Tuesday, February 07, 2012

TOP STORY >> Legion honors heroic war chaplains

Leader staff writer

The Cabot American Legion Post 71 held a memorial service on Sunday to honor four chaplains of different faiths who sacrificed their lives to save four soldiers on a troop carrier that was sunk by a German submarine during the Second World War.

On the night of Feb. 2, 1943, the Army transport ship Dorchester was traveling the frigid waters from Newfoundland to an American base in Greenland.

The Dorchester, a former luxury ocean liner, was carrying 902 servicemen, merchant seamen and civilian workers. It was escorted by three Coast Guard cutter ships.

The Dorchester was 150 miles from the base. The captain ordered the men to sleep in their clothing and keep their life jackets on. Many of the men ignored the captain’s orders, because the life jackets were uncomfortable and the ship’s engine made them hot.

A German U-boat spotted the Dorchester at 12:55 a.m. on Feb. 3. The submarine fired torpedoes, striking the Dorchester. The hit blasted a hole in the ship and knocked out radio contact. The ship sank 27 minutes later.

One of the Coast Guard ships saw the flash from the blast and three cutters circled back to the Dorchester.

While the men were jumping ship, chaplains Lt. George Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander Goode, Jewish; Lt. John Washington, Roman Catholic, and Lt. Clark Poling, Dutch Reformed, stayed on the ship calming the wounded and offering prayers to the dying and hope for the survivors.

When there were no more life jackets, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four soldiers. As the Dorchester slipped into the waters, survivors in the life rafts saw the four chaplains with their arms linked, braced against the slanting deck continuing to offer prayers until their deaths.

That night, 672 died and 230 survived. The four chaplains received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart medals. In 1961, the military honored the chaplains with the Special Medal for Heroism, the only time the medal was presented.

The Cabot Legionnaires honored the four chaplains with a memorial service and candle lighting. Among those attending the service were Mayor Bill Cypert, Cub Scout Pack 205 and American Legion national chaplain Carl Schmidt.