How many of us knew, but perhaps have forgotten,
the story of the Four Chaplains who, during the Second World War,
gave up their life-jackets to other servicemen on their sinking
ship, in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, on February 3, 1943
and went down with their ship - the DORCHESTER?
How many of us know that one of those Chaplains - Father John
Patrick Washington - was from Newark?
Rev. George L. Fox, a Methodist Minister, from Vermont; Rabbi
Alexander Goode, from Indiana/Pennsylvania; Rev. Clark V. Poling,
a Dutch Reformed Minister, from Ohio; and Father John Patrick Washington,
a Catholic Priest, from Newark, met while attending the Chaplain's
School at Harvard in November of 1942.
After finishing school the four of them were assigned to the U.S.A.T.
Dorchester, an aging, luxury coastal liner which had been converted
to a troop ship. The Chaplains came on board on January 23, 1943,
and became part of the 902, Merchant Marines, civilians, and your
soldiers, who filled nearly every available space.
On February 2nd, the Dorchester was within 150 miles of Greenland,
when one of her three Coast Guard escorts and received sonar readings
which indicated that a German submarine was nearby. The Captain
of the ship, Hans Danielson, had instructed all on board to sleep
in their clothes and life-jackets that night - just in case. However,
many of those on board, ignoring the Captain's order, went to be
in their underwear. Then, early in the morning of the 3rd the Dorchester
had been hit "head on" by one of two torpedo's fired from
the sub. A second torpedo hit immediately thereafter killing nearly
100 men in the hull of the ship and it began to sink rapidly.
In the last moments of the ship's existance, while chaos swearled
around them, the Chaplains began handing out life jackets to the
crew who were abandoning the ship. When the Chaplains ran out of
life-jackets, they took off thier own life-jackets and handed them
to the crew. Together they sacrificed their last chance for survival,
ensuring that at least four other soldiers would have a chance to
Some of the surviving soldiers reported that as the ship was going
under the water they saw the Four Chaplains, arms locked together,
and holding onto the railings, praying, singing, and giving strength
to the men in the water. And then, only 27 minutes after the first
torpedo struck, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester went to her grave in the
cold waters of the Atlantic, taking these four brave men down with
Of the 920 people on board, who left New York on the Dorchester
on January 23, 1943, only 230 were picked up from the icy waters
by rescuers. Had it not been for the actions of the Four Chaplains
in handing out the life-jackets, the toll would have been much higher.
There is a wonderful cross/monument to Father Washington on the
side street - Humboldt Street - of St. Rose Of Lima's church here
in Newark. It reads as follows:
Click on photo to enlarge:
TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN EVERLASTING MEMORY OF FATHER JOHN PATRICK
WASHINGTON, BORN IN ROSEVILLE, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY, JULY 16, 1908.
HE WAS BAPTIZED, MADE HIS FIRST HOLY COMMUNION, WAS CONFIRMED, AND
SAID HIS FIRST SOLEMN HIGH MASS IN ST. ROSE OF LIMA CHURCH. HE MADE
THE SUPREME SACRIFICE FOR GOD AND COUNTRY, ABOVE AND BEYOND THE
CALL OF DUTY, IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC, FEBRUARY 3, 1943 BY GIVING
HIS LIFE JACKET TO A SOLDIER COMRADE ON THE SINKING SHIP DORCHESTER.
On May 28, 1948, the United States Postal Service issued a special
stamp in honor of the Four Chaplains. On July 14, 1960, by an Act
of Congress, the United States authorized the "Four Chaplains
Medal." The Star of David, Tablets of Moses, and Christian
Cross are show in relief on the back of the medal. And at Temple
University in Philadelphia they dedicated "The Chapel Of The
Four Chaplains." However this Chapel no longer exists.