On board that night were 902 souls. Of these 133 (1 would die later) were brought aboard the Coast Guard cutter Escanaba and 97 the Comanche. The remainder gave their lives as victims of the frigid seas of the North Atlantic. These lives lost that night were the most of any single American convoy attack during World War II.
The Dorchester, and all who gave their lives with her, is especially remembered due to the super human example of servant-hood evinced by four of the soldiers aboard. Now known as the Four Chaplains, Methodist minister George L. Fox, Reformed Church in America minister Clark V. Poling, Roman Catholic priest John P. Washington, and Rabbi Alexander B. Goode, first assisted confused and desperate soldiers in finding life jackets and escaping the darkness below decks. As they grasped the gravity of the situation these four surrendered their own life jackets to others and were last seen standing arm in arm, saying prayers and singing hymns, as the ship plunged to the bottom of the sea.
As Grady Clark, a survivor of the tragedy recorded, "As I swam 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."
Rightly heralded as immortal chaplains due to their bravery and example, more than 300 memorials, plaques, and statues are dedicated to their memory. Each of the four received the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart posthumously in 1944. A special Medal for Heroism (now referred to as the Four Chaplains Medal) was authorized by Congress and awarded in 1961 by President Eisenhower. This medal was intended to carry with it the same recognition as the Medal of Honor.
This weekend many worship services and service projects across our land will recognize the sacrifice of these four men. Leaders will note the true camaraderie survivors witnessed that night as together, the Four Chaplains provided for the needs of others to their own peril. In many ways the Four Chaplains define chaplaincy for all of us. Perhaps we can each provide a reference to them in our messages in the coming days. May their "greater love" guide us all.
Military Chaplains Association
[Editor's Comment: I am a Life Member of the Military Chaplains Association. I highly recommend that all of our military chaplains consider becoming a member. They are a voice in Washtington, DC for our military chaplains. I worked closely with Lyman Smith when I was the chairman of the Endorsers Conference for
Veterans Affairs Chaplaincy, and a member of the executive committee of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces.
Lyman Smith is a retired Navy chaplain with the rank of Captain (equivalent to the rank of Colonel in the Marine Corps, Army, or Air Force). He is a super nice guy, a competent leader and a great friend.]