Four Chaplains: Congregations honor interfaith heroism during World War II

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2023—In many chapels and congregations nationwide, a Four Chaplains observance is held every year on February 3rd to remember and honor four brave chaplains who sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others.

On February 3, 1943, the US Army transport ship Dorchester was carrying 902 soldiers, civilians, and crew members across the North Atlantic. Suddenly, the ship was hit by a German torpedo and started sinking rapidly. Panic and chaos broke out among the passengers, many of whom could not swim.

The ship was rapidly sinking, panic ensued—but four chaplains—the Rev. George Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander Good (Jewish), the Rev. Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Fr. John Washington (Roman Catholic)—spread out and began helping the wounded and panicked. Amid the chaos, the four chaplains calmly offered prayers and encouraging words as they helped people to lifeboats.

When they realized that there weren’t enough life jackets for everyone, the chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to the soldiers who couldn’t swim. The chaplains then linked arms and said prayers for the soldiers, comforting them as the ship went down.

All four chaplains lost their lives in the sinking of the Dorchester, but their actions inspired many and became a symbol of selfless heroism and interfaith cooperation. The annual observance of Four Chaplains Day is a time to remember and honor these brave men and their sacrifice for others. It serves as a reminder of the power of love, compassion, and unity in times of adversity.

Ceremonies in honor of the courageous men emphasize “unity without uniformity,” a primary part of the mission of the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation. The Chapel of the Four Chaplains was dedicated by President Harry S. Truman in 1951. In 1988, an act of Congress officially declared February 3 as an annual Four Chaplains Day.


The four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross. In 1960, a Congressional Medal of Valor was created and presented to the chaplains’ next of kin. Stained glass windows of the men still exist in a number of chapels across the country—and at the Pentagon—and each year, American Legions posts nationwide continue to honor the Four Chaplains with memorial services. The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation continues to honor those who exemplify the heroic traits of the Four Chaplains, promoting “unity without uniformity.”

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