Raising awareness of the Four Chaplains

American Legion holds interfaith ceremony memorializing four chaplains who went down with the ship in 1943

The Sun-Gazette

VISALIA – Captains are supposed to go down with their ships, but in 1943 it was a quartet of chaplains who epitomized honor and duty.

On Feb. 3, 1943, an enemy torpedo struck the U.S. Army troop transport Dorchester as it carried 902 officers and enlisted men, Navy armed guard, merchant seaman and civilian workers across the North Atlantic. As Dorchester took on water, four Army chaplains of four different denominations and faiths – Lt. George L. Fox (Methodist), Lt. Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), Lt. John P. Washington (Roman Catholic) and Lt. Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed) – calmed frightened soldiers, aided the wounded and guided the disoriented toward safety.

On deck, the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. When there were no more available, the chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to four young men. As the ship went down, men in rafts saw the four chaplains, arms linked and braced against the slanting deck, singing hymns and praying. Thanks to their efforts, Coast Guard escort cutters Comanche and Escanaba rescued 230 men. 

“It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven,” said John Ladd, a survivor. 

Three years after the end of the war, Congress designated Feb. 3 as Four Chaplains Day. Every year since, American Legion posts nationwide have commemorated the selfless acts of the four chaplains through an interfaith services, memorial ceremonies and other solemn events honoring the chaplains and 668 other men who died when Dorchester sank.

Last year was the first year that American Legion Post 18 in Visalia held a ceremony honoring the Four Chaplains. This year’s ceremony will consist of a presentation of the colors by the Civil Air Patrol-Tulare Kings Composite Squadron. The event included patriotic songs performed by Doug Scarbrough, a presentation on the story of the Four Chaplains and a candle lighting ceremony by American Legion Post 18 members. 

American Legion Post 18 invites the community to attend this year’s second annual version of the patriotic and moving memorial at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 16 at the Veterans Memorial Building located at 609 W. Center Street in Visalia. Light refreshments will be served. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP by today, Feb. 12 to Bill Morland (559) 300-2306 or [email protected].

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