Union City Civitans honor local clergy
Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2012 12:31 pm
The Messenger, February 23, 2012
By MAURINE HICKMAN
Special to The Messenger
Every year Civitans around the world set aside the week of Feb. 3 as a special time to honor all clergy, who do so much to provide inspiration, hope, love and courage to all their parishioners. The tradition of Clergy Appreciation Week began as a means of honoring four Army chaplains who gave their lives to save the lives of young, scared service men and civilians. Those chaplains were Lt. George Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, a Jewish rabbi; Lt. John P. Washington, a Catholic priest; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reform pastor.
On Feb. 2, 1943, three transport ships carrying service men, merchant seamen and civilians from Newfoundland to an Army base in Greenland were being escorted by three Coast Guard cutters — the Tampa, Escanaba and Comanche. The waterways they were traveling were known to be frequented by German U-boats. One of the cutters had picked up the sound of a U-boat on its sonar. The captain of the troop ship Dorchester, which was carrying 902 men, instructed the men to sleep in their clothes and with their life vests on. Some of the men, who bunked near the engine room, did not heed the captain’s advice because it was too hot and others didn’t because the life vests were too uncomfortable.
At 12:55 a.m. Feb. 3, 1943, the Dorchester was torpedoed deep below the water line, in the middle of the ship. Many men near the blast were killed instantly and others were seriously wounded. The captain ordered them to abandon ship and pandemonium set in. The four chaplains spread out among the men and assisted them in getting into the life boats. Due to overcrowding, some of the life boats capsized. Rafts were thrown into the water, but drifted away before the men could reach them. The four clergymen opened the storage unit and handed out life vests to those that didn’t have theirs, until they were all gone.
All during this time, the clergy were giving words of encouragement and praying and leading men in prayers. When there were no more life vests, the four chaplains removed their own life vests and gave them to four very young and scared men. One survivor said, “The altruistic action of the four chaplains constituted one of the purest spiritual and ethical acts a person could make.”
Another said, “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see, this side of heaven.”
The ship sank in just 20 minutes. The survivors could see the four chaplains were standing on deck, with their arms linked, offering prayers and words of encouragement, even as the ship slipped beneath the water. Of the 902 men, 97 were picked up by the cutter Comanche and another 137 were rescued by the cutter Escanaba, but 673 died. The third cutter escorted the other two troop ships to Greenland without further incidents.