Imagine four Army chaplains during an icy storm at sea; four men in uniform holding hands as they gaze over the rail of their sinking vessel. They are watching lifeboats pulling away from their reeling ship, the U.S. transport Dorchester. The story of these chaplains is a remarkable account of love and sacrifice.
The scene takes place February 3, 1943, off the southern tip of Greenland. The winter night covers the ship like a blanket. Most of the 909 aboard ship are asleep below the decks.
Suddenly the Dorchester jerks and shudders. A German torpedo has smashed through her starboard side! In a raging torrent, the sea spurts through the gaping wound. The Dorchester has been dealt a mortal blow. She is sinking.
An order is given to abandon ship. Aboard the dying vessel, men – many of them injured – search frantically for life jackets. Some stand in shock, not knowing how to react to the catastrophe.
Amidst the chaos stand four pillars of strength, four Army chaplains: George L. Fox, Methodist; Alexander Goode, Jewish; Clark V. Poling, Reformed; and John P. Washington, Roman Catholic. They calm the panic-stricken, help the confused search for life jackets and aid the soldiers into the lifeboats swinging out from the tilting deck.
When no more jackets can be found, each chaplain takes off his own and straps it onto a soldier who has none. The lifeboats pull slowly away from the doomed vessel. Only 299 will finally survive this night.
As the Dorchester slides beneath the icy water, some can see the four chaplains, hand in hand, praying to the God of them all. The chaplains’ different theological opinions did not seem to matter much on a sinking ship. All that mattered was that, at a time of crisis, they lived their love. Yet even for us, every day in lesser ways, I suspect that’s all that ever matters.
-- Steve Goodier
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