AMERICAN MINUTE Who remembers what is the day of the four chaplains? Bill Federer tells the faith and courage of incredible young men during the Second World War


On the cold night of February 3, 1943, the overcrowded ally vessel U.S.A.T. Dorchester, carrying 902 soldiers, crossed the dark waters near Greenland. At 1 am, a Nazi submarine launched a torpedo on the side of the transport, killing many people in the explosion and trapping others under the bridge. It sank in 27 minutes. The two escort vessels, the Comanche and Escanaba Coast Guard vessels, were able to save only 231 survivors.

In the chaos of fire, smoke, oil and ammonia, four chaplains calmed the sailors and distributed lifejackets:

  • Lieutenant George L. Fox, Methodist
  • Lieutenant Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed
  • Lieutenant John P. Washington, Roman Catholic
  • Lieutenant Alexander D. Goode, Jewish
  • When there was no more lifejacket, the four chaplains tore theirs and put them on four young men. As the ship descended, survivors floating in rafts could see the four chaplains weave their arms together and prepare themselves on the sloped deck. They bowed their heads in prayer as they let themselves go to their icy death.

    Grady Clark, a survivor, wrote, "While I was swimming away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had illuminated everything. The bow was up high and she slipped underneath. The last thing I saw, the four chaplains were up there praying for men's safety. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves have no chance without their life jackets.

    Congress honored them by declaring this "Four Chaplains Day".

    On October 28, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt acknowledged that Protestants, Catholics and Jews were working together for freedom during his speech at Madison Square Garden: "Your government is working … with representatives of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. Without these three, the three … things would not be so … easy.

    On February 7, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower delivered a speech at the White House for the American Legion's "Back-to-God" program: "And we remember that only a decade ago, on board Of the Dorchester Transportation, four chaplains of four faiths voluntarily sacrificed their lives so that four others could live … "

    Eisenhower continued: "Today, as is the case today, we need positive acts of renewed gratitude for the fact that faith is our greatest strength, our greatest resource. This movement of "return to God" is such a positive act. … Whatever our individual church, whatever our personal belief, our common faith in God is a common bond between us. … Together, we thank the Power that made us and preserved a nation. By the millions, we say prayers, we sing hymns – and whatever their words, their spirit is the same – "In God is our trust".

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    The man of war Desmond Doss, featured in the award-winning film "Hacksaw Ridge" (2016), is another inspiring story of a Christian risking his life to save soldiers.

    Another inspiring story is that of Chaplain William Thomas Cummings, who served in the US Army in the Philippines during the Second World War. He was captured by the Japanese and died when his prisoner ship was sunk in Japan on January 18, 1945. Previously, while he was serving with US troops during the Battle of Bataan from January 7 to April 9, 1942, Chaplain Father Cummings delivered a moving field sermon in which he said: "There are no atheists in the foxholes."

    Eisenhower repeated these words in his speech of February 7, 1954: "As a former soldier, I am delighted that our veterans are sponsoring a movement to increase our awareness of God in our daily lives. In battle, they learned a great truth: there are no atheists in the foxholes. They know that in times of trial, we instinctively turn to God for new courage and peace of mind. The entire history of America bears witness to this truth. … During the three centuries separating the Mayflower pilgrims from the chaplains of Dorchester, America's freedom, courage, strength, and progress were based on faith. "

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