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The Catholic Defender: Remembering The Four Chaplains

World War I gave rise to submarine warfare as the Germans attempted to use Submarines to defeat England and America. They felt that if they would have had 100 submarines they could have completed their task. Because of the technology developed by Germany in submarine warfare, this has caused the major powers to develop and improve the technology. Today, we have submarines that have nuclear capability.

During World War II, ships at sea were sometimes vulnerable to the threat of submarine warfare. After putting together my article on the Titanic, a friend of mine from DCF, Defenders of the Catholic Faith (GKC), asked me if I were aware of The Four Chaplains? I did remember this story because of their bravery. The following is their story: The Dorchester was sent on mission leaving New York on January 23, 1943. It's mission: to transfer 900 civilians and military to Greenland, this included the four chaplains. The Dorchester was escorted by the Coast Guard traveling in convoy (SG-19 convoy). The Coast Guard Cutters Tampa, Escanaba, and Comanche embarked the journey. Captains log, February 3, 1943 at 12:55 a.m., the Dorchester was hit by a torpedo by the German submarine (U-223) just off Newfoundland.

Notice how close to home this was? The torpedo knocked out the electrical system causing a wide panic among the passengers. Despite the fact that the Commander, Captain Hans J. Danielson ordered for the ship's crew to sleep in their clothing and life jackets, the order was largely ignored and when the torpedo hit, you can imagine the chaos that followed. With the panic, the Chaplains tried to help calm the situation as they attempted to evacuate the ship in an orderly fashion. There were wounded Sailors and the Chaplains were seen helping the wounded. As the supplies ran out so did the life jackets and so the Chaplains offered theirs to those who had none. One of the survivors, Grady Clark, stated, "As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets" (source: Kvaran, Einar Einarsson, An Annotated Inventory of Outdoor Sculpture of Washtenaw County, unpublished document, 1989).

Other eye witness accounts heard the Chaplains praying in Latin along with Jewish prayers ( Of the 904 passengers aboard the Dorchester, 230 were rescued. Because of the cold water, hypothermia nutralized the life jackets as most perished in the water. The water temperature was 34 °F (1 °C) and the air temperature was 36 °F (2 °C). By the time additional rescue ships arrived, "hundreds of dead bodies were seen floating on the water, kept up by their life jackets." (Morison, Samuel Eliot (1975). History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume I The Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1943. Little, Brown and Company).

Of the Four Chaplains, one was a Catholic Priest, one was a Jewish Rabbi, one was Church of Christ, and the other was a Methodist. These men: George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode, Clark V. Poling, and John P. Washington are American heros who displayed exceptional heroism in the face of danger. They were seen going down arm in arm locked singing praise to God. "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).

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