One in service, in sacrifice

Daily Reading for February 3 • The Dorchester Chaplains: Lieutenant George Fox, Lieutenant Alexander D. Goode, Lieutenant Clark V. Poling, and Lieutenant John P. Washington, 1943

Now and then you hear wild and frightening talk about a “holy war” which will some day overtake and destroy America. The four chaplains of three faiths on the troopship Dorchester had the answer for that, and their answer is perhaps the epic experience of World War II. . . . These four were en route to Greenland on the troopship Dorchester when on Feb. 3, 1943, just after midnight, their vessel was torpedoed. More than 600 men were lost, and there were less than 300 survivors. . . .

Grady Clark, a young engineer who was rescued after several hours in the water, described the event: “They quieted the panic, forced men ‘frozen’ on the rail toward the boats and over the side, helped men adjust life jackets and at last gave away their own. They themselves had no chance without life jackets. I swam away from the ship and turned to watch. The flares now lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last I saw, the chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again.”

Each of the Dorchester chaplains had a dynamic loyalty to his particular faith. To each his vows of ordination were holy, and they were passionately held. Nowhere in America could four men be found more intense in their devotion to their own faiths. But these four became one in service, in sacrifice and dying. Standing shoulder to shoulder, their arms linked and braced against the rail as the waters rose about them, each in the tradition of his faith prayed to God the Father of us all. Each was loyal to himself, but each had found a cause transcending all differences and divisions, even as their deed transcends all debate and arguments.

From “A Protestant’s Faith” by Dr. Daniel A. Poling, in Life magazine (November 7, 1949).

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