Today, Feb 2nd, was a very special day at Albion First United Methodist Church. We had the distinct honor of hosting members from the local American Legion Post and Veterans of Foreign Wars as they paid tribute to the selfless heroism of four very special men – the chaplains of the U.S.S. Dorchester. The service was stunning and emotional….just as it should be to appropriately honor these incredible men. This is an annual tribute that is shared at various churches across the nation. In Orleans County, the local veterans rotate the churches that participate – this year, it was our honor.
Their story is legendary – to paraphrase it would not do it justice, so I will copy directly from the handout provided by our local veterans:
“In the icy dawn of February 3, 1943, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, an old ship hastily pressed into service as a troop transport, was pushing through North Atlantic waters with 902 American servicemen aboard, bound for Greenland. The ship was close enough to the destination that its convoy had left. But, the Dorchester did not make it. A Nazi submarine had been stalking it undetected and now, with the convoy gone, sent a torpedo slithering through the murky waters straight for the ship’s flank. The missile struck amidships and exploded in the boiler room. Many died instantly. Others were trapped below deck. Jolted from their bunks, sleepy soldiers and sailors clambered to reach the decks of the stricken ship.
On deck, amid the confusion and terror, four US Army chaplains — all lieutenants — were moving about calming frightened men, directing bewildered soldiers to lifeboats, and distributing life jackets. The supply of life jackets was soon exhausted, but four young soldiers stood waiting. They were afraid and they had no life jackets. Quickly, the chaplains stripped off their own and forced them upon the young soldiers.
The four men of God had given away their only means of saving themselves in order to save others.
What is especially noteworthy about this epic of heroism is that these chaplains were of different faiths. Clark V. Poling and George L. Fox were Protestant ministers, John P. Washington was a Roman Catholic priest, and Alexander D. Goode was a Jewish rabbi. Yet, in that moment of decision, none of them paused to ask the young soldiers, “Are you a Protestant?”, “Are you a Catholic?”, “Are you a Jew?” Before them stood four human beings in desperate need and they all had committed themselves to serve God and their fellow men.
Men rowing away from the stricken ship in lifeboats saw the four chaplains on the slanting deck. Their arms were linked together and their heads were bowed. They were leading those who remained on board in prayer.
The U.S.A.T Dorchester sank beneath the icy waters of the North Atlantic 28 minutes after the explosion, carrying with it the four chaplains and 668 soldiers and sailors.
Recognition of the selfless heroism of the four chaplains came quickly. On December 2, 1944, they were posthumously awarded Distinguished Service Crosses. Within the next few years, they were honored in various ways — a stamp issued by the U.S. Post Office, with first-day ceremonies held at the White House; a fountain in National Memorial Park, Falls Church Va.; a painting by Dudley Summers on display in the New York City headquarters of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
On January 18, 1961, Congress voted to present the Special Medal of Heroism — the only such medal ever given — posthumously to the four chaplains of the U.S.S. Dorchester.”
A powerful story, indeed!
The tribute included lighting of candles, laying of a wreath, flag, and four roses, and a reading of the life of each of the four chaplains by four of our local veterans, followed by an emotional presentation of Taps echoed from outside the sanctuary – I was in the choir loft and noticed there wasn’t a dry eye in the house – including my own! Other highlights of the service included the Merry Music Makers youth choir singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and He Is The Lord, the Joyful Good Shepard Ringers bell choir playing How Great Thou Art and Let Us Break Bread Together, the Chancel Choir singing In Remembrance, a moving sermon by Pastor Jack followed by the congregation singing God Bless America, and the taking of Communion.
It was a joy and a privilege to attend and be a part of this amazing service. Just being in the presence of our brave veterans and knowing that we were paying tribute to four incredible human beings was a true honor.
Here are some photos from our service:
The tribute table
Veterans preparing to retire the colors at the end of the service
Retirement of the colors
The veterans who led the tribute service
Pastor Jack blessing the Communion table
I hope this story touched you as it did me…..and that you will have an opportunity to witness this service at least once at some point in the years to come, if you have not already witnessed one.