For 10 anxious days, the crewmen of the American Troop Transport Ship (U.S.S. – Dorchester) watched the frigid North Atlantic for enemy periscopes, imagining how their lives might end. Then on February 3, 1943, came the explosion, the shudder, the smoke and screams and the scramble for lifejackets that would make heroes of the four chaplains on board the Dorchester.
Distinguished Service Crosses, a special Congressional Medal of Valor, presidential speeches, a postage stamp, a memorial chapel in Philadelphia, and a national day of recognition followed.
Only 230 of the 902 young men on the ship sailing from New York toward a base in Greenland survived the attack by the German submarine. It was one of the worst death tolls on any American ship sunk at sea in World War. That terrible loss was transformed, however, when survivors told rescuers what they had witnessed during the Dorchester’s final minutes. The ships four Chaplains – one Jewish, two Protestant, one Catholic – had given up their life jackets to panicked soldiers and sailors and gone to their deaths praying together as the ship went down. “They had no chance without life jackets” marveled a young engineer pulled from the sea hours later. “The bow came up high and she slid under…..I did not see them again”. The last thing any of the 230 survivors reported hearing before the ship went under was a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. It was the finest thing I have ever seen or hope to see this side of heaven”, said John Ladd, another survivor.
The Four Chaplains were: Lt George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt Alexander D. Goode, a rabbi; Lt John P. Washington, a Catholic priest; and Lt Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister.
On February 5th, 2012, the Yorktown American Legion Post #1009 will commemorate this great event at its Post Hall at 235 Veterans Road, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598. We will begin the 1 hour ceremony at 2 pm followed by light refreshments. We are very fortunate to have 4 members of the Yorktown Clergy assisting us in this celebration. They include:
• Rev. Dan O’Brien, Calvary Bible Church
• Msgr. Thomas Sandi, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
• Rabbi Robert Weiner, Temple Beth Am
• Mother Claire Woodley Aitchison, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
This event is open to the Public. Please come and join us.