On February 3 of each year, people from all over the world celebrate “Four Chaplains Day” in honor of four Army chaplains who displayed extraordinary bravery and selflessness in saving the lives of hundreds of passengers from a sinking ship. “Four Chaplains Day” is named after the day that they saved the lives of the passengers.
It was the year 1943, and the United States Army Transport Dorchester was making its way across the Atlantic Ocean with every available space occupied. The incident that led to the catastrophe was caused when a German submarine fired a torpedo at the ship, which resulted in the ship sinking and the deaths of hundreds of people.
What Happened On February 3, 1943?
The passenger steamship SS Dorchester (SC-290583) was hit by a German submarine torpedo on February 3, 1943, as it steamed from the coast toward an American military post in Greenland. Only 150 miles from its goal, the ship that was carrying 902 service members, commercial sailors, and civilian laborers sank.
Hundreds of people perished, but the bravery and altruism of four chaplains who went down with the Dorchester are remembered by those who made it.
Four U.S. Army chaplains—LLt. George Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Alexander Goode, a Jewish rabbi; Lt. John Washington, a Roman Catholic priest; and Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister—gave their lives as their final act, reinforcing today’s vision of the Air Force Chaplains Corps: “To care for Airmen more than anyone thinks possible.”
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While everyone was scared and confused, the four chaplains took over and started guiding and directing the passengers. The ship was going down fast in the dark, and it was freezing. People panicked and thought they might die as a result. In the midst of tremendous unpredictability, these chaplains were able to bring a sense of peace and tranquility.
According to one version of events, Petty Officer John Mahoney was returning to his cabin when Rabbi Goode saw he was traveling in the wrong direction and inquired as to his destination. “So I can retrieve my gloves,” Mahoney said. Although Rabbi Goode ordered Mahoney to remove his gloves, he refused.
He claimed he was not allowed to steal the chaplain’s gloves. “Never mind, I have two pairs,” Rabbi Goode said. Mahoney supposedly found out later that the chaplain had no intention of ever leaving the ship.
Each priest eventually made it to the top of the ship and helped distribute life jackets and transfer survivors into lifeboats. It was tense, as you could expect. Concerns over whether or not everyone would be able to fit in the lifeboats and whether or not they would be given a life vest spread quickly among the crowd.
These chaplains were essential in easing those concerns once again. One account states that when life vests ran out, the chaplains offered the four they had to the four service members who hadn’t received any. “The nicest sight I have seen or hope to see on this side of paradise,” stated one survivor.
That wasn’t the end of their bravery and selflessness. Eyewitnesses tell us that when the ship finally began to fall into the ocean, the four chaplains stood against the deck with their arms clasped together. At that time, they all prayed collectively. They sang together. Both of them passed away at the same time.
Only 230 men made it through the attack unscathed, and without these chaplains, that number would have been much lower. In response to the suffering of others, they gave without expecting anything in return. People’s worldviews weren’t taken into account when these chaplains made their decisions.
They assisted everyone they could, and in the midst of the pandemonium, they gave the survivors hope as they drifted in lifeboats through the cold ocean, waiting for rescue.
How To Honor The Day
Study The Situation To Better Understand What Happened
Many people remember the Four Chaplains as having brought comfort and hope to the fearful troops on February 3, 1943, and this helps to make the awful events that day more bearable. They will forever be remembered as heroes for selflessly giving up their life vests to people in need.
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Get On Board With The Charity
The mission of the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation is to promote religious tolerance and altruism. With the motto “Unity without Uniformity,” this group regularly hosts events and keeps a current website to inform the public about the ways in which they can get involved through volunteerism.
Promote The Importance Of Humanitarian Work
Numerous national and international humanitarian groups exist to aid those in need who are marginalized for whatever reason. Informing others who will listen about the unfairness that exists and sparking discussions that can lead to what we can do in our power to remedy such situations is a worthwhile activity.