POMEROY — The selfless acts of four World War II chaplains was honored in a memorial service Sunday evening by Eighth District American Legion members at Drew Webster American Legion Post #39 in Pomeroy.
The Four Chaplains, also referred to as the “Immortal Chaplains” or the “Dorchester Chaplains,” were four World War II chaplains who gave their lives to save other civilian and military personnel as the troop ship SS Dorchester sank on Feb. 3, 1943.
The ship carrying the chaplains and approximately 900 others was a civilian liner converted for military use. The Dorchester left New York on Jan. 23, 1943, en route to Greenland as part of a convoy of three ships escorted by Coast Guard cutters. At 12:55 a.m., Feb. 3, 1943, the Dorchester was torpedoed by a German submarine in the cold waters of the North Atlantic.
Survivors, including First Sergeant Michael Warish, recounted stories of the chaplains remaining calm during the panic following the attack, helping soldiers board lifeboats and giving up their own life jackets when the supply ran out.
As survivors watched the ship rapidly sinking in the icy waters, they witnessed the chaplains with joined arms, saying prayers, and singing hymns as they went down with the ship.
The Chaplains, all relatively new additions to the service, held the rank of First Lieutenant and included Methodist minister the Reverend George L. Fox, born in 1900 in Lewistown, Pennsylvania; Reform Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, born 1911 Brooklyn, New York; Catholic priest Father John P. Washington, born 1908, Newark, New Jersey; and Reformed Church in America minister the Reverend Clark V. Poling, born 1910, Columbus, Ohio.
On Dec. 19, 1944, all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. The chaplains were nominated for the Medal of Honor but found ineligible as they had not engaged in combat with the enemy. Some years later Congress designated Feb. 3 as “Four Chaplains Day” and in 1960 authorized a special medal, the Four Chaplains’ Medal, which was presented to their survivors.
The Four Chaplains story was so moving and representative of the sacrifices many made to save their comrades that it is remembered with ceremonies and services held each year on or around the Feb. 3.
Post 39 officiated the activities with Chaplain Jerry Fredrick opening the observance and Commander John Hood welcoming guests. George Hoffman conducted a MIA/POW ceremony, followed by Wayne Thomas reading the “Saga of the Four Chaplains”. The following read tributes to each of the chaplains; John Hood, Goode; Dan Arnold, Fox; Wally Hatfield, Poling; and Steve VanMeter, Washington.
The observance continued with a roll call of the Posts represented, lighting of memorial candles and placement of a wreath.
Services concluded with Taps, a benediction, and the retiring of colors.
Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.