Four Chaplains Day 2009 – Will Americans Remember Them?


fourchaplainsby Rees Lloyd

February 3 every year is “Four Chaplains Day” in America by the unanimous resolution of the U.S. Congress in 1988, although millions of Americans don’t know that fact-or, apparently, don’t care.

If any Americans should remind the nation to honor the “Four Immortal Chaplains” on Feb. 3, it should be us, veterans and other patriots generally, and American Legionnaires particularly.

In World War II, on February 3, 1943, the U.S.S. Dorchester, a converted luxury cruise ship, was transporting Army troops to Geenland. On board were some 900 troops, and four chaplains, of different faiths, but common dedication.

The four Chaplains are:Rev. George Fox (Methodist); Father John Washington (Roman Catholic); Jewish Rabbi Alexander Goode; and Rev. Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed).

At approximately 12:55 a.m., in the dead of a freezing night, the Dorchester was hit by a torpedo fired by German U-boat 233 in an area so infested with German submarines it was known as “Torpedo Junction.” The blast ripped a hole in the ship from below the waterline to the top deck.

Many troops were scalded to death below decks; others leaped into the freezing waters to save themselves. More than two-thirds of the troops died; many who survived, had lifelong disabilities from their time in the freezing waters.


In the chaos, the Four Chaplains worked together to aid the troops, and then made the ultimate sacrifice. As one survivor testified: “I saw all four chaplains take off their life belts and give them to soldiers who had none.

Another soldier testified: “The ship started sinking…I looked back and saw the chaplains with their hands clasped, praying for the boys.  They never made any attempt to save themselves, but they did try to save the others. I think their names should be on the list of ‘The Greatest Heroes’ of this war.”

The Four Chaplains went to their deaths together, their arms linked, praying together, singing hymns together, giving their lives for God, country, and the troops they served, setting an example of heroism and self-sacrifices for the ages.

May we Americans remember and honor them, and their exemplary sacrifice, on this and every February 3, “Four Chaplains Day.”

On February 7, 1954, as author William J. Federer records in his book, "America’s God And Country; Encyclopedia of Quotations" (and see his, President Dwight Eisenhower, who had been Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, remarked:

     "And we remember that, only a decade ago, aboard the transport Dorchester, four chaplains of four faiths together willingly sacrificed their lives so that four others might live. In the three centuries that separate the Pilgrims of the Mayflower from the chaplains of the Dorchester, America’s freedom, her courage, her strength, and her progress have had their foundation in faith. Today as then, there is need for positive acts of renewed recognition that faith is our surest strength, our greatest resource."

May we Americans remember and honor these American heroes, and their exemplary sacrifice, on this and every February 3, “Four Chaplains Day.”

About the author: Rees Lloyd is a civil rights attorney and Past Commander of District 21 of the California American Legion in Riverside, CA.  He authored the Resolution for the Legion opposing the use of Veterans Home Land for a public park or any other purpose other than for Veterans to heal from war. Mr. Lloyd is also Director, Defense of Veterans Memorials Project of The American Legion Department of California.



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