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Rochester American Legion ceremony honors Four Chaplains sacrifice

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Gordon Oliver, Bob Johnson, Rabbi Slavaticki, Norman Sandborn at Rochester American Legion ceremony earlier in Feb. (Courtesy photo)

ROCHESTER - Earlier this month the Rochester American Legion held a remembrance of Four Chaplains Day. The day, Feb. 3, commemorated the events of Feb 3, 1943, when the troop ship USAT Dorchester sank. Dorchester left New York on Jan. 23, 1943, carrying four chaplains and about 900 others as a part of convoy of three ships.

It was torpedoed by German submarine U-223 off Newfoundland at 12:55 a.m. When Dorchester began to sink, four chaplains of different religions, George L. Fox (Methodist), Alexander D. Goode (rabbi), Clark V. Poling (Baptist) and John P. Washington (Catholic) were helping to calm down the passengers and organized an orderly evacuation. The life vests were passed out to men, but the supply ran out before each man had one.

The USS Dorchester, which was sunk by a German U-boat torpedo in 1943. (Courtesy photo)

The four chaplains gave their own life vests to others and helped as many men as they could into the boats, then they linked their arms together, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship. Four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross on Dec. 19, 1944.

Only 230 men survived the sinking of the Dorchester, making it one of the worst naval tragedies for the Americans in World War II. Witnesses recalled seeing the four chaplains standing with arms interlocked, each praying in his own way, as the ship sank.

The Four Chaplains' Medal was introduced by Congress on July 14, 1960. These medals were presented posthumously to the next of kin of each of the four chaplains of Dorchester on Jan. 18, 1961.

Fox, Goode, Poling and Washington were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart. And in 1948, Congress declared Feb. 3 to be Four Chaplains Day.

The American Legion Auxiliary Unit 7, S.A.L. and Riders were honored and inspired hosting a remembrance day for the four chaplains on Feb 3 and look forward to hosting again next year.

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