Rockville Centre ceremony pays tribute to four World War II chaplains


Residents joined together at a ceremony last Sunday at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church on Hempstead Avenue to remember four U.S. Army chaplains who, in 1943, gave up their life preservers on a sinking transport ship so that other soldiers would survive.

In the early morning of Feb. 3, 1943, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester was crowded to capacity, carrying 902 servicemen, merchant seamen and civilian workers. It was headed through icy waters, from Newfoundland to an American base in Greenland.

A German submarine spotted the ship and fired its torpedoes, striking the starboard side below the water line. Capt. Hans J. Danielsen told those aboard the Dorchester to abandon ship. It ended up sinking in about 20 minutes.

Army Chaplains Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, the Rev. John P. Washington, the Rev. George L. Fox and the Rev. Clark V. Poling offered prayers for the dying and encouragement for those fighting to live. They even gave their life jackets to four young men, according to the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation website. Of the more than 900 on board, about 670 died, including the four chaplains.

The Nassau County American Legion conducted the ceremony, and Rockville Centre’s Post 303 hosted, according to Post 303 Commander Frank Colon Jr. He called the story of the four chaplains “striking.”

“It’s very important not to forget what these men did,” Colon said. “It was unselfish for humanity to show that they all cared for others and went down together. They were taking care of their fellow men and showing compassion.”