At the regular business meeting on Monday evening, Feb. 20, Malta Bend Memorial Post 558 held a candle-lighting ceremony honoring four Army chaplains lost on Feb. 3, 1943. The ceremony included reading of a brief history of the sinking of USAT Dorchester and biography of the chaplains.
At about 12:55 AM on the morning of Feb. 3, U.S. Army Transport Dorchester was struck by a German torpedo while en route from Iceland to Greenland. Dorchester, along with freighters Biscaya and Lutz, and U.S. Coast Guard cutters Tampa, Escanaba and Comanche, at the time were moving troops, civilians and supplies to air bases in Greenland. Dorchester had on board 597 soldiers and 171 civilians, including four U. S. Army chaplains. Dozens of soldiers and civilians were killed in the initial attack, and many more who were trapped below decks were lost when the cold water came rushing in.
While many were able to make it to the top deck of the ship, many did not have protective clothing and life jackets. Two chaplains were seen handing out life jackets to soldiers who didn’t have one. One soldier kept saying he couldn’t find his life jacket. Chaplain George L. Fox, an ordained Methodist minister, was seen removing his life jacket and giving it to the soldier. Another chaplain, John P. Washington, an ordained Roman Catholic priest, gave absolution to soldiers as they went overboard. One soldier urged Chaplain Washington to abandon ship. Washington chose to stay on board, continuing to help others. Chaplain Alexander D. Goode, a rabbi, was seen removing his gloves and giving them to a sailor.
The four chaplains, Washington, Fox, Goode, and Clark V. Poling, were later reported by survivors as having stood together in locked arms, praying in unison as the ship sank. With the actions of the chaplains, many soldiers, sailors and civilians were able to escape the sinking ship. Due to their actions, the chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross medals. In 1948 the U. S. Post Office issued a commemorative stamp in their honor, and Feb. 3 was designated as “Four Chaplains Day.”