Navy Chaplain Pays Tribute to the 70th Anniversary of Four Chaplains Day

Story Number: NNS130206-12Release Date: 2/6/2013 4:20:00 PM
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By Christianne M. Witten, Chief of Navy Chaplains Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- A Navy chaplain served as guest speaker for an inaugural service commemorating the 70th anniversary of Four Chaplains Day hosted by the Halifax County Veterans Association at the Living Word of Christ Fellowship Church in Halifax, Va., Feb. 3.

Lt. Cmdr. James Dance, a native of Halifax, Va., was invited to deliver the message by the Rev. Frank H. Carr, state chaplain of the American Legion Department of Virginia and co-pastor of the Living Word of Christ Fellowship Church.

More than 100 veterans and guests gathered from the local area to remember the courageous acts of four chaplains, often referred to as the "immortal chaplains," who heroically sacrificed themselves at sea aboard the sinking U.S.A.T. Dorchester.

These four Army chaplains were 1st Lt. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; 1st Lt. Clark V. Polling, a minister from the Dutch Reformed Church; 1st Lt. John P. Washington, a Roman Catholic priest; and 1st Lt. Alexander D. Goode, a Jewish rabbi.

A German submarine torpedoed the Dorchester Feb. 3, 1943 at 12:55 a.m. She sank in less than 20 minutes. The ship was just 150 miles from its destination, an American base in Greenland.

Of the 902 servicemen, merchant seamen, and civilian workers aboard the Dorchester, 672 died in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.

In the midst of the chaos, the four chaplains ministered to the injured and frightened crew and guided as many as possible to safety aboard the nearby escort cutters.

Eye-witness accounts recall the four chaplains giving up their own life jackets, after the supply had run out, and the ship was preparing to sink. In doing so, they became an enduring example of extraordinary faith, courage, and selflessness.

Survivors recall the image of the four chaplains, arms linked and braced against the slanted deck. As the ship sank, they were heard praying and offering words of encouragement and hope for the lives of the men, each according to his individual faith tradition. As the stamp that honored them declared, they embodied "interfaith in action."

Reflecting on the events that took place aboard the Dorchester in 1943, Dance read a Christian scripture passage from John 15 which stated, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends."

He went on to discuss how this iconic and heroic story of the four chaplains "spoke to the triumph of the human spirit, which transcends cultural and even theological differences.

He added that "these chaplains chose not to be divided by their differences but instead to be united in their call to serve and care for all aboard that ship, regardless of a crew member's individual faith.

"These chaplains were united in their belief that with God all things are possible," and they served as an enduring witness to "the power of God to transcend chaos and calamity and produce in us the strength to do all things."

Four candles were lit by members of the local American legion and VFW posts and a brief biography was read in honor of each chaplain.

An offering was taken for the church's planned veteran's center that will offer counseling, financial education, and job placement services to veterans in the local area.

The service closed with the playing of "Taps" by a member of American Legion Post 99 in remembrance of the four chaplains and all who have perished in service to the nation.

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