John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
THE STORY OF THE FOUR CHAPLAINS
The story of the Four Chaplains is one of faithful service and sacrifice so others could live. The Dorchester was a coastal passenger steamship ship first launched in 1926. As America mobilized for WW II, it was delivered to the War Shipping Administration and converted to a troopship in New York where it was fitted with additional lifeboats, life rafts, and armament.
The Dorchester departed New York on January 23rd, 1943 bound for St. John’s Newfoundland where it would join a convoy bound for the Army Command Base at Narsarsuaq, Greenland.
It was the evening of Feb. 2, 1943, and the Dorchester was crowded to capacity with 904 souls aboard. Hans Danielsen, the ship’s captain, was a cautious man. He knew they were in dangerous waters and that German U- boats were constantly prowling the sea lanes, and several ships had already been sunk. While only 150 miles from its destination, the captain ordered the men to sleep that night in their clothing with their life jackets on. Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship’s hold disregarded the order because of the engine’s heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were
On Feb. 3, at about 1 AM, a periscope broke the chilly Atlantic waters and the German submarine U-223 spotted the Dorchester and fired. One torpedo hit —striking the starboard side — far below the water line. Within minutes the Captain gave the order to abandon ship. In less than 20 minutes, the Dorchester would slip beneath the Atlantic’s icy waters. Panic and chaos had set in. Men jumped from the ship into lifeboats, over-crowding them to the point of capsizing. Through the chaos, four Army chaplains brought hope in despair and light in darkness. Those chaplains were Lt. George Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander Goode, Jewish; Lt. John Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark Poling, Dutch Reformed. Quickly and quietly, the four spread out among the soldiers and sailors. There they tried to calm the frightened, tend the wounded and guide the disoriented toward safety. One Army Private found himself floating in oil- smeared water surrounded by dead bodies and debris. “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” He recalled. “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage and calling us to them. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.” Another, sailor PO John Mahoney tried to reenter his cabin, but Rabbi Goode stopped him. The sailor explained he had forgotten his gloves. “Never mind,” CH Goode responded. “I have two pairs.” The rabbi then gave the petty officer his own gloves. In retrospect, Mahoney realized that Rabbi Goode was not carrying two pairs of gloves, and that the rabbi had decided not to leave the Dorchester.
By this time, most of the men were topside, and the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. It was then that Engineer Grady Clark witnessed an astonishing sight. When there were no more lifejackets in the storage room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men. “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven,” said John Ladd, another survivor who saw the chaplains’ selfless act. Ladd’s response is understandable. The altruistic action of the four chaplains constitutes one of the purest spiritual and ethical acts a person can make. When giving their life jackets, Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew; Father Washington did not call out for a Catholic; nor did the Reverends Fox and Poling call out for a Protestant. They simply gave their life jackets to the next man in line. As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains —arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard, offering prayers. When the news reached American shores, the nation was stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy and heroic conduct of the four chaplains.
In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13 NIV).” That night those four chaplains passed love’s ultimate test. In doing so, they became an enduring example of extraordinary faith, courage, and selflessness.
As a postscript I want you to know that the Dorchester is best remembered today by the Four Chaplains who died because they gave up their life jackets to save others. And to note:
• On December 19, 1944, all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross.
• In 1948 the U.S. Post Office issued a commemorative stamp in honor of the heroism and sacrifice of the chaplains. This stamp was highly unusual, because until 2011, U.S. stamps were not normally issued in honor of someone other than a President of the United States until at least ten years after his or her death.
• On July 14, 1960, Congress created the Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism. It was presented posthumously to the next of kin of each of the chaplains in ceremonies at Fort Myer, Virginia on January 18, 1961.
• In 1998, on the 55th anniversary of the sinking of the Dorchester,
Congress established February 3 as “Four Chaplains Day” to commemorate their act of heroism.
• And most Army Chapels hold a Four Chaplains service on the first
Sunday in February ever year.
Let this story of four faithful Christian Ministers give you strength to stand strong in the battles you are fighting. Allow the Holy Spirit to give you strength, honor, and service to those whom God puts in your path. As you do, your Lightnside will shine bright and others will be blessed.
Remember the Four Chaplains
This devotion was presented to the National Adult & Teen Challenge Board meeting in April by John J. Rossi.