The Four Chaplains, also sometimes referred to as the "Immortal Chaplains" or the "Dorchester Chaplains", were four United States Army chaplains who gave their lives to save other civilian and military personnel
as the troop ship SS Dorchester sank on February 3, 1943, during World War II. Dorchester left New York on January 23, 1943, en route to Greenland, carrying the four chaplains and approximately 900 others,
as part of a convoy of three ships (SG-19 convoy).
The ship's captain, Hans J. Danielsen, had been alerted that Coast Guard sonar had detected a submarine. Because German U-boats were monitoring sea lanes and had attacked and sunk ships earlier during the war, Captain Danielsen had the ship's crew on a state of high alert even before he received that information, ordering the men to sleep in their clothing and keep their life jackets on. "Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship's hold disregarded the order because of the engine's heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were uncomfortable."
During the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., the vessel was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 off Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester's electrical system, leaving the ship dark. Panic set in among the men on board, many of them trapped below decks. The chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation of the ship, and helped guide wounded men to safety. As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out before each man had one. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.
On December 19, 1944, all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. Congress also attempted to confer the Medal of Honor on each of the four chaplains, but the stringent requirements for that medal required heroism performed "under fire," and the bravery and ultimate sacrifice of these men did not technically qualify, since their actions took place after the torpedo attack. Therefore, members of Congress decided to authorize a special medal intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor. This award, the Four Chaplains' Medal, was approved by a unanimous act of Congress on July 14, 1960, through Public law 86-656 of the 86th Congress. The medals were presented posthumously to the next of kin of each of the Four Chaplains by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker at Ft. Myer, Virginia on January 18, 1961.
In 1988, Feb. 3 was established by a unanimous act of Congress as an annual "Four Chaplains Day."
George L. Fox was born March 15, 1900, in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. When he was 17, he left school and lied about his age in order to join the Army to serve in WW I.
He joined the ambulance corps in 1917. As a medical corps assistant in France, he was highly decorated for bravery and was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre.
Upon his discharge, he returned home and completed high school. He entered Moody Bible Institute in Illinois in 1923. He and Isadora G. Hurlbut of Vermont were married in 1923, when he began his religious career as an itinerant Methodist preacher. He later graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington and studied at the Boston University School of Theology, where he was ordained a Methodist minister on June 10, 1934.
In 1942, Fox volunteered to serve as an Army chaplain. He began active duty on August 8, 1942. After Army Chaplains school at Harvard, he reported to the 411th Coast Artillery Battalion at Camp Davis. He was then united with Chaplains Goode, Poling and Washington at Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts, where they prepared to depart for Europe on board the Dorchester.
Reform-Rabbi Alexander D. Goode (Ph.D) was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 10, 1911, the son of Rabbi Hyman Goodekowitz. He was raised in Washington, D.C., attending Eastern High School, eventually deciding to follow his father's footsteps by studying for the rabbinate himself, at Hebrew Union College (HUC), where he graduated with a B.H. degree in 1937. He later received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1940. While studying for the rabbinate at HUC, he worked at the Washington Hebrew Congregation during summer breaks.
He originally applied to become a Navy chaplain in January 1941, but was not accepted. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he applied to the Army, receiving his appointment as a chaplain on July 21, 1942. Chaplain Goode went on active duty on August 9, 1942, and was selected for the Chaplains School at Harvard. Chaplain Goode was then assigned to the 333rd Airbase Squadron in Goldsboro, North Carolina. In October 1942, he was transferred to Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts and reunited with chaplains Fox, Poling and Washington, who had been among his classmates at Harvard.
Clark V. Poling was born August 7, 1910, in Columbus, Ohio, the son of evangelical minister Daniel A. Poling, who was rebaptized in 1936 as a Baptist minister. Clark Poling studied at Yale University's Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut and graduated with his B.D. degree in 1936. He was ordained in the Reformed Church in America, and served first in the First Church of Christ, New London, Connecticut, and then as Pastor of the First Reformed Church, in Schenectady, New York. He married Betty Jung.
With the outbreak of World War II, Poling decided to enter the Army, wanting to face the same danger as others. His father, who had served as a World War I chaplain, told him chaplains risk and give their lives, too - and with that knowledge, he applied to serve as an Army chaplain, accepting an appointment on June 10, 1942 as a chaplain with the 131st Quartermaster Truck Regiment, reporting to Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on June 25. Later he reported to Army Chaplains School at Harvard, where he would meet Chaplains Fox, Goode, and Washington.
John P. Washington was born in Newark, New Jersey on July 18, 1908. He studied at Seton Hall, in South Orange, New Jersey, to complete his high school and college courses in preparation for the Catholic priesthood. He graduated in 1931 with an A.B. Degree, entering Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, New Jersey, where he received his minor orders on May 26, 1933. He served as a subdeacon at all the solemn masses and later became a deacon on December 25, 1934. He was elected prefect of his class and was ordained a priest on June 15, 1935.
Father Washington's first parish was at St. Genevieve's, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He later served at St. Venantius for a year. In 1938, he was assigned to St. Stephen's in Kearny, New Jersey. Shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941, he received his appointment as a chaplain in the United States Army, reporting for active duty on May 9, 1942. He was named Chief of the Chaplains Reserve Pool, in Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, and in June 1942, he was assigned to the 76th Infantry Division in Ft. George Meade, Maryland. In November 1942, he reported to Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts and met Chaplains Fox, Goode and Poling at Chaplains School at Harvard.