Come back for our Four
Chaplains February 2016 Service information
The Brotherhood of Soldiers at War
George L. Fox
Rabbi Alexander Goode
Rev. Clark V. Poling
Father John P. Washington
The Four Chaplains
One of the most extraordinary acts of heroism during World War II
occurred in the icy waters off Greenland after a U.S. Army transport
ship was hit by a German torpedo and began to sink rapidly. When it
became apparent there were not enough life jackets, four U.S. Army
chaplains removed theirs, handed them to frightened young soldiers,
and chose to go down with ship.
In February of 1943, the U.S. Army transport ship, Dorchester,
full to capacity, was carrying 751 passengers, 130 crew members and
23 naval personnel on its journey from Newfoundland to an American
military base in Greenland. The 5,649-ton ship was built in 1926 and
originally served as a luxury coastal liner. By 1943, the ship had
seen better days and most of the troops had been quite uneasy
boarding the "lousy old freighter."
The Dorchester was one of three transports in a small convoy,
accompanied by three U.S. Coast Guard cutters. Seas were rough and
the Dorchester rode the waves poorly, dipping and swaying, bouncing
and trembling as it plowed along through the winter blackness. All
during the voyage, the four chaplains; George L. Fox, Alexander D.
Goode, Clark V. Poling and John P. Washington, helped to soothe the
nerves of the 700 young draftees and enlisted men on board by
walking among them while laughing and joking, and by putting on
amateur floor shows every night. The chaplains also held regular
religious services which at first were poorly attended. However,
attendance increased with every mile the ship sailed further away
To reach Greenland, the convoy had to pass through U-boat
infested waters where numerous transports already had been sunk. On
the evening of February 2, 1943, one of the Coast Guard cutters
detected a submarine on its sonar and blinked the warning 'we are
being followed' to Dorchester's Captain, Hans J. Danielsen. An
urgent radio call then went out requesting anti-submarine patrol
planes. But the response came back that the planes were patrolling
"elsewhere." The ships would have to go it alone.
They were now only about 150 miles from their destination and
hopes were high they might make it to port unmolested. But as a
safety precaution, Captain Danielsen ordered all of the men on board
to sleep in their clothing and life jackets. Many of the men deep in
the ship's hold ignored this order due to the sweltering engine heat
and the uncomfortable bulkiness of the life jackets.
At one o'clock in the morning of February 3, 1943, the ship's
bell struck twice. It would never sound again. The periscope of
German submarine U-223 poked through the water's surface and spotted
the ship in its cross hairs. An officer gave the order to fire
The Dorchester was blasted on its starboard side near the engine
room far below the water line, killing a hundred men and knocking
out all power and radio contact. Captain Danielsen was informed his
ship was rapidly taking on water. He gave the order to abandon ship.
Panic now set in among the men below decks as they groped around
in the darkness, struggling to get topside. Many had no life jackets
or clothing. Those who made it up onto the listing deck immediately
realized they were about to die in the Arctic air and frigid water.
Lifeboats quickly became overcrowded to the point of capsizing.
Rafts were tossed into the sea but drifted away before anyone could
get into them. Only two lifeboats out of 14 were successfully
Amid the disorder, the four Army chaplains quietly spread out
among the soldiers, preaching courage to the frightened, offering
prayers to the wounded, and guiding the disoriented.
After most of the survivors had struggled up on deck, the four
chaplains opened a storage locker and began handing out life
jackets. Soon they ran out.
"Padre," a young soldier hollered, "I've lost my life jacket and
I can't swim!"
One of the four chaplains, it is not known which, removed his and
said, "Here, take mine. I won't need it. I'm staying." The other
three followed his example.
"It was," an eyewitness recalled, "the finest thing I have ever
seen or hope to see this side of heaven."
Now, just 27 minutes after the torpedo struck, the ship was about
to go down. The four chaplains locked arms together and braced
against the deck with its heavy starboard list. They prayed, each in
the tradition of his own faith, as the water reached their knees. A
wave swept over the ship, then another, and another. The Dorchester
fought to right herself but failed and plunged into the seething
Of the 902 aboard, 675 died, leaving just 227 survivors including
28 crew members, 44 civilian workers, 3 Danish citizens, 12 Navy gun
crewmen, 7 Coast Guard personnel and 135 U.S. Army personnel.
News of the tragedy and the heroic conduct of the four chaplains
caused a sensation in America. On December 19, 1944, the
Distinguished Service Cross for "extraordinary heroism" and the
Purple Heart were awarded posthumously to the chaplains' next of
kin. In 1961, the U.S. Congress authorized a unique
Special Medal for Heroism
which had never been given before and is never to be given
The German submarine U-223 (Gerlach) which sank the Dorchester
was itself sunk north of Palermo, Sicily, on March 30, 1944, by
About the Four Chaplains
George L. Fox (Methodist Minister)
George was the oldest of the four
chaplains. Born at the turn of the century in Altoona, Pennsylvania,
he was a bright schoolboy who enjoyed reading and was particularly
fond of Abraham Lincoln. As a teenager, he developed an interest in
religion and began studying the bible on his own. George had an
independent streak and did not want to become a farmer like his
In 1917, during World War I, he lied about
his age and enlisted in the U.S. Marines as a medical corps
assistant and was trained to be an ambulance driver. He served on
the Western Front in Europe and won a Silver Star for rescuing a
wounded soldier from a battlefield filled with poison gas, although
he himself had no gas mask. He won the Croix de Guerre for
outstanding bravery during an artillery barrage and spent many
months in the hospital with a broken back. He also received the
After the war, George attended Moody
Institute in Chicago where he met his future wife, Isadora Hurlbut,
from Vermont. They married and had two children. They settled in
Vermont where George worked as a public accountant and built a
successful practice. One evening, however, George came home from
work and told his wife he wanted to study for the ministry. She
George then attended Boston University
School of Theology and was graduated in June 1934. He then served as
a pastor at Waits River, Union, and Gilman, in Vermont. He was
fondly nicknamed "The Little Minister" because he was only 5 feet 7
George became active in the American Legion
veterans' organization and was particularly interested in hospital
work and child welfare. Because of his outstanding service, he was
appointed Department Chaplain for the State of Vermont for several
When Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941,
George told his wife, "I've got to go. I know from experience what
our boys are about to face. They need me." He enlisted in the U.S.
Army and attended chaplains' school at Harvard University where he
met and befriended Rabbi Alex Goode. George served with the 411th
Coast Artillery at Camp Davis, then at Camp Myles Standish in
Massachusetts, prior to being sent to Camp Taunton in Greenland via
the USAT Dorchester.
Before he boarded the Dorchester, he wrote
a letter to his little daughter: "I want you to know how proud I am
that your marks in school are so high -- but always remember that
kindness and charity and courtesy are much more important." His
daughter received the letter after the news that the ship had been
Alexander D. Goode (Jewish Rabbi)
Alex was born in Brooklyn, New York, to
Rabbi and Mrs. Goode, the oldest of three boys and one girl. His
family moved to Washington, D.C., when Alex was a boy. He was a
brilliant student who was always seen with at least one book in his
hands. He had particular interest in the United States Declaration
of Independence and the Constitution, along with a fondness for
mathematics, mechanics and oration.
He attended Eastern High School in
Washington, D.C., where he received sports medals for tennis,
swimming, and track. After World War I, when the body of the Unknown
Soldier was brought to nearby Arlington Cemetery, Alex attended the
ceremonies. Rather than take a bus or the family car to the
cemetery, Alex chose to walk the entire distance from his home,
thirty miles round-trip, as a show of respect.
Alex later joined the National Guard and
kept an active membership while training to follow in his father's
footsteps and become a rabbi. He married his childhood sweetheart,
Theresa Flax. They had a daughter which broke a long string of first
born boys in his family.
Alex became acquainted with one of the
leaders of the Reformed Rabbinate, Rabbi Simon, who persuaded him to
attend the University of Cincinnati and the Hebrew Union College.
Alex received his first rabbinical appointment at Temple Beth Israel
in York, Pennsylvania.
Remarkably, Alex said he would know better
how to heal men's souls if he knew how to heal their bodies as well.
So he decided to pursue a medical degree at John Hopkins University
in Baltimore and drove there every day, forty-five miles, while also
performing his rabbinical duties.
Alex joined the YMCA and became interested
in the interfaith movement. In York, Pa., he worked with the
superintendent of primary education to form a practical plan of
human relations education to eradicate segregation and bias in the
York schools. The plan was later adopted for the entire state of
Alex paid close attention to the news from
Europe concerning Hitler and expansion of the Nazi Reich. He became
involved in the American movement to aid Britain. He also tried to
enlist in the U.S. Navy as a chaplain, but was turned down due to a
lack of vacancies.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Alex
applied to the U.S. Army and was accepted. He was sent to the
chaplains' training school at Harvard where he met Rev. George Fox.
Alex was assigned to the Army Air Force
base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, but was quite unhappy there. He
wanted front line overseas duty to be near the men who needed him
most. He pulled many political strings to get sent to Europe. He was
first sent to Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Mass., a port of
embarkation. At the camp, he was reunited with Rev. George Fox and
also befriended Chaplain Clark Poling and Father John Washington.
One day in 1943, he sent a telegram to his
wife: "Having a wonderful experience." Mrs. Goode then knew that
Alex had found warm companionship and fellowship among men who could
share his faith and his laughter.
Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed Church)
Clark was the youngest of the four
chaplains. Born in Columbus, Ohio, he had a sister and a brother.
While the children were young, the family moved to Auburndale,
Massachusetts, where they attended public school. Young Clark was a
charming, but mischievous boy, who endeared himself to his teachers.
During World War I, Clark wrote his very
first letter in square-block printing. It was received by his
father, Rev. Dr. Poling, in a dugout on the Western Front in Europe.
"Dear Daddy: Gee, I wish I was where you are. Love, Clark."
The Clark family summered in Marshfield,
Mass., at their cottage and enjoyed many good times at the beach.
However, illness struck the family and Clark's mother passed away.
His sickly father then moved the family to the Poling grandparents
in Wilkensburg, Pennsylvania. A year later, the family moved back to
Boston. Clark's father then married a widow who had two daughters.
They lived in Long Island, New York, before finally settling in Lake
Sunapee, New Hampshire.
As a teenager, Clark attended Oakwood, a
Quaker school, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he formed several
life-long friendships. After graduation, he attended Hope College in
Holland, Michigan, a school of the Dutch Reformed religious
tradition. During his second year, Clark decided to become a
minister, and would thus become the seventh generation in an
unbroken line of ministers in his family.
However, he disagreed with some of his
college's policies and decided to leave, finishing his studies at
Rutgers University in New Jersey. Clark then went on to study at
Yale Divinity School. After serving student pastorates in Meriden
and New London, Conn., he became pastor of the First Reformed Church
in Schenectady, N.Y. He fell in love with and married Betty Jung
from Philadelphia. They had a son called 'Corky.' (A little girl was
born to Mrs. Poling at Easter time after the Dorchester went down.)
Following Pearl Harbor, Clark felt he
should go off to war but was undecided whether to serve as a soldier
or chaplain. "I can carry a gun as well as the next guy," he told
his father. "I'm not going to hide behind the Church in some safe
office out of the firing line."
"I think you're scared," his father joked.
"Don't you know that the mortality rate of chaplains is the highest
of all? As a chaplain, you'll have the best chance in the world to
be killed. The only difference is, you can't carry a gun to kill
Clark decided to be a chaplain. He received
basic training at Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He served as a chaplain
at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and was then sent to Camp Myles
Standish in Massachusetts prior to being sent on to his next
assignment in Greenland.
Clark paid what turned out to be a final
visit to his family and congregation at home, before embarking
aboard the Dorchester. Alone with his father in Dr. Poling's study,
Clark turned to his dad and said: "Dad, Dad, you know how much
confidence I have in your prayers, but Dad, I don't want you to pray
for my safe return. That wouldn't be fair."
"Many will not return and to ask God for
special family favors wouldn't be fair. No, Dad, don't pray for my
safe return. Just pray that I shall do my duty, and something more,
pray that I shall never be a coward. Pray that I shall have the
strength and courage and understanding of men, and especially pray
that I shall be patient. Oh Dad, just pray that I shall be
As a chaplain, Clark taught his men not to
bear personal hatred for German and Japanese soldiers or civilians.
His instructions were simple: "Hate the system that made your
Brother evil. It is the system we must destroy."
John P. Washington (Roman Catholic
John was born in Newark, New Jersey, the
son of poor Irish immigrants. He was the oldest of five boys and two
girls. Little Johnny had his father's grin and his mother's stoic
determination. He sold newspapers to bring home extra money to help
feed the nine mouths in the family. He also loved music and sang in
the church choir.
But Johnny was also a mischievous boy. He
liked to fight and could be seen occasionally sporting a black eye
or bloody nose. One day, while playing with a friend, Johnny
suffered a mishap. A BB gun they were fooling around with
accidentally went off and struck Johnny in the eye. It healed but
forced the life-long wearing of glasses.
Johnny become an altar boy in the sixth
grade and over the next few years began to believe God was calling
him to the priesthood. He shared his feelings with his parents and
the nuns at parochial school but was careful not to tell anyone
else. None of his boyhood friends ever suspected he might want to be
a priest due to his ever-present sense of humor and sometimes-salty
language. Johnny was even the onetime leader of the South Twelfth
Street boys in Newark.
Young Johnny became quite ill at one point
and was even given the last rites of the Catholic Church. He
recovered and as a result became a much more prayerful and kinder
He attended Seton Hall in Orange, New
Jersey, for both high school and college. When he finally broke the
news of his intention to become a priest, no one believed him at
first. John then attended seminary school at Darlington and was
ordained in June 1935. He said his first mass at his old home parish
of St. Rose's in Newark.
He was assigned to St. Genevieres in
Elizabeth, New Jersey, followed by assignments in St. Venatiaus in
Orange, and St. Stephens in Arlington, New Jersey. As a priest,
Father John was still one of the boys. He played ball with the kids
in the street and also organized parish baseball and football teams
along with glee clubs.
After Pearl Harbor, most of the youngsters
Father John had known went off to war. Father John wanted to go
right along with them. He tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy but was
rejected due to his eyesight. He applied to the U.S. Army and was
accepted after a long wait. He received basic training at Fort
Benjamin Harrison, then received orders for Greenland.
Before he embarked, John felt the need to
visit his family and friends to receive their prayers and blessings.
The last words he spoke to his mother on leaving: "Goodbye, Ma. No
crying, you'll be hearing from me."