Feb. 3 marked 75 years since the USAT (United States Army Transport) Dorchester sunk in the North Atlantic Ocean while sailing to Greenland as part of naval convoy SG 19 during World War II. The deadly maritime incident is widely remembered for the story of four Army chaplains, known as the “Four Chaplains” or “Immortal Chaplains,” who died after giving up their life jackets in order to save others.
The American Legion Department of California in Sanger will be holding a “Four Chaplains’ Day Inter-Faith Service” at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church on 12050 E. North Ave. on Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. to remember the heroic chaplains who helped save 230 lives.
Relatively new to the Army, and of different faiths, all four chaplains held the rank of first lieutenant: George L. Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alex Goode (Jewish), Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Father John Washington (Catholic).
In the early morning hours of Feb. 2, 1943, the Dorchester, once a luxury passenger ship that was converted for military service during the war, began sinking rapidly after being torpedoed by German submarine U-223. Immediately following the attack, the four chaplains began organizing an evacuation of the 902 U.S. Army Soldiers, Merchant Marines and civilians on board and passing out life jackets.
When the life jacket supply ran out, the four chaplains removed their own and gave them to others. They then linked arms, sang hymns and prayed until they went down into the icy seas with the ship.
Fox, Goode, Poling, and Washington were awarded the Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross and Medal of Honor posthumously.
In 1988, a unanimous act of Congress established Feb. 3 of each year as “Four Chaplains Day.”
American Legion Department Chaplain John Aldridge will serve as Chairman, assisted by District 14 Chaplain Tom Skypeck. The event is open to the public and marks the start of Religious Emphasis Week by the American Legion.