On February 3, 1943, the S.S. DORCHESTER, carrying 900 American servicemen headed for combat, was working its way through the icy churning waters off Greenland when it was struck by a U-boat torpedo. It was forced to leave the convoy and it didn't take long before a second torpedo scored a direct hit killing 100 men in the hull of the ship.
Throughout the ship there was confusion, terror and chaos as men scrambled about to get their life jackets and in many cases to get dressed. Trying to calm the men were four chaplains: Rabbi Alexander D. Goode; John P. Washington, a Roman Catholic priest; George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; and Clark P. Poling, a minister of the Reformed Church of America.
The extra life jackets were handed out but there were still many servicemen without them. Standing in front of the four chaplains were four men without life jackets. They were cold and afraid. The four chaplains took off their jackets and gave them to these men. The ship was quickly sliding into the sea. Many lifeboats were filled with men in the water and others were being launched. The four chaplains went about the deck helping the men get into lifeboats and comforting those that were terrified. Finally, all the lifeboats were on the waters filled with the remaining troops.
The last sight that these survivors saw of the DORCHESTER was the four chaplains clinging to each other on the slanting deck as it slowly went into the sea. Their arms were linked together with their heads bowed as they prayed to their God: "Shma Yisroel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echod ... Our Father...which art in heaven ... Hallowed be Thy name ... Thy kingdom come ... Thy will be done."
Benjamin Epstein, a survivor of New York, recalls that fateful night. He personally knew each of the chaplains and he will never forget watching them go down with the ship. Of the 900 men aboard, only 229 were saved.
Rabbi Goode was the son of a rabbi in Washington, D.C. He won many medals for tennis, swimming and track while going through Eastern High School in Washington D.C. While he was studying to be a rabbi, he was an active participant in the National Guard. Goode married a high school classmate and they had one daughter. When he got his first synagogue, he traveled to Johns Hopkins University, 45 miles away, to earn a Doctorate in Oriental languages.
On February 13, 1951, President Harry S. Truman dedicated the Chapel of the Four Chaplains on the comer of Broad and Berks streets in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania. This inter-faith chapel is a memorial, for these four chaplains who gave their lives to save others. There are three altars: Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant. Above the entrance burns an eternal light which calls all men to the unity these four chaplains heroically demonstrated. The Chapel of the Four Chaplains has been relocated to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
Rabbi Goode was one of 309 rabbis to be commissioned in World War II. He was one of many to give his life.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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Last updated 18 October 2006