Choir Notes

Honoring Our Heroes
From Music and the Spoken Word
Delivered By: Lloyd D. Newell

On February 3, 1943, the U.S. Army troopship Dorchester, part of a naval convoy, steamed steadily across the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean en route to World War II’s European front. On board were 900 soldiers.  The seas were rough, and the stretch was treacherous; German submarines were known to lurk below in what was called “torpedo alley.”

At 12:55 a.m. a German submarine fired three torpedoes at the Dorchester. One ripped into the middle of the ship, and it swiftly began to sink. Chaos erupted on board. Several soldiers were killed; several more were injured. Some men jumped overboard. Four army chaplains—Protestant ministers George Fox and Clark Poling, Catholic priest John Washington, and Jewish rabbi Alexander Goode—were among the first to reach the top deck. Doing what chaplains do, they immediately began providing comfort, guidance, and hope. Calmly and systematically they distributed life jackets and, when the supply ran out, took off their own life jackets, handed them to the panicked soldiers, and pointed them to waiting lifeboats.

As the ship slid beneath the surface, soldiers in lifeboats caught one last look at the chaplains standing on the hull of the ship, arm-in-arm, praying. Rescue ships pulled 230 to safety that night, but almost 700 died.

The four chaplains were not among the survivors.

John Ladd, one of the survivors who witnessed the chaplains’ selfless acts, later said, “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”1

Today, from a veterans memorial cemetery at Camp Williams in Utah, we honor all those who gave their lives in service to our country. We remember that faith and selflessness are fundamental to honorable living. Their examples teach us where faith and selflessness lead and what courage, compassion, and sacrifice really mean. May we recognize and value these qualities in others and strive to develop them in ourselves.

1 See “The Saga of the Four Chaplains,” fourchaplains.org/story.html.

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