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VA medical centers across the country will hold Four Chaplains Memorial Services this week in honor of the four military chaplains who gave their lives in WWII in order to save soldiers in need. 

All four chaplains were first lieutenants in the Army and were a part of a US troop transport on the USS Dorchester in February of 1943 when a torpedo hit the ship as it sailed through the frigid seas near Greenland. 

The four chaplains quickly jumped into action, attempting to calm fears, tend to the wounded, and guide others to safety, leading 800 men to the boxes of life jackets and passing them out. When the life jackets ran out, the four chaplains slipped theirs off and onto the shoulders of soldiers, instructing them to jump ship in order to save their own lives. 

The Dorchester sunk less than half an hour later and approximately 600 men, including the chaplains, were lost, but their heroic efforts are thought to have saved 200 soldiers. The chaplains were last seen standing on the deck of the ship as it sunk, their arms linked together in prayer. 

Services held at VA’s across America will honor the four men:

  • Rev. Clark Poling, Dutch Reformed Church of America
  • Rev. John Washington, Catholic
  • Rev. George Fox, Methodist
  • Rabbi Alexander Goode, Jewish

“Back then, it was truly unheard of to have people of different faiths – a priest, a rabbi and ministers – work together and advocate for one another,” said Rev. Scott Orth, an ordained minister through the Evangelical Covenant Church and a VA chaplain.

 “That paved the way for ecumenical and interfaith efforts that began and continue to make the military a better place. I think, for me, that is what makes the story of the four chaplains so moving. I’m not aware of any other story that combines a faith in God, ecumenical and interfaith camaraderie and teamwork, along with a selfless devotion to others.”

Poling, Washington, Fox, and Goode were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart in December of 1944.

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