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Four Chaplains Remembrance Shabbat

February 1, 2019 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm

          The Brotherhood of All Mankind

      by Veteran Jay Pinette

When one sees the coverage of natural and manmade disasters in the media, I can’t help but wonder if many of us consider how we might react if we were faced with a true life or death decision. “Valor is a gift,” Carl Sandburg once said. “Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes.”

I have had the opportunity to speak with recipients of the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for valor in action against an enemy force. To a man, none of them considers himself a hero. They generally said that they were doing their job and that the true heroes were their buddies who didn’t come home. At a time when we seem to have trivialized the notion of what it takes to be a hero, we have a memorial in Wakefield to four Men that exemplify the true meaning of the word.

In the early morning hours of 3 February 1943, US Army Transport Ship (U.S.A.T.) Dorchester, a converted cruise ship, was torpedoed by a German submarine in the icy seas off Labrador in the North Atlantic. Heavily damaged by the torpedo, it is believed that the Dorchester took on water and sank within twenty minutes of the torpedo strike. Survivors of the sinking reported that during the ensuing pandemonium, four men were seen offering encouragement, support and even their own lifejackets to those in need.

The four men were Reverend George Lansing Fox, a Methodist Minister from Gilman VT; Doctor Alexander David Goode, a Rabbi from Washington DC; Reverend Clarke Vandersall Poling, a Minister of The First Reformed Church from Schenectady NY; and the Reverend John Patrick Washington, a Catholic Priest from Arlington NJ. They are known to this day as “The Four Chaplains”.

Immediately after the Dorchester was hit, witnesses reported that the Four Chaplains were moving among their fellow passengers ministering to the injured, offering direction and support for those clambering for lifeboats and ultimately removing their own lifejackets and offering them to others when the supply of lifejackets was exhausted. “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven,” said John Ladd, a survivor who saw the chaplains’ selfless acts.

There were 902 men aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester that cold February night. 672 died and there were 230 survivors. When the news of the Dorchester’s sinking reached America, the public was stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy and by the heroic conduct of the four chaplains.

The Four Chaplains were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart on December 19, 1944. A Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and awarded posthumously by President Eisenhower on January 18, 1961.

Congress officially designated Feb. 3 as Four Chaplains Day in 1988. Observances are held each year across the nation. It came as some surprise to discover that Wakefield has a memorial to The Four Chaplains. On May 30, 1955, a dedication ceremony took place at Temple Emmanuel. An Interfaith Memorial Plaque was presented to Temple Emmanuel by Dr. and Mrs. Joseph S. Leavitt. According to the records of the Temple, the gifts of the Four Chaplains Plaque and the Memorial Marker were given “in recognition of the Brotherhood of all Mankind.”

The Temple record continues, “The tablet at the entrance to the Temple commemorates the heroic sacrifice in selfless devotion of the Four Chaplains. It is an enduring reminder of the love and loyalty which is productive of understanding among those of all faiths and a respect of the dignity of all men. It symbolizes men’s best hope for peace in his longing for World Brotherhood.”

In observance of Four Chaplains Day, Temple Emmanuel will hold a Shabbat of Remembrance of the Four Chaplains on Friday, February 1, 2019 at 7:30 PM. Interested Veterans and members of the community are welcome to attend. Temple Emmanuel is located at 120 Chestnut Street, Wakefield.

“The universal brotherhood of man is our most prized possession.” Mark Twain


February 1, 2019
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm