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The Four Chaplains: Lasting Legacy of the Sacrifice

By Chaplain Samuel Adamson, DMin, Chief Chaplain, Philadelphia VA Medical Center

During World War II, a U.S. ship named the Dorchester was crowded to capacity. The ship carried 902 service men, merchant seaman, and civilian workers. The ship was moving across the icy waters from Newfoundland toward an American base in Greenland. The 5,649-ton Dorchester was once a luxury coastal liner. This ship had been converted into an Army transport. Hans J. Danielson, the ship's captain, was concerned and cautious that night. Earlier an enemy submarine had been detected by sonar. The captain knew he was in dangerous waters. German U-boats were constantly prowling these vital sea-lanes. Several ships had already been blasted and sunk.

A German submarine torpedoed the Dorchester on February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m. The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester's electrical system. The ship was dark. Panic set in among the men on board. The Four Chaplains sought to calm the men. They organized an orderly evacuation of the ship. They guided wounded men to safety. The Four Chaplains helped other soldiers board lifeboats. They gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. The Chaplains joined arms, said prayers, and sang hymns as they went down with the ship. These four United States Army chaplains gave their lives to save other soldiers. The Four Chaplains are an example of courage, selflessness, dedication, and sacrifice. They were:

  • Chaplain Alexander D. Goode (Jewish)

  • Chaplain John P. Washington (Roman Catholic)

  • Chaplain George L. Fox (Protestant)

  • Chaplain Clark V. Poling (Protestant)

VA Chaplains Identify with the Four Chaplains Story

A VA Chaplain can identify with the Four Chaplains story. A VA Chaplain is a part of interfaith teamwork. A VA Chaplain provides courage and strength to Veterans. Chaplain Lucy Pierre is an example of this. Chaplain Lucy Pierre ministers to Veterans and their families at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. Chaplain Pierre said, "Compassion is very important. We never know when it is the last time to see a Veteran. It is important to help Veterans find solace. Veterans tell me it really helps when I visit them, give a healing touch, and have prayer with them."

Chaplain George L. Fox
Chaplain George L. Fox
Chaplain Alexander D. Goode
Chaplain Alexander D. Goode
Chaplain Clarke V. Poling
Chaplain Clarke V. Poling
Chaplain John P. Washington
Chaplain John P. Washington

Veteran Caregivers Identify with the Four Chaplains Story

Caregivers of Veterans can identify with the Four Chaplains story. These caregivers are an example of selfless dedication. They give their time and their energies to care for Veterans. Like the Four Chaplains, they provide love, sometimes sacrifice their own needs, and provide safety for sick and handicapped Veterans. Many family members work tirelessly and without concern for self. They do this to provide care for their loved one. One of our beloved WW II Veterans passed away this year. The Veteran was very ill for a long time. His daughter said of their family care, "It was a joy for us as a family to take care of dad. It was hard work at times, but we did not mind because he is family. Taking care of family is more important than anything else." This loyalty is like the sacred order of the Four Chaplains.

"The Saga of the Four Chaplains," The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, Philadelphia, PA (2007-08).

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Chaplains continue the tradition of helping Veterans cope with their situations. These articles were written by VA Chaplains for Veterans and their families and friends.

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