Chaplains' WWII heroism to be remembered Feb. 7 - Catholic Courier

Chaplains’ WWII heroism to be remembered Feb. 7

With their arms linked, four chaplains from four faiths braced themselves on the slanting deck of the torpedoed USAT Dorchester in the North Atlantic during World War II and prayed for the dead and the living.

In lifeboats in the icy waters around the sinking ship, some of the 230 survivors out of 902 on board witnessed some of the chaplains’ last deeds, which included giving their life jackets to soldiers who had none.

The ecumenical spirit that the four chaplains embodied will be remembered in the Four Chaplains Memorial Service at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, at St. Cecilia Parish, 2732 Culver Road, Irondequoit. The service is coordinated annually by the Monroe County American Legion and rotates among local Catholic, Jewish and Protestant churches.

Father William Leone, St. Cecelia’s parochial administrator who in 2008 retired from the National Guard as a chaplain and a lieutenant colonel, will be one of the memorial service participants. Father Leone said he first heard the story of the chaplains in the 1980s when he was in chaplain’s school.

"It’s quite an inspiring story of true heroism and, I think, ecumenical effort for the sake of humankind," Father Leone said.

Other memorial service participants will include Gayle Marshall, a chaplain for Monroe County American Legion and American Legion Greece Post No. 468; military Protestant chaplain Daniel Linnenberg; Jewish chaplain Frank Hazdan; and Catholic Deacon James Carra. Bagpiper Daniel Emerson will play "Amazing Grace," bugler Thomas Clement will play "Taps" and Jack Fiannaca will play the organ.

According to the Philadelphia, Pa-based Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, the Dorchester sank about 1:30 a.m. Feb. 3 after being hit by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat. As panic and chaos set in after the Dorchester was hit, some soldiers jumped into overcrowded lifeboats, capsizing some, while other lifeboats drifted away before soldiers could get in them.

Lt. Alexander D. Goode, a Jewish rabbi; Lt. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister; and Lt. John P. Washington, a Catholic priest — who all had been classmates at chaplains school at Harvard in 1942 — attempted to calm soldiers on the ship and guide them to boat stations.

The chaplains said prayers for the dead, sang hymns and spoke words of encouragement to the living. Rabbi Goode gave away his gloves to one young man who had none. The four men also distributed life jackets from a storage locker, and when those ran out, they took off the ones they were wearing and gave them to four young men waiting in line.

"Those that made it to a lifeboat came back with the story," Marshall said.

The story of the four chaplains had maintained its contemporary relevance because they all responded equally to soldiers of different faiths, Marshal said, citing one example.

"The Jewish chaplain, when he was giving his life jacket away, he didn’t ask if the recipient was Jewish," she said. "He just said, ‘Young man, here take my life jacket.’"

The chaplains were each posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart, and a one-time only Special Medal for Heroism authorized by Congress and awarded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The chaplains also have been permanently honored with Chapel of the Four Chaplains in Philadelphia, Pa. The chapel is operated by the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, which provides awards to people exhibiting the spirit of the four chaplains and supports ecumenical services honoring the men.

Those services are observed annually at military installations across the globe, Father Leone noted.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on the four chaplains, visit

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