These chaplains made the ultimate sacrifice

Published 2:02 am Saturday, February 7, 2015

Their names were George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode, John P. Washington, and Clark V. Polling. Though their names may not be familiar, their actions were unforgettable. These four men met on the USS Dorchester. Each man served as a chaplain – Protestant (Methodist and Dutch Reformed), Catholic and Jewish.

George Fox had served as a medical corps assistant in World War I, receiving a Silver Star for bravery for rescuing a wounded soldier on the battlefield amidst poison gas. He had no gas mask.

Fox came home to Vermont and became a public accountant. Later, he felt led to study for the ministry. When world war came again, he told his wife and two children, “I’ve got to go. I know what our boys are about to face.”

Alexander Goode had planned on following in his father’s footsteps and become a rabbi. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, he walked 15 miles to Arlington Cemetery out of respect to see the interment of the Unknown Soldier.

He did become a rabbi, but felt unworthy. Goode thought he could help heal men’s souls if he knew how to heal their bodies, so he got a medical degree. He left behind his wife and four children to serve his country in World War II.

Clark V. Polling, the youngest chaplain, was the seventh generation in an unbroken line of ministers. A Presbyterian pastoring in Schenectady, N.Y.,, when war came along he didn’t want to serve as a chaplain, believing he should defend his country with arms.

But after a conversation with his father, Polling became a chaplain, leaving his wife and little girl to sail on the USS Dorchester. He told his father, “Dad, don’t pray for my safe return – just pray that I shall do my duty.” And that’s what his father prayed.

John P. Washington, the son of Irish immigrants from Newark, New Jersey, grew up in a poor family with nine mouths to feed. He sold newspapers to help his family’s income. Johnny, as he was known, sang in his church choir.

Washington chose the priesthood and later organized baseball teams for boys in his parish. When war came and some of his boys went into the army, Father Johnny went along with them.

On that fateful day, Feb. 2, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., about 150 miles from Greenland, a torpedo from a U-223 struck the Dorchester’s right side. An old ship brought out of mothballs for the war, the Dorchester immediately began sinking. The four chaplains took charge of handing out life vests, giving up their own when there were not enough for others. Two hundred of the 902 on board survived. Some were killed by the blast. The ship sank 27 minutes after it was struck.

Survivors recall seeing the four chaplains standing on the deck, their arms linked, praying together. By making the ultimate sacrifice for others, they lived the words of Jesus, “Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).