Friday, February 3, 2012

The Four Immortal Chaplains

Sometimes we forget the sacrifices of our military clergy. Some of my contemporaries talk about becoming military chaplains for many reasons. Some feel it would satisfy the sense of adventure or patriotism. Others consider being on hand for the men and women in uniform is very valuable and crucial in life and death situations. Some think that as our diocese moves more toward lay ministry, a priest could be of more value in the front lines. A few think the benefits are better and more profitable.

However, rare are the sacrifices and demands for self-giving discussed. For Catholics, the very nature of a priest is sacrifice.

This story today brings it home.

On Feb. 3, 1943, a German U-boat fired three torpedoes at the Dorchester,an American transport ship. One of them hit the ship’s boiler room, and it started to sink quickly.After the torpedo hit, “the chaplains ( Father John Washington, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.; the Rev. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister; Jewish Rabbi Alexander Goode; and the Rev. George Fox, a Methodist) were the first on board to calm the men. [They] found the lockers with lifejackets in them, handed them out and, when they ran out, witnesses said that … the chaplains simply removed their own and placed them on the men. They never asked, ‘What religion are you? What race are you?’ It didn’t matter to them. It was simply an action of compassion and love they extended to their fellow human being.”

The Dorchester sank in just 18 minutes about 100 miles off the coast of Greenland. Although it resulted in a huge loss of life, the chaplains’ actions are credited with helping to save the lives of 230 men. The chaplains’ story is forever linked with their actions on the Dorchester, but they also changed lives before that fateful day.

The Four Immortal Chaplains are memorialized today on the anniversary of their deaths by various civic and religious organizations.