CAMP HUMPHREYS, Republic of Korea -- Early in the morning 79 years ago, four men of faith put their lives on the line to save passengers aboard a U.S. Army transport ship, the Dorchester, when it was torpedoed while sailing the North Atlantic waterway on a voyage toward Greenland.
Nearly eight decades later, members of the American Legions’ Paul E. Finn Memorial Post 37 and Col. Lewis L. Millett Memorial Post 38, alongside the U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys religious support office, honored the courageous sacrifice of the four chaplains at the Four Chaplains Memorial Chapel Feb. 3.
“This service is a tribute to those courageous chaplains and the 672 brave young men who lost their lives on that fateful night. Further, this service honors all those who have served, and whose courage and faith have sustained our country,” stated Steve Tharpe, the master of ceremony from American Legion Post 38.
Tharpe described how on that cold and icy morning, four men of different denominations came together in solidarity, giving up their life vests so others could live. In the end, they held onto their faith and each other as they linked arms, prayed, and went down with the ship.
“At 12:30 a.m. on February 3, 1943, the bell on the troopship USAT Dorchester rang twice and never sounded again,” recounted Tharpe. “The USAT Dorchester was torpedoed by an enemy submarine, and 672 young men paid the supreme sacrifice. Included in the 672 were four men of God – a rabbi, a Roman Catholic priest, a Methodist minister, and a Dutch Reformed minister – all Army chaplains.”
Four candles were lit in honor of the chaplains, each with story reflecting the life and service of brave priest, pastor or rabbi.
William Scafe, assigned to Post 38, explained that when the war started, Lt. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister from Vermont and veteran of World War I, told his wife, “I’ve got to go. I know from experience what our boys are about to face. They need me.”
Robert Collins, assigned to Post 38, lit a candle for Lt. Alexander D. Goode and told the story of how Goode was an outstanding athlete and scholar who wanted to be a rabbi, like his father. When the war broke out, he joined the Army Chaplain Corps, leaving his wife, his childhood sweetheart, behind.
Scafe explained that Lt. Clark V. Poling, a seventh-generation Dutch Reformed minister, was the youngest of the four chaplains. He asked his father to pray for him when he left for the war.
“Just that I shall do my duty and have the strength, courage, and understanding of men. Just pray that I shall be adequate,” Poling asked.
Collins described how Lt. John P. Washington, a young Irish man, was the leader of the South Twelfth Street gang in Newark, New Jersey, when called to the priesthood.
“He played ball with the boys of the parish, organized sports teams, and when war came along, went with his ‘boys’ into the Army,” said Collins. “His wonderful voice, raised in song and prayer to comfort those around him, could be heard until his final moments on February 3, 1943.”
The four chaplains from different faiths and backgrounds stood with their arms linked together as they went down with the sinking ship, united in the effort to put others before themselves.
“Help us to see, even today, the times that we might stand up for that which is most important, and to do so with more concern for others than for ourselves,” prayed Lt. Col. Terry Cobban, deputy chaplain assigned to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys. “Help us recognize the times when we might overlook the insignificant differences between people and respond to the needs of someone just because he or she is a person in need.”
Tharpe closed the ceremony by encouraging others to aspire to be like the four chaplains.
“Remember, you must love to be loved. It is better of give than to receive,” said Tharpe. “The four chaplains did. They were only with us for a short time. We will remain forever grateful. May God’s light shine upon you. We miss you and we will never forget.”