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The Light Eternal

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So, there is a song our highschool concert band is playing for the spring concert, and I wanted to share the story behind it (it was commissioned to tell this amazing story with the music, which it does quite well) here, because I posted it on a reply to Mum and then thought "Oh! Brotherhood, love, and fellowship... Cymbrogi Heart!" *grin* So. This is the summary; if anyone knows where to find the whole story, details an' all, that would be awesome. Erm, there's two accounts that I could find, so I'm posting both...

This account is from a sailor who was there, on the ship, and is more personally detailed, but less officially detailed.
A Methodist minister named George Fox, a Dutch Reformed minister named Clark Poling. A Roman Catholic Priest, Father John Washington, and the fourth was a rabbi from this city named Alexander Goode. These four chaplains of different faiths became what their biographer calls, “an immortal symbol of brotherhood. As their torpedoed ship, the U.S.S. Dorchester, plunged into the depths of the North Atlantic in February, 1943, these men—a priest, a rabbi and two ministers of diverse denominations—gave up their life jackets to passengers who didn’t have one. Then, arm in arm, they joined in prayer, comforting each other as they sank together into eternity.” The fire and brimstone they preached was not one of eternal damnation, but one of our common humanity and what it means to live in God’s image.

The camaraderie of these four chaplains was highly unusual in the 1940s. Catholics and Protestants didn’t mix with each other, and neither mixed with Jews. So to see ministers in the same American uniform of different faiths working together as a team was virtually unheard of in 1943.

When this ship carrying 900 terrified young soldiers was struck by a Nazi torpedo, one young man, Michael, was thrown from the boat. Though injured, he was brought back on to the ship before it sank. Michael hobbled along the starboard side of the ship when he suddenly saw the four chaplains. Three of the chaplains had already given their life jackets to boys who didn’t have them. Dan Kurzman, author of the recently published book, No Greater Glory, writes that Rabbi Goode, the fourth chaplain, “removed his life jacket and knelt beside another wounded man.” Michael, the narrator of this story, was mesmerized by the scene he watched from about five yards away as the rabbi gave the man his life jacket, and unlaced his boots for the wounded man. The rabbi put the wounded man’s unaffected arm through an armhole in the life jacket and he tied the other side of the lifejacket around the wounded shoulder with the bootlaces. When the ship went down, this improvised life preserver would permit the solider to float in the water. Rabbi Goode then joined his three spiritual brothers and they started praying together in English, Hebrew, and Latin.” “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu…Our father, Who art in heaven…Hallowed be Thy name…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…Adonai Echad.” One survivor said that seeing the chaplains continue to minister to the soldiers as the ship went down is as “close to heaven as I ever hope to be.”

This account is more officially detailed, but less personal.

The Story of the Four Chaplains

A convoy of three ships and three escorting Coast Guard cutters passed through "torpedo alley" some 100 miles off the coast of Greenland at 1:00 a.m. on February 3, 1943. The submarine U-223 fired three torpedoes, one of which hit the midsection of the Dorchester, a U.S. Army troopship with more than 900 men on board. Ammonia and oil were everywhere in the fast-sinking vessel and upon the freezing sea.

The four Chaplains on board, two Protestant pastors, a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi, were among the first on deck, calming the men and handing out life jackets. When they ran out, they took off their own and placed them on waiting soldiers without regard to faith or race.

Approximately eighteen minutes after the explosion, the ship went down. The chaplains were the last to be seen by witnesses; they were standing arm-in-arm on the hull of the ship, each praying in his own way for the care of the men. Almost 700 died, making it the third largest loss at sea of its kind for the United States during World War II. The Coast Guard Cutter Tampa was able to escort the other freighters to Greenland. Meanwhile the cutters Comanche and Escanaba, disobeying orders to continue the search for the German U-Boat, stopped to rescue 230 men from the frigid waters that night.

The four Chaplains were Father John Washington (Catholic), Reverend Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed), Rabbi Alexander Goode (Jewish) and Reverend George Fox (Methodist). These four Chaplains were later honored by the Congress and Presidents. They were recognized for their selfless acts of courage, compassion and faith. According to the First Sergeant on the ship, "They were always together, they carried their faith together." They demonstrated throughout the voyage and in their last moments, interfaith compassion in their relationship with the men and with each other. In 1960 Congress created a special Congressional Medal of Valor, never to be repeated again, and gave it to the next of kin of the "Immortal Chaplains."
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calm calm
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The Light Eternal
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On March 4th, 2007 12:52 pm (UTC), mumstheword54 commented:
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends."

If my memory serves me correctly, the other men who wend down on the ship gained a great peace as they saw and heard the Four Chaplains praying and ministering during their final minutes.

What courage! What an example!

Thanks for sharing this, Paysh!
*hugs and chocolate chip cookies*
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