo. Amid the ensuing chaos, the four chaplains found a way to find calm while assisting their shipmates to don life vests, eventually even giving up their own. In the end, the chaplains banded together, arm in arm, singing hymns of praise as the Dorchester sank. “That’s heroism,” said Rev. Swick.
Dr. Sheldon Alter of Temple Beth David lit a candle for Chaplain Alexander D. Goode. Described as a star athlete and scholar, Goode was known for his laughter and love of life. While studying to be a Rabbi, Goode joined the National Guard. The return of the body of the Unknown Soldier had a profound effect on Goode; he walked thirty miles to attend the ceremony because he thought it showed more respect than driving or taking a bus. Goode was serving in a Synagogue in York, PA when WWII started. He began active duty on August 9, 1942.
Reverend Greg Freeze of the First United Methodist Church told the story of Chaplain George L. Fox, who was the oldest of the four. Fox began his service in the Army in 1917, and earned a Silver Star, Croix De Guerre and a Purple Heart.
Fox was a successful accountant and family man from Vermont who was ordained as a Methodist minister before WWII. When the war started, he said to his wife, “I’ve got to go … they need me.” Fox’s service began August 8, 1942.
Father Giuseppe Mattei of the Nativity Lutheran Church introduced Chaplain Clark V. Poling as a leader of the Dutch Reformed Church - a protestant denomination which began in the Netherlands. Poling was the seventh generation of his family to be ordained in the church. Poling enlisted, and told his father, “Pray for me -- not for my safe return, that wouldn’t be fair. Just pray that I shall do my duty and have the strength, courage and understanding … just pray that I shall be adequate.” His service began on June 10, 1942.
Edward Sweeney of the St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church recounted the story of Chaplain John P. Washington, who grew up “poor, scrappy and determined in the toughest section of Newark, NJ. Washington, who was blessed with a sunny disposition and beautiful singing voice, was one of nine children born to Irish immigrants. He also loved a good fight, and was the leader of a gang when he was called to the priesthood.
Washington was playing ball with children in his parrish and organizing sports teams when the war broke out. He began active duty on May 9, 1942. It is said that his wonderful voice, raised in song and prayer to comfort those around him, could be heard until his final moments.
Tony Graham of the Hernando County Veterans’ services lit a candle for the other 672 servicemen who perished that day. There were 230 survivors of the tragedy who lived to tell the story of the brave chaplains who gave all for their fellow man.
Donations will be sent to Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation 1201 Constitution Ave. The Navy Yard-Bldg. 649 Philadelphia, Pa. 19112-1307, website: www.fourchaplains.org.