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The Four Chaplains
George L. Fox.pngAlexander D. Goode.png
George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode
Clark V. Poling.pngJohn P. Washington.png
Clark V. Poling, John P. Washington

The Four Chaplains were four United States Army chaplains who gave their lives to save other soldiers during the sinking of the USAT Dorchester during World War II. They helped other soldiers board lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out; 230 of the 904 men aboard the ship were rescued. Life jackets offered little protection from hypothermia which killed most men in the water. Water temperature was 34 °F (1 °C) and air temperature was 36 °F (2 °C). By the time additional rescue ships arrived "...hundreds of dead bodies were seen floating on the water, kept up by their life jackets."[1]


Sinking of the Dorchester

The chaplains, who all held the rank of lieutenant, were the Methodist Reverend George L. Fox, the Jewish Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, the Roman Catholic Priest John P. Washington and the Reformed Church in America Reverend Clark V. Poling. They were sailing on the USAT Dorchester troop transport on February 3, 1943, when the vessel, travelling in convoy, was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 in the North Atlantic. As the vessel sank, the four chaplains calmed the frightened soldiers and sailors, aided in the evacuation of the ship, and helped guide wounded men to safety. The chaplains also gave up their own life jackets.

As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. 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.
Grady Clark, survivor[2]

On December 19, 1944, all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross.[3]. The Four Chaplains' Medal was established by act of Congress on July 14, 1960, and was presented posthumously to their next of kin by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker at Ft. Myer, Virginia on January 18, 1961 [4].

Four Chaplains

The chaplains were also honored with a stamp, issued in 1948 and by an act of Congress designating February 3 as "Four Chaplains Day."

Goode, Poling and Washington had served as leaders in the Boy Scouts of America.[5]

Chapel of the Four Chaplains

A chapel in their honor was dedicated on February 3, 1951 by President Harry S. Truman to honor these soldiers of different faiths at Grace Baptist church in Philadelphia. In 1974, that congregation moved to Blue Bell selling the building to Temple University. The original chapel fell into disrepair and was eventually evicted by the university in 1991.[6]

Four Chaplains

The foundation overseeing the chapel moved the chapel to a temporary space in Pottstown, Pennsylvania while it raised funds for a new chapel on land donated at Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. Zoning problems, neighborhood opposition, and a lack of money led the chapel to move to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 2001.[6] The chapel was completed in 2004, and was given the name Chapel of Four Chaplains, in honor of the four Chaplains that lost their lives aboard the Dorchester.


  • IMMORTAL CHAPLAINS MEMORIAL SANCTUARY - On the Queen Mary - Long Beach, CA - Operated by The Immortal Chaplains Foundation - - founded by IMMORTAL FOUR CHAPLAINS' family and survivors of the USAT DORCHESTER tragedy...including 3 survivors of U-boat 223, which sank the Dorchester on February 3, 1943. (The Queen Mary transported these men to the USA as POWs one year after the sinking of the Dorchester.)
  • NATIONAL CATHEDRAL, Washington DC - HEROES CHAPEL WINDOW - Stained Glass depiction of the Four Chaplains
  • Civitan International, a worldwide volunteer association of service clubs, holds an interfaith Clergy Appreciation Week every year. The event honors the sacrifice of the Four Chaplains by encouraging citizens to thank the clergy that serve their communities.[7]
Memorial, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • A memorial created by sculptor Carlton W. Angell was dedicated to the Four Chaplains in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1954.
  • The chapel at the Pittsburgh International Airport was dedicated to the four chaplains in 1994.
  • The Four Chaplains Memorial Viaduct, spanning the Tuscarawas River in Massillon, Ohio, was built in 1949 and refurbished in 1993. It is part of the old Lincoln Highway. A memorial plaque can be found on the eastern end.
  • There is a memorial plaque at Belmont Park Racecourse in Elmont, New York. It is located behind the clubhouse section of the grandstand. It is bolted onto a rock on the walkway leading to the racing secretary's office.
  • There is a "Field of the Four Chaplains" at Fort Benning, Georgia.
  • Fort Lewis in Washington has a Four Chaplains' Memorial Chapel & Family Life Center.[8]
  • There is a plaque in the Rhode Island State House that commemorates the Four Chaplains and a Rhode Island native, Walter McHugh, a Coast Guard member who also lost his life on the Dorchester.
  • The chapel at Camp Tuckahoe in York County, Pennsylvania is dedicated to the Four Chaplains.
  • A musical composition entitled "The Light Eternal," written by James Swearingen in 1992, tells the story of the Four Chaplains through music.
  • The 23rd Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (Northern Jurisdiction) is based on the Four Chaplains incident, teaching "that faith in God will find expression in love for our fellow man, even to the ultimate personal sacrifice"
  • There is a memorial to the USS Dorchester and The Four Chaplains in a public park in Dorchester, Wisconsin.
  • At St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Hebron, Maryland has a small memorial set up inside of the church.
  • There is a window depicting the loss of the Dorchester at the Post Chapel at West Point.[9]

Chaplain's Medal for Heroism

See also


  1. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (1975). History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume I The Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1943. Little, Brown and Company.  
  2. ^ Kvaran, Einar Einarsson, An Annotated Inventory of Outdoor Sculpture of Washtenaw County, unpublished document, 1989
  3. ^ "Story".  
  4. ^ "Federal Military Medals and Decorations". Foxfall Medals, a leading source of information on American federal military medals, decorations, and ribbons..  
  5. ^ Larson, Keith. "The Immortal Chaplains". Scouts on Stamps Society International. Retrieved 2009-02-03.  
  6. ^ a b O'Reilly, David (2008-02-02). "Chaplains' WWII heroism echoes at Phila. chapel". Philadelphia Inquirer.  
  7. ^ "Clergy Appreciation Week". Civitan International website. Retrieved 2008-05-27.  
  8. ^ "Chapels". US Army.  
  9. ^ Office of the USMA Chaplain. Click on "Chapels" in left-hand column and then click on "Post Chapel", for the chapel's history and photo. USMA official website. Retrieved 2009-12-23.

External links



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