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Four U.S. Army Chaplains gave up their life jackets and prayed together when their transport ship, the U.S.A.T Dorchester was torpedoed eighty miles south of Greenland on February 3, 1943. The Chaplains came from different faiths and backgrounds.
John P. Washington was a Catholic Priest from Kearny, New Jersey, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode was a native of York, Pennsylvania. Clark V. Poling was a a minister in the Reformed Church in America at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York. George L. Fox, a decorated World War One veteran, was a Methodist minister in Gilman, Vermont.
The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation’s vision is to impart the principles of selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, gender, or religious beliefs.
The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation exists to further the cause of “unity without uniformity” by encouraging goodwill and cooperation among all people. The organization achieves its mission by advocating for and honoring people whose deeds symbolize the legacy of the Four Chaplains aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester in 1943.
The Reverend Daniel Poling, in honor of his son Chaplain Poling’s heroism, began the movement to celebrate the Four Chaplains acts of courage. The organization was dedicated on February 3, 1951 by President Harry S. Truman. In his dedication speech, the President said, “This interfaith shrine… will stand through long generations to teach Americans that as men can die heroically as brothers so should they live together in mutual faith and goodwill.”
For more than sixty years the Chapel of the Four Chaplains has told the story of their faith, courage and interfaith cooperation through a variety of programs and events. One important program publicly recognizes and honors outstanding members of society whose lives model the giving spirit and unconditional service to community, nation, and humanity without regard to race, religion, or creed exemplified so dramatically by the Four Chaplains.
The story of the Four Chaplain’s includes not only the background of the Chaplains, their interfaith cooperation, and their selfless sacrifice but it also includes the memories of the close to seven hundred lives lost that day, the stories of the survivors, the bravery of the rescuers and those who are inspired even today.
We may never be asked to give up our own life jacket to save another person, but the story of the Four Chaplains can inspire us to reach out a helping hand in a time of need.