Captured in a stained glass window in the Pentagon chapel is a portrait of four men who lost their lives on Feb. 3, 1943, when the U.S. Army troopship Dorchester was torpedoed about 100 miles from Greenland. More than 600 men died, some from a massive explosion following the hit, others when the ship sank quickly in the North Atlantic.
The men depicted in the Pentagon window were chaplains serving aboard the Dorchester: George L. Fox, a Methodist minister, Alexander D. Goode, a rabbi, John P. Washington, a priest, and Clark V. Poling, a minister of the reformed church in America.
In the confusion and panic after the explosion, the chaplains tried to calm their shipmates, handing out lifejackets and helping soldiers into lifeboats. According to the U.S. Army’s website, “When there were no more life jackets in the storage room, the chaplains simultaneously removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men.” As the ship sank, survivors saw the four chaplains on the deck, arms linked and offering prayers.
“It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven,” survivor John Ladd said.
The Pentagon window commemorates their sacrifice, as did a moving tribute Saturday, Feb. 1 at the Charles E. Sherman, Jr. American Legion post in an observance of national Four Chaplains Day, Feb. 3.
Post commander David Patch explained, “We have been honoring our veterans appropriately over the past several decades, but little is known of our chaplain veterans. For many combat veterans, chaplains are their lifeline to normality. This ceremony demonstrates why.”
The morning ceremony began with comments from Patch, posting of the colors by members of the U.S. Coast Guard Color Guard and an invocation by Rev. Al Roberts. Robert Raudenbush explained the significance of the “table for one” representing members of the military who are missing in action and their loved ones waiting for them to return.
Attendees read an interfaith prayer which gave thanks for the unity shown by the chaplains, “... who having learned to live and serve together, in death were not divided.”
Seated at a table behind photos of the chaplains and four lifejackets, Deacon Bob Curtis, Joel Morley, Chris Armstead and Al Sirois lighted a candle as each read a brief biography of one of the chaplains.
The ceremony continued with reading the list of 40 Mainers who perished when the ship sank. Stephanie Hawke and Gerry Gamage alternated in reading each name as a ship bell was struck. A recording of the Navy hymn played and, after a benediction, refreshments were served.
Patch summarized, “This ceremony is about how four people of different faiths learned to live and serve together and remained together even to their death. This country can learn a lot from the message of this ceremony. We will hold this ceremony annually and I can only hope that this important message will resonate with the community and the attendance will grow in the future.”