The Four Immortal Chaplains: 1st Place – Joseph Martin, St Anne School

I raced into my Grandpa Roy’s house on a Sunday Afternoon in May. “Grandpa Roy, Grandpa Roy can you”… I stopped in mid sentence because I noticed Grandpa Roy was holding something. He said “John come closer, I want to show you something.” I walked towards my Grandpa, and he had on his lap a piece of blue cloth. He unwrapped the blue cloth, and inside was a gold cross pin. I was fascinated by the sight of the gold pin. I said to my Grandpa Roy, “Can you tell me more about this golden cross.”

“Well John, my Grandpa said, “Its time I tell you a story that happened a long time ago. As you already know, I was drafted into the United States Army during World War II. In January 1943 my buddies and I as well as many other soldiers ready to fight in World War II were placed on a ship that was called the Dorchester. The ship was sailing for England. There were over one thousand soldiers and sailors on the ship. There were also four military chaplains of different religions on the ship.

George Lansing Fox was a Methodist clergyman. Rabbi Alex Goode was Jewish. Clark Poling was a Dutch Reformed minister. And Father John Washington was a Roman Catholic priest.” I responded by saying “Hey, he has the same first name as I do!” Grandpa Roy responded, “That is right.” He asked “Do you know where your name came from?” I said “I thought I was named after John the Baptist.” Grandpa Roy chuckled, and said “close but the reality is you were named after Father John Washington.” I said “that is great but why would I be named after Father John?” Grandpa said “you were named after Father John Washington because he saved my life.” “How I asked?”

“We had been on The Dorchester in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and we were getting closer to Greenland. On February 3rd, a torpedo, fired by a German submarine, blew a large hole in the hull of the ship. Everybody began to panic and thought they were doomed. Men rushed to get life vests and get in one of the lifeboats and a route to safety.

In the panic I noticed the four chaplains were very calm and were preaching courage to the men. Unfortunately the boat did not have enough life vests for everybody. When they ran out of the life vests the four chaplains gave up their life vests to soldiers who did not have one.” My Grandpa Roy said “I was one of the ones that did not have a life vest. Just then I felt somebody tapping me on my shoulder. I turned around and saw Father John Washington standing there. He said ‘I would like you to have this’ and he removed his life vest and gave it to me. I was shocked and asked Father John why he was doing this? He responded because you are very young man and you have a good life ahead of you.” By this time Grandpa Roy’s voice was cracking. “I could not think of anything to say to Father John.” Then Father John said “I want you to have this.” He took off one of his two Gold Chaplain’s Crosses, and said “This cross will keep you safe because the Lord knows you trust in him.” Father John said “you better hurry and get in a lifeboat when you have the chance.”

“I was rescued hours later by the ship the Escanaba. Later I found out that Father John and the other chaplains had all gone down with the ship.” “That night,” my Grandpa Roy said, “ I was one of the lucky ones that did not die. Of the nine hundred passengers on the Dorchester that night, two thirds died.”

We both had tears running down our faces as Grandpa Roy concluded the story. I hugged my Grandpa and said “Thank You for sharing this story with me, I will never forget where my name has come from, and the sacrifices of those chaplains on the Dorchester.” I gave him another hug, and said “I love you Grandpa Roy.”

Bibliography

  • Kurzman, Dan No Greater Glory: The Four Immortal Chaplains and the Sinking of the Dorchester In World War II. New York: Random House, 2004.
  • Greene, Bob. “Real heroes: four died so others might live.” http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/03/opinion/greene-four-chaplains/
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