Four Army Chaplains
The Sinking of the Dorchester
Sax, 72, (CHS 206) has spent the last 10 years researching the events
surrounding the sinking of the Dorchester, Army troop ship, and the tale of the
bravery and self-sacrifice of four Army chaplains on board the vessel that was
sunk by a German submarine.
years ago this month, on Feb. 3, 1943, four Army chaplains were among 902 men on
board the Dorchester, which was headed in a six-ship convoy for an Army base in
southern Greenland. After the converted coastal steamer was hit by a
torpedo fired from a U-boat, the two Protestant pastors, Catholic priest and
rabbi were seen taking off their own life jackets and handing them to other
servicemen. The last time anyone saw the four men, they were standing arm
in arm on the deck of the doomed ship, singing hymns as it sank into the icy
water. In all, almost 700 men died.
Sax, 72, a retired Department of Defense administrative judge, retirement did
not last long. He now acts as a security consultant to defense
contractors, but he also spends a great deal of time telling the Chaplains'
compelling story of valor and interfaith action. What these guys did
is such a wonderful thing and so applicable to where we are today where we're in
some kind of cycle where people are hating and fearing the other again.,"
Catholics and Jews not only acted together, but died together in brotherhood and
everybody who was in the water saw this," he said. "It's very clear
that it actually happened and it's not a made up story. Sax, who is working on a
book about the event, has devoted himself to tracking down relatives of the
chaplains and of those who witnessed the event and to retelling the story to as
many people willing to listen.
1944, the Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to the chaplains' families in
honor of their actions and in 1948, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp
commemorating their actions, showing the portraits of the four men with the
words "These Immortal Chaplains ... Interfaith in Action."
"The 1948 stamp is the first time that a Jewish person appeared on a U.S.
stamp and the term interfaith was used," Fox said of the 3-cent stamp.
"They carried their faith together and that's such a powerful statement and
it needs to be kept alive." In 1960, Congress created a special
Congressional Medal of Valor and gave it to the chaplains' next of kin.
Congress has declared the first Sunday in February as "Four Chaplains
Sunday" in their memory.
On Monday, October 24, Sax will be participating in the dedication of the new Jewish Chaplains Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC. The Memorial honors 13 Jewish chaplains who died in the service of their country. Chaplain Goode of the Four Chaplains is the first name on the list. Judge Sax is also a consultant with the new National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The Museum is adding three new buildings, one of which, the Liberation Building, will focus on Military Chaplains, with the central exhibit telling the story of the Four Chaplains. The building will also describe the liberation of German concentration camps. Jewish Chaplain Eli Bohnen and Catholic Chaplain Charles Erb entered Dachau on Liberation Day, April 29, 1945. Judge Sax tells their stories.