‘Four chaplains’ lost in WWII to be honored in Norway

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NORWAY – On February 4, the community of Oxford Hills is invited to attend a multi-faith ceremony for the “four chaplains” who were lost at sea in 1943 during World War II.

The ceremony will take place at St. Catherine’s of Sienna Catholic Church on Park Street in Norway on February 4. Ed Clifford of St. Catherine’s, Rev. Mike Carter of First Congregational Church in South Paris, Tim Pike of Bolsters Mills United Methodist Church in Harrison, and Jeff Stern of Temple Shalom in Auburn.

The SS Dorchester, a military transport ship during World War II, sank in the North Atlantic on February 3, 1943 after being torpedoed by a German submarine. photo provided

The four chaplains were friends who all met at Harvard University’s Army Chaplain School as the United States was embroiled in war after the attack on Pearl Harbor. All first lieutenants, the group were tasked to travel together on the same ship to their military missions in Europe aboard the SS Dorchester, an ocean liner that had been converted into a military transport ship.

Coming from different backgrounds and religions, the men have developed deep bonds that will become an immortal legend. After completing their training at Army Chaplain School, they were then reunited at Camp Myles Standish in Massachusetts after boot camp, prior to deployment on the SS Dorchester.

George L. Fox was a World War I veteran, decorated with the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the French Croix de Guerre. After being released and completing his secondary education, interrupted by his conscription at age 17, he enrolled in the Moody Bible Institute and began his career in religion by becoming an itinerant preacher.

Alexander D. Goode was the son of a rabbi and followed in his father’s footsteps, earning his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1940. He enlisted in the United States Army after Pearl Harbor and was accepted at the Chaplain School the following summer.

Clark V. Poling also grew up in a house of faith, the son of an evangelical minister who had served as a chaplain during World War I. He was educated at Yale University Divinity School and later served as a church pastor in Schenectady. , NY. After enlistment, he was assigned to the 131st Quartermaster Truck Regiment and was sent to Army Chaplain School at Harvard.

John P. Washington studied at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, NJ and was ordained a priest in 1935. After enlisting in the U.S. Army, he was appointed chaplain to the 76th Infantry Division and served continued to chaplaincy school, where he met Fox, Goode and Poling.

Like the Four Chaplains, the US Dorchester transitioned from civilian to military service. It was built in 1926 and carried passengers and cargo between Baltimore and Florida before being upgraded to carry military personnel from New York to Greenland.

Along with more than 900 other soldiers, the four chaplains boarded the Dorchester and set sail on January 23, 1943, escorted by three Coast Guard cutters, through Atlantic waters prowled by German U-boats.

Like other ships entering the North Atlantic throughout the war, the Dorchester was targeted by the German Navy. It was hit by a torpedo from the U-223 submarine off Newfoundland around 1 a.m. on February 3.

As the ship rapidly took on water and the evacuation began, the four chaplains concentrated on the work for which they had enlisted. They guided the wounded to safety and helped as many soldiers as possible into lifeboats to escape.

When the supply of life jackets ran out, the four chaplains offered theirs to the others and continued their duty. As the ship sank, the four remained on board with their arms tied, reciting prayers and singing hymns. A survivor later recalled swimming from the sinking ship. The last thing he saw before he slipped into the waves were the four chaplains, praying for the safety of the men.

“They had done everything they could,” said Grady Clark. “I never saw them again. They themselves had no chance without their life jackets.

The Four Chaplains Ceremony is held annually in February to commemorate the loss of heroes in churches, chapels and synagogues across the United States.

People of all faiths are invited to gather in Norway on February 6 at St. Catherine’s on February 4, starting at 2 p.m. The snow date, if required, will be February 13.

Guests from across Maine will be in attendance, including Laurie Sidelinger, Chair of the Board of Honor Flight Maine and Christy Gardner, retired Army MP and founder of Mission Working Dogs in Oxford.

“Our church is honored to host the Four American Legion Chaplain Ceremony,” St. Catherine’s Brother Ed Clifford said in an emailed statement. “It is good to remember the courageous and selfless service of these men. Chaplains were heroes. They were real men of God. Although they belonged to different religious traditions, belief in God united them in prayer and service to others. Their story is very inspiring. We hope many will come to the ceremony to hear about and reflect on what they have done.

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