Interfaith: Four Chaplains Sunday

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 3: Many congregations and veterans’ groups nationwide are honoring the so-called Four Chaplains of World War II around this first weekend of February.

Since 1988, by an act of the U.S. Congress, February 3 has been set aside to remember these four men who gave up their lives in World War II. However, check local newsmedia in you part of the U.S. for details. For example, Mariner United Methodist Church in Spring Hill, Florida, will hold its Four Chaplain’s service on February 10 this year. In Taftville, Connecticut, the event will be February 3, but in a local American Legion post rather than a house of worship. In some towns, the event was held before February 3.

Whenever the chaplains are remembered, the focus is on selfless sacrifice and interfaith unity.

By handing over their lifejackets while aboard a sinking ship in World War II—then linking arms, praying in their own respective religious traditions, the men provided a shining example of religious unity across doctrinal boundaries. Their story has been retold in numerous documentaries, memorials, books and annual ceremonies. (Wikipedia has details.)

The Dorchester was a civilian cruise ship built in 1926 that later was converted for military service during WWII. By the time renovations and additions were finished, a ship originally built for 315 passengers could now carry more than 900. On Jan. 23, 1943, the USAT Dorchester left New York for Greenland—but it never arrived at its destination. The service ship was slammed by German submarine U-223 at 12:55 a.m. on Feb. 3; three-quarters of the men aboard the Dorchester perished that night.

The one ray of hope in this great tragedy was the four chaplains. The four were a Methodist chaplain, the Rev. George Fox, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Roman Catholic Father John Washington and Reformed Church in America Minister Clark Poling. Their example calmed down the ship’s men when the electrical system failed. They attempted to help organize the evacuation of the vessel. While passing out a short supply of life jackets, the chaplains took the jackets off their backs and gave them to other men.

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