Without the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Holocaust would have been complete, and that defeat required the dedication and sacrifice of millions. Here is just one story among countless others…
Just after midnight on February 3, 1943, the US transport Dorchester sailed the freezing waters of the North Atlantic with 900 souls aboard. She was part of Convoy SG-19 sailing through Torpedo Alley on its way to Greenland laden with tons of food and cargo. It was a hazy, foggy night with temperatures in the mid 30s, the perfect conditions to allow German U-boat 233, on her maiden voyage, to surface undetected.
At 55 minutes past midnight, twenty-six-year-old Lieutenant Commander Karl-Jürg Wächter gave the order to fire and within seconds the explosion tore a hole in the Dorchester from below the waterline to the top deck. Nearly one-third of those aboard died in the first moments and the remaining 600 men scrambled madly to escape the ship before it sank.
Such a tragedy occurred many times during WWII, but what makes this one so memorable is the presence of four remarkable men: a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, and two Protestant pastors. These four men were serving as chaplains aboard the Dorchester and numerous eyewitnesses later gave testimony as to their bravery. It seems the chaplains remained calm amidst the panic, handed out life vests, and prayed over men as they slid into the freezing sea. When the life vests ran out, they removed their own and gave them to others and at the last, they linked arms and prayed as the Dorchester slid beneath the waves. When all was said and done, 230 men were rescued from the sea, none of the chaplains among them.
On December 19, 1944, they were each awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. In 1960, the US Congress authorized the Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism, commemorating the actions of these selfless heroes. It was presented to the Four Chaplains’ next of kin January 18, 1961.
In sacred memory of Army Chaplain John P. Washington, Army Chaplain Alexander D. Goode, Army Chaplain George L. Fox, and Army Chaplain Clarke V. Poling.