Thursday, February 3, 2011

It's Four Chaplains Day Today, As the Ship Slid Under They were Praying for the Safety of the Men

The Four Chaplains were four United States Army chaplains who gave their lives to save other soldiers during the sinking of the troop ship USAT Dorchester during World War II. They helped other soldiers board lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. The chaplains joined arms, said prayers, and sang hymns as they went down with the ship.

The chaplains, who all held the rank of lieutenant, were the Methodist Reverend George L. FoxRabbi Alexander D. Goode, the Roman Catholic Priest John P. Washington and the Reformed Church in America Reverend Clark V. Poling

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.
—Grady Clark, survivor[2]
In all, 230 of the 904 men aboard the ship were rescued. Life jackets offered little protection from hypothermia, which killed most men 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."[3]

Four Chaplains
On December 19, 1944, all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross.[4] The Four Chaplains' Medal was established by act of Congress on July 14, 1960, and was presented posthumously to their next of kin by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker at Ft. Myer, Virginia on January 18, 1961.[5]

Because the medal has only been authorized posthumously, and only for one action, it is generally considered a commemorative decoration not intended for wear on a military uniform. The medal also does not appear on any military award precedence charts, although it is considered to be ranking just below the Medal of Honor. The Chaplain's Medal for Heroism could technically be awarded again, if Congress ever bestowed the decoration for future acts of heroism involving military chaplains. 

The chaplains were also honored with a stamp, issued in 1948, and by an act of Congress designating February 3 as "Four Chaplains Day."

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