Nearly 70 years ago, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester began to sink, and four chaplains on board did what they knew how to do — bring calm to a chaotic situation.  In the end, Chaplains Rabbi Alexander David Goode, Father John Washington, Rev. George Lansing Fox, and Rev. Clark Poling made the ultimate sacrifice, as they gave up their life jackets to save four others.  Though spiritual leaders of four different religions, together, they stood in prayer as the ship went down into the North Atlantic Sea.

In today’s world of diverse interfaith relationships and worldwide connectivity, this may not seem so unusual, but during World War II, such a heroic interfaith partnership was unique. Each year on February 3, the day the Dorchester sank, we mark Four Chaplains Day and not only remember their sacrifice but the example it provides for us today.

This year, the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress held a series of Four Chaplains Day events and Interfaith Alliance was honored to co-host the final event in this series on February 16. Bringing together military chaplains of the Jewish, Methodist, Muslim, Baptist and Reformed Church in America faith traditions who represented four different service branches, the panelists focused on current issues facing military chaplains and how chaplains balance ministering to people of all faiths while still remaining true to their own doctrine and beliefs.

Interfaith Alliance President and State of Belief Host Rev. Welton Gaddy served as the moderator for what proved to be an enlightening discussion. In his opening remarks, Rev. Gaddy hailed the Four Immortal Chaplains as “a shining example of the possibility of unity forged out of diversity and of cooperation among religious leaders.” The panelists discussed a variety of topics including their personal paths to the military chaplaincy; the impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal on chaplains; the experiences of minority faith groups in the military; and how they help service members cope with the stresses of military life. The full video of the event is available on the Interfaith Alliance website.

In closing, Rev. Gaddy asked us all to imagine what the Four Immortal Chaplains of WWII would look like in today’s increasingly-diverse military and reminded us that it is not the religion, ethnicity or gender of a chaplain that is important. What matters is chaplains’ shared commitment to ensuring no service member “is without the possibility of expert counsel, compassionate care, and life-enhancing support…to moving among differences to highlight what we share in common.” Rev. Gaddy’s hope, one that I’m sure we all can share, is that the challenge to the chaplains of today “is not to die together in an exemplary manner, but to help all of us learn how to better live together.

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  • Ed Allan

    I have not yet had the chance to view the video. But people should certainly visit the Four Chaplains website:

    I doubt very much if any of these four chaplains asked the religion or the sexual orientation of the men whose lives they strived to save, voluntarily sacrificing their own.

  • G

    1) What is the Chaplain Corps doing about being taken over by the fundamentalist Christian Evanglists and also the Evanglists taking over the military itself?

    2) The military has always been a “me, me” generation since the end of World War II. In the military, you are told that no one will help your career. It is up to you. Ironically, the people who tell you that it is all up to you that are the same ones who stated that you will help them make their careers. Remember the saying “All of you will help me make general.” This is totally opposite of what they teach you in basic training where everyone works together in order to be successful. It is also totally an abdication of leadership by the officers and NCOs to help their soldiers be successful in their careers. Anyone who stated that they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps is a liar.

    3) Where was the Chaplain Corp during the civil rights movement and trying to help women and minorities in fighting discrimination in the US military?

    4) How many of those military chaplains were members of the KKK?

    5) Where was the Chaplain Corps when women soldiers in both Gulf Wars got raped by their own soldiers and were thrown out of the military when they told their superiors about it?

    6) Where was the Chaplain Corps when soldiers tried to apply for mental treatment and they got treated like dirty by the NCOs and officers plus getting no help from the Pentagon and the VA?

    7) Where was the Chaplain Corps when the VA Walter Reed Hospital scandel had occorred?

    8) Religion was been used too much to spread hate and use to justifiy and start war instead of using religion to prevent war. Too many American military officers are using Christianity to fight Muslim under the disguise of terrorism. Remember that Christian wordings on those M-16 gunsights that cause a stir.

    9) Military Officers particularly high ranking ones like Lt. Colonel and above are always highly decorated since the military also gives out medals after completing a tour of tour as long as nothing happens bad under their watch. The awarding of too many medals of officers particularly high ranking ones has been a problem since the Korean War. Every time we have a Republican administration, we have wars which means you can expect to be decorated. Look at Ronald Reagan, Bush, Senior, and Bush, Jr.

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