A memorial service is planned for this Sunday at the LifeSpring Wesleyan Church in Sturgis to acknowledge the sacrifice made by “the Four Chaplains”. Four U.S. Army chaplains of various religious faiths gave their life jackets to American soldiers on a sinking ship during World War Two in order to save their lives.
It was a cold February morning when the periscope of the German submarine U-223 broke the chilled waters of the Atlantic with the U.S.A.T. Dorchester in its sites.
The torpedo it fired hit the U.S. Army transport ship on the starboard side…well below the water line. Of the 902 men aboard the Dorchester, 672 died including four Army chaplains.
As chaos spread across the ship’s sinking deck, Lt. George Fox, Lt. Alexander Goode, Lt. John Washington, and Lt. Clark Poling kept their composure. They calmed those around them, guided men toward lifeboats assisted the wounded and saved countless lives.
And as the reality of their circumstances became clear, the Jew, the Catholic, the Methodist and the Reformed Protestant offered one final contribution to the men of the Dorchester. Unsolicited by their fellow clergymen, each chaplain removed his lifejacket, handed it to a soldier who had none so he could survive, and went down with the ship.
Willard Olsen is the chaplain at Fort Meade, just outside Sturgis, He says the Four Chaplains selfless act of courage still inspires people today.
“It’s a wonderful example to all of us,” Olsen observes. “Perhaps going beyond what any of the rest of us would expect to either be asked to do…or to do…even I similar circumstances.”
Lt. Poling’s son, also named Clark, is a retired university professor living in California. Clark Poling says the sacrifice of his father and the Lieutenant’s fellow chaplains was an extraordinary example of religious tolerance at a time when it was needed.
“Interfaith cooperation…interreligious cooperation is still a terribly pressing matter in our world,” comments Poling.
Because of this, says Clark Poling, the sacrifice of the Four Chaplains is still very relevant.