Alexander D. Goode
Born May 10, 1911


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George L. Fox
Born March 15, 1900

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Clark V. Poling
Born August 7, 1910


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John P. Washington
Born July 18, 1908


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The Four Chaplains ~ USS Dorchester

Aboard the Dorchester, panic and chaos had set in. The blast had killed scores of men, and many more were seriously wounded. Others, stunned by the explosion were groping in the darkness. Those sleeping without clothing rushed topside where they were confronted first by a blast of icy Arctic air and then by the knowledge that death awaited.

Men jumped from the ship into lifeboats, over-crowding them to the point of capsizing, according to eyewitnesses. Other rafts, tossed into the Atlantic, drifted away before soldiers could get in them. Through the pandemonium, according to those present, four Army chaplains brought hope in despair and light in darkness.

Those chaplains were:

Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist
Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish
Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed
Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic

Quickly and quietly, the four chaplains spread out among the soldiers.  There they tried to calm the frightened, tend the wounded and guide the disoriented toward safety.  "Witnesses of that terrible night remember hearing the four men offer prayers for the dying and encouragement for those who would live," says Wyatt R. Fox, son of Reverend Fox.

One witness, Private William B. Bednar, found himself floating in oil-smeared water surrounded by dead bodies and debris.  "I could hear men crying, pleading, praying," Bednar recalls.  "I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage.  Their voices were the only thing that kept me going." Another sailor, Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, tried to reenter his cabin but Rabbi Goode stopped him.  Mahoney, concerned about the cold Arctic air, explained he had forgotten his gloves. "Never mind," Goode responded.  "I have two pairs."  The rabbi then gave the petty officer his own gloves.  In retrospect, Mahoney realized that Rabbi Goode was not conveniently carrying two pairs of gloves, and that the rabbi had decided not to leave the Dorchester.  

By this time, most of the men were topside, and the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. It was then that Engineer Grady Clark witnessed an astonishing sight.  When there were no more lifejackets in the storage room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men.  "It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven," said John Ladd, another survivor who saw the chaplains' selfless act.

Survivors said ho w the Chaplains had always ministered together and helped one another.  They did not let their differences in faith separate them.  They had one common goal and it was very clear on a daily basis.  Now they worked together to calm the men.

As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains--arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.

Of the 902 men aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, 672 died, leaving 230 survivors.

When the news reached American shores, the nation was stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy and heroic conduct of the four chaplains.  "Valor is a gift," Carl Sandburg once said. "Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes."  

The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously December 19, 1944, to the next of kin by Lt. Gen. Brehon B. Somervell, Commanding General of the Army Service Forces, in a ceremony at the post chapel at Fort Myer, VA.

A one-time only posthumous Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and awarded by the President Eisenhower on January 18, 1961. Congress attempted to confer the Medal of Honor but was blocked by the stringent requirements that required heroism performed under fire. The special medal was intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.