Four Army Chaplains
The Sinking of the Dorchester


Barry 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.

Sixty-eight 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.

For 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.,"

Protestants, 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.

In 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.