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LA Mirada VFW Honors The Four Chaplains

By Tammye McDuff

The La Mirada VFW Post 9148 recently held a special presentation of ‘The Four Chaplains’ also referred to as the ‘Immortal Chaplains’ or the ‘Dorchester Chaplains’. These men were four World War II chaplains who died rescuing civilians and military personnel as the American troopship SS Dorchester sank on February 3, 1943.

The 60-minute documentary is extraordinary because the story is extraordinary. Four chaplains during World War II went down together; Reverend George Fox (Methodist); Father John Washington (Catholic); Reverend Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Rabbi Alexander Goode (Jewish).

The men on the transport ship, the Dorchester, were told to sleep with their life jackets on, many were caught off guard when the German wolf pack hit with two torpedoes; the ship sank after 18 minutes. Noticing that many had no life jackets, the four gave their jackets to fellow soldiers. More than 600 out of the 900 soldiers were killed in the icy waters. “Stark panic whipped across the ship; men cursed bitterly and others wept as they struggled feverishly with boats and lines. Others rushed below deck never to return.”

Through this scene of terror stood these four men, giving some the strength to survive and others the courage to die. Survivors told the story of how these four brave men joined hands, sang hymns, and gave prayers as the ship went down. These chaplains serve as modern-day role models. Even though they came from different cultures, they realized, lived and died by what they taught.

“During the last dying moments of the freighter, four chaplains, their crosses on their collars and one with the Tablets of the Law, stood with arms linked in devoted prayer as the vessel’s bow came up and then slid under the raging surface.” In the end, a man who tries to save his own life will lose it, and a man who tries to save others will save it.

On December 19, 1944 all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. Members of Congress later authorized a special medal, the Four Chaplains Medal, approved by a unanimous act of Congress July 14, 1960.

This medal was presented posthumously to the next of kin of each of the Chaplains.