On February 28, 2010, at 6:00pm, at the Skyline Baptist Church, 949 State Highway 165 in Branson, will host an event honoring the Four Chaplains who gave their lives for their men in WWII. Pastor Norm Howell will host the program and introduce the guest speaker, Chaplain (Colonel) Paul Vicalvi, US Army, Retired. Chaplain Vicalvi is the Executive Director of the National Association of Evangelicals Chaplain Commission.
George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode, Clark V. Poling and John P. Washington each answered the call of their country in 1942. Their story is one of diversity, unity, strength, courage and love.
In November, 1942, four young men, bound by their common faith in God their Father, met and became friends at Chaplains’ School at Harvard University.
In January 1943, 920 men, including the four Army Chaplains, boarded the USAT Dorchester, an aging coastal liner pressed into service as a transport ship. Bound for an Army base in Greenland and filled to capacity with young soldiers on their way to battle, the men faced crowded conditions, rough seas and the knowledge of foreign battlefields in their future. The four Army chaplains calmed their fears and did their best to offer hope.
On February 2, within 150 miles of Greenland, Hans Danielson, the Dorchester’s captain, listened as his three Coast Guard escorts informed him of sonar readings that indicated an enemy submarine in “Torpedo Junction.” Already fighting Arctic winds and a deck covered with ice, the news was not good. Danielson instructed the soldiers to sleep in their clothes and life jackets. But hot and crowded conditions below deck led many of the men to ignore the warning and sleep in their underwear.
Shortly before 1:00am on February 3, a German U-Boat fired on the passing transport ship. The first torpedo hit “dead-on,” throwing men around like rag dolls. The second torpedo instantly killed 100 men in the hull of the ship. The ship tilted and life jackets slid into the icy winter water.
As men cried out, the four Chaplains answered their call. A survivor, Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, headed back towards his cabin. “Where are you going?” a voice asked.
“To get my gloves,” Mahoney replied.
“Here, take these,” said Rabbi Goode as he handed a pair of gloves to the young officer who would never have survived the trip back to his cabin.
Although the Rabbi told him he had two pair, Mahoney later realized that Rabbi Goode would never have carried a spare pair of gloves.
The Chaplains took charge and organized rescue attempts. They directed men to life boats, helped them find life jackets and bestowed a little calm in all the chaos. In a very short time, water started flowing across the deck of the sinking ship. When the life jackets were gone, the four Chaplains took off their own life jackets and put them on the men around them.
With all hope gone and death certain, the survivors in the lifeboats heard, among the screams of horror, the voices of their Chaplains, raised in prayer.
The last sight of their ship included the four Chaplains, arms linked together and braced against the railings of the sinking ship, still praying, singing and giving strength to others.
“It was the finest thing I have ever seen this side of heaven,” said one of the survivors.
Twenty-seven minutes after the first torpedo struck, the USAT Dorchester disappeared from sight into the icy waters. Of the 920 men, only 230 survived. Six hundred seventy-two men, including the four Chaplains and crewmembers, went down with the ship.
George Fox was a Methodist minister, Clark Polling a Dutch Reformed minister, John Washington a Catholic priest and Alexander Goode a Jewish rabbi. Brothers in faith and the service of their fellowman, they will forever be American heroes.
The Branson Veterans Task Force is pleased to honor these men. Chaplains give so much of themselves and these four men made the ultimate sacrifice. Whatever our denomination, we all recognize faith, hope and love,” said Ernie Bradley, event coordinator and Vice-Chair of the Task Force. The Branson Veterans Task force may be contacted at 1-417.337.8387 (417.337.VETS) or by visiting www.bransonveterans.com.
The Branson Veterans Task Force, Branson Tourism Center, and the entire Branson entertainment industry honors veterans every day of the year. For more information about this and other veteran-related events contact the Branson Veterans Task Force or the Branson Tourism Center ( BTC), one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services and sellers of Branson show tickets, attraction tickets and lodging. BTC can be reached by either calling their toll free number 1-800-785-1550 or through their website www.BransonTourismCenter.com.