Belleville's American Legion Post 105, Sons of The American Legion (SAL) Squadron 105, and members of the American Legion Auxiliary interest group seeking a charter at Post 105 were honored to attend the Four Chaplains’ Mass at Saint Stephen’s RC Church in Kearny. The mass commemorates the service and sacrifice of who became known as the Four Chaplains on Feb. 3, 1943 - one of which, Father John P. Washington, was actually assigned as a priest to Kearney’s Saint Stephen’s.
The Four Chaplains - Methodist minister Rev. George L. Fox, Reform Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Catholic priest Father John P. Washington and Reformed Church in America minister Rev. Clark V. Poling – all served as U.S. Army chaplains in the first year of World War II. In January 1943, they set sail from New York along with 900 other soldiers headed for Greenland aboard USAT Dorchester, a troop transport that was part of a larger convoy. On the morning of Feb. 3, the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat. The ship immediately began sinking quickly.
The chaplains were seen handing out life jackets and helping soldiers into the water, eventually giving up their own life jackets to save other men. Survivors of Dorchester, of which there were only 230 out of 904, recall seeing the four men standing arm-in-arm on the ship as it went down, praying and singing hymns. The chaplains all went down with Dorchester.
This year’s Catholic Mass took place on the 80th anniversary of the sinking, with members of Rabbi Goode's and Father Washington’s family in attendance, along with descendants of survivors of Dorchester.
“They gave not only their [life] jackets, but their lives … true faith is when one gives of himself for another”, spoke the officiant of the mass, Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Studerus, during his homily.
The Post 105 American Legion Family is always deeply honored to be invited to attend. This year, perhaps 20 members from the post were at Saint Stephen’s, many of whom had not ever heard of the Four Chaplains before two weeks ago. “I just thought it was absolutely beautiful”, said Auxiliary member Jackie Elsmore. “Honestly, I didn’t know [about the Four Chaplain’s]”, noted Post 105 Legionnaire Elsie Cruz, a Navy veteran herself. “To be a part of this – especially for the young people – it’s showing them to honor people who make sacrifices … to honor their own history.”