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Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Four Chaplains

It happened 76 years ago today: February 3, 1943.

A U.S. troop ship named The Dorchester was carrying more than nine hundred soldiers and military personnel across the North Atlantic on their way to serve in World War II.  In the blackness of night, a German submarine, a U-boat, fired torpedoes at The Dorchester.  One of the torpedoes hit the middle of the ship, fatally damaging it.  The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester's electrical system, leaving the ship dark.  There was pandemonium on board.  The Dorchester swiftly began to sink.

Aboard the ship were four military chaplains, from four different faiths.  They had been classmates at the Army Chaplains School at Harvard University, where they prepared for assignments in the European theater.  The four of them were sailing on board The Dorchester to report to their new assignments.  The four chaplains were Methodist minister George L. Fox, Reform Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Roman Catholic priest John P. Washington, and Reformed Church in America minister Clark V. Poling.

The four chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation of the ship and helped guide wounded men to safety.  As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out before each man had one.  The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others.  They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.

A survivor, Grady Clark, gave this account: “As I swam away from the ship, I looked back.  The flares had lighted everything.  The bow came up high and she slid under.  The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men.  They had done everything they could.  I did not see them again.  They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

Only 230 of the 904 men aboard the ship were rescued.  The others either drowned or died because of hypothermia in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic.

The four chaplains gave their lives so that others might live. *

In so doing, they demonstrated what Jesus has done for all of us.

But only the sinless Son of God could pay the penalty for the sins of mankind.  This is what Jesus did when He died on the cross for our sins.  “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).  He died so that we could live.  Because He gave His life for us, we can receive salvation and eternal life through Him.

God will save and give eternal life to those who place their faith and trust in Jesus (Acts 16:30-31), turn from their sins in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confess Him before men (Romans 10:9-10), and are baptized (immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).  He will continue to cleanse those who continue to walk in the light of His Word (1 John 1:7).

On this, the 76th anniversary of the heroic actions of the Four Chaplains, let us remember their sacrifice.  May their sacrifice point to the One Who gave Himself for us so that we can be saved for an eternity.

Won’t YOU accept His offer of salvation and eternal life on His terms?

-- David A. Sargent

* Information gleaned from Wikipedia article “The Four Chaplains” and “Real heroes: four died so others might live” by Bob Greene, CNN Contributor,, 2/3/13.

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