The Four Chaplains

On January 23, 1943, the SS Dorchester set sail from New York en route to Greenland. The Dorchester carried 900 civilian and military personnel as part of a convoy of three ships. During the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, the ship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 off the coast of Newfoundland. Four chaplains were on board: George L. Fox (Methodist minister); Alexander D. Goode (Jewish Rabbi); John P. Washington (Catholic Priest); and Clark V. Poling (Reformed Church Minister). The four had met at the Army Chaplains School at Harvard University. All had served as leaders of the Boy Scouts of America.

As the ship began to sink, the Chaplains helped organize the evacuation of the ship, they hurried men into the lifeboats and when the supply of life jackets ran out, the Four Chaplains each gave theirs – to another. As the bow began to raise, the Four Chaplains linked arms and began praying and singing hymms. A survivor – Grady Clark – said “As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. . . The last thing I saw – the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

The story was received back in America with considerable emotion. Each of the Four Chaplains was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart. They were nominated for the Medal of Honor but were found technically ineligible as their deaths did not occur in combat.

On May 28, 1948, a stamp was issued to honor the legacy of the Four Chaplains. I still have my stamp collection and my examples of this iconic stamp.

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