Clark V. Poling
Born August 7, 1910
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.