Today in History: The Four Chaplains of World War II
In the early hours of February 3, 1943, the U.S. Army troopship Dorchester steamed through the icy waters of “torpedo alley” some hundred miles off the coast of Greenland. The ship, carrying more than 900 men, was having a rough go of it. Winter winds screeched across the North Atlantic, and heavy seas pounded the bow. Beneath the frenzied surface lurked a German submarine.
At 12:55 a.m. a torpedo ripped into the Dorchester’s side , and immediately the ship started to sing. Desperate soldiers rushed topside, stumbling toward lifeboats and jumping overboard.
Amid the confusion, four Army chaplains worked quietly and methodically, calming the soldiers, directing them toward lifeboats, and handing out life jackets. When they ran out, they took off their own life jackets and put them on other men.
They were four chaplains of different faiths: Jewish rabbi Alexander Goode, Catholic priest John Washington, and Protestant ministers George Fox and Clark Poling. They had joined the U.S. Army to tend to the spiritual needs of the troops. Now, in this hour of urgent need, they put their courage and faith to work so others might live.
As the ship slid beneath the surface, soldiers in the lifeboats took one last look at the Dorchester. They saw the four chaplains standing on deck, arms linked, praying.
Rescue ships plucked 230 men from the sea, but 672 died in the freezing Atlantic. The four chaplains were not among the survivors.
”They were always together,” one of the soldiers later said. “They carried their faith together.” The four chaplains died as they lived, serving their country, their fellow men, and God.
American History Parade
1690 - Massachusetts authorizes the first paper currency issued in American.
1913 - The Sixteenth Amendment, authorizing a federal income tax, is ratified.
1917 - Baseball’s National League is formed with eight teams.
1887 - The United States breaks off diplomatic relations with Germany after a German submarine sinks the liner Housatonic off the coast of Sicily.
1943 - The Army transport ship Dorchester’s sinks after being hit by a German torpedo.
1959 - Rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed when their chartered plane crashes in Iowa.