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Heroes: four chaplains.

When the United States began fighting in World War II, soldiers had to be carried by ship across the Atlantic Ocean to reach the war in Europe. The journey was dangerous. German submarines prowled the ocean, trying to sink any ship that would bring the men and supplies their enemies needed.

On board one of these transport ships--the USAT Dorchester--were four men soon to become among the most inspiring heroes of the war.

It was just past midnight on February 3, 1943. The American transport ship Dorchester was carrying more than 900 soldiers, seamen, and civilian workers on their way to fight in World War II. As the ship cruised through the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, the captain received a warning--a German submarine had been detected nearby. The concerned captain ordered all passengers to put on their life jackets.

Moments later, German torpedoes slammed into the Dorchester's side. The explosion ripped a hole in the ship's hull. Water poured in, and the ship started to sink. Seeing the damage, the captain ordered the crew and passengers to abandon ship.

But many of the men could not get out. Some were wounded and calling out for medical help. Others were trapped beneath wreckage in the rising waters. The explosion had knocked out the ship's power and lights. In the darkness and confusion, men were panicking.

Four Army chaplains--two ministers, a priest, and a rabbi--stayed calm. Rabbi Alexander Goode, Methodist minister Lt. George Fox, Roman Catholic priest Father John P. Washington, and Reformed minister Clark Poling walked from soldier to soldier. They claimed those who were frightened, gave first aid to the wounded, and guided others to the lifeboats. Soon most of the survivors were on the top deck and nearer to the rescue boats. But many of the men did not have life jackets. Without life jackets, no one could survive in the icy water. As the ship began to go down, these men knew they were about to die.

Then, one by one, the chaplains removed their life jackets. They gave them to the first four frightened young soldiers they could find.

The ship sunk moments later. Two hundred-thirty men survived the disaster, and many of them said they owed their lives to the courage of the four chaplains. Private William Bednar remembers hearing them as he struggled to find his way out of the sinking boat.

"I could hear the chaplains preaching courage," he recalls. "Their voices were the only thing that kept me going."

Another survivor who watched the chaplains give their life jackets to the soldiers said simply: "It was the finest thing I have ever seen or hope to see this side of heaven."
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Title Annotation:heroism of four Army chaplains on sinking transport ship during World War II
Author:Skutnik, Andrew
Publication:Jack & Jill
Date:Dec 1, 1994
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